Tag Archives: family life

Don’t Stop Believin’

We could hear the strains of the national anthem as we hurried across the immense parking lot, headed to the main gate. A light breeze, unusually cool for July, fanned our rushing faces. I pulled the folded-up ticket printouts from my pocket, ready to hand them over to the guy with the scanner, even as I passed my bag to the woman who gave it a cursory poke then waved me on.

My girl tugged on my hand, reading off the numbered sections. “C’mon, Mama. Keep going this way.” And we walked and walked and swerved to avoid giggling groups of teenage girls in team shirts. Finally Bear announced, “Section 201. Here it is, Mama!” And we sank into our seats as the first inning played on.

“Sorry we missed the national anthem, Beary,” I apologized. “But we’ll definitely hear ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ – okay?”

She nodded, eyes on the crowd, on the sun-setting sky, on the ads flashing across the electronic billboard across the field from our seats. Taking it all in. She’s like her Daddy; she loves coming to a baseball game.

We snapped a quick selfie, posted to Facebook “Great night for a ball game! This one’s for you, Kevster”, then I sat and wondered. Wondered if we were doing the right thing. The game we came to last year, just after Kevin died, was so…magical, I guess, for want of any other way to describe it. Could we capture that feeling again? Capture feeling Kevin so close to us? My girl insisted on this tradition, insisted that we come to a baseball game, but did she know that it might not feel the same this year?

The first inning ended, the second began. “Mama, can we get some peanuts?” Part of the tradition. Peanuts and Dr. Pepper. She cracked them against her seat, then pried the peanut out, dumping the shell onto the concrete beneath her shoes. “Do you think Rafael will be here again?” Not our cat – the Australian college student from last year. When I said I doubted it, she replied, “Well, I think something special will happen. We just have to look for signs.”

Something special.

My eyes gazed across the field, to the first base line. We’d sat there for a Yankees game nine years ago. Me, about twelve weeks pregnant with the Bear and down with morning sickness all day long. The drive into the city had nearly done me in, and I was nauseous and unsure about being at a baseball game. But it was the Yankees, and Kevin’s little-boy excitement was pretty contagious. Determined to help me feel better, he bought some Sea-Bands at a local drugstore, little elasticized cloth bracelets that applied pressure to take away seasick feelings. I was skeptical, but willing to try anything at that point. At the game, we asked a woman in the row in front of us to take a photo, and it’s one of my favorites. We’re both smiling – Kevin because he’s about to see the Yankees, and me because for the first time in three weeks I wasn’t doubled over heaving. That was something special, for sure.

Just over a year later, we were back at the stadium, this time lugging a diaper bag and a baby girl. She slept through most of the game, and Daddy fed her a bottle when she woke up crying. He was so proud to bring her to her first baseball game. I didn’t know exactly how proud until sometime during a break between innings when giant messages started streaming across the jumbo-tron, and suddenly there was our daughter’s name with a big welcome from the baseball team. Then I knew why Kevin had asked for the camera. He stood snapping pictures of the message and the bright stadium lights were nothing next to the love shining from his face. I should’ve known he’d do something to mark the day. I have a photo of him holding Bear and her bottle, and it’s one of my favorites, too. Something special.

Another year passed, and we headed back to the city for a baseball game. It was a giveaway day at the stadium and as we walked through the gates, a guy handed Beary a stuffed koala bear. It was nearly as big as her tiny 16-month self; she grabbed it with both hands and a big smile broke out behind her binky. Nothing could tear her away from her new toy. We hadn’t counted on the weather turning cool and rainy, though, and I’d forgotten a sweater for my girl. So Kevin searched a couple of stadium gift shops until he found a child-size team jacket. He paid way too much for it, and it was too big, but we rolled up the sleeves and she was warm and snug, thanks to her Daddy. Again, a kind stranger took a photo of the three of us – and the koala bear – and, yeah, it’s one of my favorites. Kevin’s arm around me, the Bear on my lap, with her bink and her bear. Something special.

The game played on. And my girl kept finding signs of something special about to happen. A bit of cloud floating down in front of us — Daddy watching the game, she said. A bright flashing ad for her favorite long-term parking spot at the airport. A triple peanut – very rare, she informed me.

And then, I heard it. Just a handful of notes at the beginning of the crowd sing-along and my girl and I looked at each other. Stared at each other in disbelief.

Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere

“Hey!” she cried in surprise, hands flapping with joy. “Daddy sent us his song!”

The excitement in her voice was something special. I lifted her up on the seat beside me and wrapped my arm around her tightly. Tears streamed down my face as I heard her clear little voice sing out with such love and gusto the words her Daddy blared on his car stereo at every chance:

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to that feelin’

She was right. Something special happened.

I thought about how I’d felt just a few innings before. Wondering if coming to this baseball game was a good idea. Wondering if we could capture the magic of Daddy with us one more time.

I should have known better. I should have known that being in that stadium, with so many wonderful memories, where we shared so many great times, would be a good thing, a special thing. It always has been. I should have known he would still be with us, and we’d feel all the love he ever gave us, ’cause it goes on and on and on and on. Cancer couldn’t stop it; death can’t, either. That kind of love is something special.

I don’t know how you pulled that one off, Kevster, I thought, but I’m glad you did.

Don’t stop believin’.

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Not “Doing Better”…Just Doing the Best I Can

I wasn’t sure how to take the words offered in our casual conversation.

“You’re doing a lot better than she did.”

The man compared my widowhood to that of his mother’s, many years ago. A different time, a different place, a different woman.

It was awkward; I didn’t know how to respond. Although it’s something I’ve thought a lot about lately, the truth is, I’m probably not doing any better than she did, or any better than any other woman struggling with being alone in a life she never wanted. I might appear okay, in small doses, in brief visits, but I still wake up every morning and stare at a photo of Kevin on my nightstand and wonder if I’ll ever wake up from this horribly bad dream. I feel stuck, in between my life with him that I loved and the life that I’ll have to live without him, the one I’m not sure about. I’m managing our household, carrying on with life and raising our Little Bear, but it’s not easy. I have good days and bad days, and at this point, there are more good days between the really bad days. But I still miss him every single day; that hasn’t changed.

I’ve been thinking about my grief journey because it occurred to me this week that I started this blog a year ago. Kevin had only been gone three months at the time and I started writing because I needed to talk about him. I was full of words and sadness and I struggled living in a world where Kevin wasn’t beside me talking and joking and keeping an eye out for Godfather references. I struggled with my grief, and with the enormity of realizing I had to keep going on without him, because we had a beautiful little girl who needed me. She didn’t quite understand why I was so sad, why living was so hard for me. She’s a wonderfully sensitive, wise-beyond-her-years little girl, but she’s young and it’s hard for her to understand how her Daddy’s death will always be part of our lives now. So I wrote, mostly for therapy, because I couldn’t keep it in, I couldn’t keep stuffing it down, and I couldn’t dump it on a kid. I wrote because I wanted a place for her to read about our journey. I wanted to tell her all the stories about her Daddy, to keep him alive in our hearts. She needed me to show her — I needed to show myself — that even at its hardest, saddest, most desperate times, life curves toward joy. Always.

Grief is hard. Still. Especially on days when it seems like Kevin has been forgotten, when it seems like I’m the only one who misses him, when it seems like the world doesn’t remember he existed. I have to dig extra hard to find any bit of joy on those days. But it’s always there – especially when I find my mini-Kev, hug her close and watch a smile spread across her face, eyes lit up with the same sly blue sparkle I saw in her Daddy.

Am I doing better?

I don’t know. I guess. Grief isn’t a series of boxes that I tick off until I’m finished, and the experience is over. Grief is more complicated than that. It’s one step forward and ten steps back a lot of days. It’s never over. It’s always with me, sometimes as quiet as the silent tear that traces my face and sometimes so crashingly loud I have to hide my face in a pillow and scream at the waves of sadness that threaten to drown me. Sometimes grief is laughing and crying at the same time because my girl is doing something so Kevin-ish that I’m a crazy mix of happy at the life we’re still living, but so sad that he’s not here to share it with us.

I am doing the best I can.

I’m doing it with each person who stops by this blog and reads just a bit and maybe leaves with a new thought about grief and life. I’m doing it with friends who keep coming by to visit and draw me out into this beautiful world. I’m doing it with God, who is keeping me afloat with His love and promises. And I’m doing it with my girl. Like me, she has lots of good days and some bad days, but I am always right there with her; I know I’m doing that part better, at least. We’re doing this together. I am by her side, with her no matter what. We are keeping on together, the best we can.


This is a song that was featured in Disney’s “Bears” that opened in April for Earth Day. I made my Little Bear sit through the credits so I could hear the words. It’s become a song I find myself humming on hard days:
No one said this would ever be easy, my love
But I will be by your side when the impossible rises up
We will travel this life well worn
No matter the cost, no matter how long
We will leave our footprints behind
And carry on

Floating

“…and now I can hear Dad crying in the shower so I put my purple fleece over my head and close my eyes and plug my ears and with my elbows I squeeze my Dictionary tight against my chest.”

I stopped reading and sat quietly for a minute. The Bear snuggled deeper into my shoulder and I could feel the warmth of her breath against my neck.

This book. It’s good for us to read together, to share. It’s hard, too, because on each page I see some of the story of our past year, through the eyes of a young autistic girl – a girl very much like my beautiful Bear. A girl dealing with a devastating loss, and trying to find closure and empathy, and struggling to understand the adults around her.

I whispered hesitant words into the stillness. “Did you know I did that? Cried in the shower?”

A look of surprise crossed her face. “You did?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Oh. I just thought you were taking a shower.” Then puzzled. “Why did you cry in the shower, Mama?”

“I was so sad, Little Bear. I miss Daddy so much, but I didn’t want you to see me that sad all the time. It was so hard last summer, baby girl, so hard. So if I needed to cry, I cried in the shower so you’d only hear the water splashing…not me.”

We sat quiet, then she offered, “Sometimes when you cried, I didn’t know what to do. I thought you might be mad at me if you saw me playing toys, so I just tried to hide in my room, but it was boring by myself. And…you yelled at me in June when upstairs was messy.”

“Yeah, I did.” Remembering last summer is hard, but I couldn’t cut her off, not when she needed to talk. The book was giving us the starting point we needed, a touchstone for our shared grief. I continued carefully. “I did…and I’m so sorry. Being without Daddy was – is – so hard, baby girl. I didn’t know how I could be without him and I was afraid. I think sometimes when people are afraid, they get mad and yell.”

She nodded thoughtfully. I’d asked forgiveness for that incident a thousand times from my beautiful girl and she’d given it so sweetly, tenfold. There were no hard feelings on her part, but plenty of guilt remained on mine. “I should’ve tried harder, baby girl, to not be so sad. But we made it, didn’t we? Things are better now, right?”

She nodded her head again. “Yeah, but that’s the part kids don’t really get, I think. I mean, I get that Daddy died and he can’t come back, and I miss him, too, but I don’t get why adults get so sad. I think it’s because you’re paddling too hard.”

Now it was my turn to be puzzled. “Paddling too hard? What do you mean?”

Her explanation floored me. “Well, Mama, it’s like being sad is water and you’re trying to paddle too hard against it, but you should just float in it, like I do. When you float, it’s more peaceful and eventually, you know, it’s happy.”

I pulled her close. “How’d you get so smart, little girl?” She giggled, “I don’t know, Mama. I guess things make more sense to kids sometimes.”

She’s right. I’ve been paddling hard. Very hard. I look back at the days we struggled through, the days I still struggle through. The days I was so sad, so afraid, so lost. The days I tried so very hard to figure out what to do next, how to go on without Kevin when all I wanted was to have him back. I paddled so hard, and it wore me down and wore me out and I cried in the shower and I yelled over stupid stuff and no matter how hard I paddled, I drowned in the waves of grief that relentlessly pulled me under.

And my girl was just as sad, and just as lost. She’s had incredibly hard days of grief. But she stuck by me, came to me for hugs and offered them back, not exactly grasping the depths of my grief, but understanding I needed comforting. And she kept on living. She chased puffs of clouds that Daddy threw down, and squeezed the tail of the cat Daddy sent, and threw caution to the wind in a game of math dice. She worked with her grief therapist, figuring out how to keep the best parts of Daddy alive and how to accept that it was okay for me to be sad. She kept on finding joy around every curve, secure in the knowledge that her Daddy loves her and wants her to be happy and have fun.

She floated.

I didn’t make it easy on her. My thrashing about in the sad water sent massive waves rocking downstream, upsetting the happy peace she floated toward. But she did it, anyway. She kept floating.

Silence settled across the house as I held her sprawled across my lap, Kevin’s recliner hugging us. I didn’t hustle her off to bed so I could cram in a few hours of work before my bleary eyes crossed and I crumpled into bed. I just held my girl and listened to her breathe. Listened to the house breathe. Listened to myself – for the first time in a long time – just breathe.

No worrying, no crying, no thinking. Just breathing.

This is what it feels like, I realized. To float.

It wasn’t exactly the peace my girl described. Not for me; not yet, anyway. My grief is still too fresh. But in that moment, I felt something release. I felt God’s assurance: “If you stop paddling, I promise you’ll float…not drown.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Sitting there, holding my incredibly wise little girl, I felt the possibility of peace – and that’s something I need.

I stopped paddling so fiercely.

For just a moment…then a moment more…I floated.

(Excerpt from Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine)

That’s Amore

Pizza.

Probably Kevin’s favorite food ever. He enjoyed telling the story of how he loved Pizzaria Uno’s pie so much until one day I said, “You know I can make that, don’t you?” And he didn’t believe me, but I did it. I mastered a deep dish pepperoni pizza that brought tears to his eyes, and the next time he ate at Uno’s, he didn’t even finish the pie because mine was better.

Sometimes when I really miss him, I go to the kitchen and make pizza dough. I don’t even need the recipe anymore; it’s imprinted in my brain just as surely as Kevin is imprinted in my heart. Handling the warm, soft dough is comforting; I feel like everything will be all right – even if just for a minute. In that moment, it is entirely possible that he will walk through the kitchen, see me making pizza, and start booming out, totally off-key, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!” In that moment, smiling at the memory transcends the grieving.

When my nephew got married recently, I knew exactly what I wanted to give him and his bride. A box of Penzeys spices – the ones I used to make homemade pizza – and my recipe for a deep dish pepperoni pie. My nephew’s eaten quite a few of my pizzas over the years, and I wanted to give them something, as they started their life together, that brought so much happiness to the life I shared with Kevin, something that had a special meaning that would linger long after the spices had been used up.

He called me today to verify a point in the recipe and a couple of hours later, his wife texted me a photo of an absolutely delicious looking deep dish pizza. Bubbling cheese, rich red sauce, golden crust – I could imagine the pungent aroma of garlic wafting through the air. I showed my daughter and she said, “Pizza! Mmmm…that looks good!” Daddy’s girl, that one.

I texted back that the pizza looked great and I was so happy to share with them something that had been at the heart of our home.

Her reply made my heart ache, even as my mouth turned up in a smile. “Yeah, he said Kevin loved it. It even brought tears to his eyes thinking about eating deep dish and watching the Godfather.”

My girl worries sometimes that people will forget her Daddy. I do, too. But I think she’s starting to realize, as I have, that as long as pizza is around, there will always be someone who takes a bite of a particularly good pie and thinks about Kevin. The two are inextricably linked.

Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling
Ting-a-ling-a-ling and you’ll sing, “Vita bella”

Memories of Kevin and delicious pizza? Beautiful life, indeed.

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.