Tag Archives: family

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.

The Magic

I blinked as we stepped out of the gift store into the bright sunshine. When I spotted the gray Dallas Cowboys t-shirt across the plaza, I headed toward it, ready to tell Kevin all about Beary’s excitement over her new pin.

Then I blinked.

And remembered.

And realized that the guy wearing the gray Dallas Cowboys shirt wasn’t Kevin, after all. Mid-stride, I slowed. Faltered. Stopped.

And admitted to myself that Kevin isn’t here. No matter how much I wish it were so and pretend it is so, he isn’t waiting at the next bench, or at the ice cream stand, or holding our place in line. He isn’t going to laugh as Beary dances with Goofy, or wave wildly from the pixie-dusted pirate ship as we soar over London, or beam with pride as his little princess guides the Jungle Cruise through the dark tunnel, carefully listening to the guide’s directions.

He’s not here.

But we are.

We’re at the magical world of Disney, the happiest place on earth, and I feel neither joy nor cheer. I’m following my girl around, and she’s glowing with excitement and anticipation, and making plans right and left, and I keep hoping that her glee will rub off, but it doesn’t work that way. I paste a smile to my face and push the sadness down, down, farther into the Kevin-sized hole inside me, try to keep my grief from tainting her delight.

But she feels it, too. I hear the wistful tinge in her voice when she explains how Daddy pushed the accelerator in the racecar at Tomorrowland Speedway, but she always manned the steering wheel. She’s a little irritated with my ineptness at the Dumbo ride; Daddy knew to hand her his side of the seat belt so she could push it together with her side and hear the satisfying click and know she was safe. We’re both flailing, reaching blindly for what’s not there. For Daddy.

I knew it would be hard, our first family vacation without Kevin, but I never imagined the deluge of emotions that would swamp our days. I didn’t know I would cry and panic and withdraw, folding more into myself with each cheery smile from a cast member. I didn’t know how small, how lost and alone, two people would feel, clinging to each other, surrounded by boisterous, laughing, matching t-shirted families. I knew we would miss him and remember him…but I didn’t know how much.

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. New characters, new rides. New levels of sharing, as she asked questions about her Daddy, wondering if he’d done this or thought that. We giggled and remembered and hugged him so tightly to us.

And then it was there. A flicker. A faint glow. A sparkle of pixie dust on my Little Bear’s face. Enchanting. Exquisite. Swirling and glittering and weaving the old memories with the new, entwining our grief and our giggles, our heartbreak and our hope. Twirling and shimmering, whirling faster and then bursting into a brilliant radiance and I saw him, and us, and the beautiful magic, the life we created.

She clasped my hand and tucked herself into my side. “We’re okay, right, Mama?” she asked.

I squeezed her close and nodded and hope twinkled around us.

A Sand Dollar for Daddy

After Beary was born, I bought into the whole Hallmark keepsake ornament tradition because, of course, new baby + sentimental commercial = teary Mama and a trip to the nearest Hallmark store. Keepsake. Tradition. Memories. The advertising campaign was brilliant and easily reeled in two new parents, stupidly in love with each other and their little girl. We started her collection that year, just before she turned one, with a charming Winnie the Pooh and Piglet ornament, the two characters adorably wrapped in Christmas-striped scarves, frolicking around a giant candy cane.

And just like that, it was our tradition. Each year, Kevin took off work early and we loaded up to take the Bear to visit Santa at the mall, belting out Christmas carols all the way, his mostly off-key renditions making us laugh. Afterward, we strolled down to the Hallmark store and picked out an ornament to commemorate the occasion. And each year the ornament represented an event, or something that she was currently interested in, something that sparked her passion and consumed her for the year: Thomas the Tank Engine, Toy Story, a ballerina, Frosty the Snowman, Dora the Explorer.

So now, it’s what we do at Christmas: she picks a new ornament every year and proudly hangs it in a place of honor – front and center – on the tree. Where we can’t miss it. Where we’re reminded, each time we pass by, of whatever impressed her that year.

Last week was really hard. The rain, the leaves, the grief – it was all piling up and I had to get out of town. So we packed a suitcase and set off to the city. We wandered a beautiful exhibit of French impressionists at the art museum and, inspired, she plopped down in front of the paintings to sketch. We giggled as sea creatures in the aquarium’s touch pool tickled our fingers and wrinkled our noses at the sharp fishy smell. We ate a leisurely lunch and shared a decadent dessert and contemplated how long was too long to stay in the hot tub at the hotel.

And even though it’s much earlier than I usually start thinking about Christmas, when I saw a Hallmark store, I said, “Hey! Let’s pick out your ornament for this year.”

She was on board, even though we hadn’t seen Santa yet or even completed her Christmas list. I set her loose to meander along the ornament wall, thinking it would take her a while to examine each ornament. I imagined she’d ooh and ahh over each cute snowman or cat ornament, and push each tiny button on the battery-operated ones, dancing in the aisles with excitement as tinny holiday music tinkled out.

But I was wrong.

She honed in on one section and it wasn’t long before she said, “This one, Mama. For Daddy.”

I walked over to her. She looked up at me, then pointed to a box right in front of her – on her eye level, so there’s no way she would’ve missed seeing it.

A simple sand dollar, a tiny dove hanging from its pearly-gold ribbon, with an inscription: The ones we love never truly leave us.

Stupid Hallmark…always making me cry.

She looked up at me anxiously, waiting for my reaction. I blinked back tears, not wanting my grief to intrude on her happiness at choosing her ornament.

“Because Daddy, well, he’s still in our hearts, Mama,” she explained earnestly.

“I know, baby girl…he sure is.”

She nodded and smiled and gently carried the box to the counter, pleased to have a keepsake ornament that includes her Daddy in our Christmas this year.

Honestly, I’m not ready for the holidays. I don’t know how to celebrate without Kevin. I don’t want to celebrate without Kevin. I have no holly jolly fa-la-la-la-la joy this year. If I could, I’d just skip it all. Hide from now until February. No turkey, no pumpkin pie. No twinkly-light tree or stockings by the fire. No champagne flutes and party hats. Nothing.

But I can’t.

Because I have a little girl with Kevin-blue eyes who earnestly looks to me to keep things together. A little girl who loves our traditions, looks forward to each little ritual, and depends on me to carry on and keep something consistent in our life that’s been turned upside down.

A little girl who, when given an entire wall of whimsy and sparkle, chose a simple ornament for her Daddy. An ornament that represents our year and forever marks the day our lives changed. An ornament that will hang front and center on our tree this year, gently reminding us as we flounder through the heartache of this holiday season:

The ones we love never truly leave us.

Postcards and Popsicles

The grey clouds have felt so heavy this week.

Leaden, overcast, gloomy.

I’m so tired of rain falling and leaves dying. Joy falling and hope dying.

Melancholy, glum, disconsolate.

The clouds press down, the grief presses down. It’s too much. Too much pressure and too much sadness. It’s hard to think and move and feel.

I’m trying to shake it off and get it together because how many times can I tell my beautiful Bear, “I’m sorry, Beary. I guess I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning”? But my head aches and my heart aches and her skinny arms wrapped tightly around my neck in her Beary-bear hug help for a while, but the grief-sodden clouds are so heavy.

I feel like I need to take control of something, make something happen. The office is my target. I put together some cube shelving, and the work feels good. The screwdriver twisting in my hand, the shape of the shelves taking place. I needed this. I attack the scrapbooking table, which has become the dumping ground for scraps and memories and bills and cards. I sort and toss, ruthlessly throwing away bits and pieces and the piles are getting smaller and the trashcan is getting fuller and then two postcards stop me fast.

Postcards from Atlanta. One for me, one for the Bear. From the work trip Kevin took the week before his colonoscopy. The week before his diagnosis. The week before everything we knew about our life got turned inside out. I don’t know how I missed finding these before, in my frantic sweep for his handwriting in the weeks after he died. But I did, and they’re here, and my heart needed his words.

Baby Doll, I would rather be home with you and Bear. I miss you. Love, Kevin

Through my tears, I read Beary’s card – precious silly words from her Daddy – and his postscript makes me smile:

P.S. We will have a popsicle when I get home!

And now I’m crying and laughing and a little shaft of light is trying to gleam through the grief. Popsicles. Those two and their popsicles. He kept the freezer full of them and she was hooked from the moment she crawled up into his lap and begged a bite of the sticky sweet ice he was slurping on.

Two weeks after he returned from that Atlanta trip, he was in the hospital recovering from the surgery that removed a tennis ball-sized tumor and eighteen inches of his colon. I was traveling back and forth between home and the hospital, trying to monitor his care and spend time with our girl, who didn’t really understand why Mama and Daddy weren’t both home playing with her.

On the third day after his surgery, Kevin was allowed to have a popsicle. He was so happy with his frozen treat that, when I left the hospital to spend a few hours at home, he magnanimously said, “Give the Bear a popsicle for me.” So, when I got home, I swept my little curly-haired toddler up into a hug and told her, “Daddy said you could have a popsicle, Bear.” Her eyes lit up and she wriggled down from my arms, heading straight to the freezer door. I pulled out a popsicle for her and she took off to the playroom with it. A few minutes later, after she polished it off, she came back through the kitchen and with a mischievous grin, said, “Daddy said more popsicles for Bear, Mama!”

Postcards. Popsicles.

I clutch the cards to me.

Grateful, thankful, happy.

Joy rises through my teary laughter and some clouds lift and drift slowly and a tiny bit of bright hope blue sky peeks through the grief.