Tag Archives: happiness

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’.

Sketching Life

I walked through the classroom on my evening rounds, putting away books and other stray bits of kid detritus that I’d found strewn about the house. She sat at the study table, busily drawing a page full of timepieces: a watch, a clock, a timer with seconds ticking off in a penciled blur. When she saw me walk by, she asked, “Mama, can I draw your portrait?” Drawing people is something she wants to be able to do well, so she practices portrait sketching whenever she can.

“Sure,” I answered and dumped my armload of stuff in the reading chair. “Where should I sit?”

“Across from me is okay.” She directed me to face her, and tilt away from the light just a bit.

“Do you want me to take off my glasses?” I’d be more than happy to, because I’d been wearing them for a week while taking steroid drops for an eye issue. The bridge of my nose hurt; my ears hurt. I missed my contacts.

“Ummm, no. It’s okay. I think I can draw them.”

A look of concentration settled on her face, and her pencil began hesitant strokes. She studied my face, then drew a few lines. Looked up again, then a few more lines. So serious with her work.

She caught me glancing at her paper and giggled.

“I know it doesn’t look very good right now, but that’s because all the parts aren’t there yet. It’ll look better when I put in the details.”

She got back to work and I settled back in the chair, my mind wandering, thinking about her words, because it seems that even when my girl’s not trying to be profound, she unintentionally says the most thought-provoking things.

It doesn’t look very good right now, but that’s because all the parts aren’t there yet.

That’s kind of where I am in life right now. Just last week, I ripped away another month from the calendar. Another page that carried me farther from the days when Kevin was still here. Still laughing with me and cuddling with his Bear and gathering us both in for a Family Group Hug. Still with us, making our family complete. It hasn’t gotten easier; waking up and moving through the day, I still half-expect him to wander through the garage door at supper time. He is still so much right here, that it’s hard to remember he’s gone. It’s hard in that moment when reality does hit and I remember: He died.

It doesn’t look very good right now.

I’m trying to float; I really am. I know it’s better for me, and better for my daughter. And some days are better than others. The Bear and I have become bicyclists of a sort. We load up our bikes and find a local trail, and it’s easy to float when I’m coasting down a small incline and the wind rushes against my face. I don’t have to think; I just have to feel. I even posted on my Facebook, “Feeling alive”, because I did. Watching my little girl’s legs pump furiously as she stood up on the pedals, preparing for the next bit of uphill trail, I felt alive and happy and so proud of her. She’s so strong, and she makes me want to be strong, as well, inside and out.

All the parts aren’t there yet.

So I take all the hard days, and the sad days, and days when I drown in grief, and I look at all the happy days, the laughing days, and days when I manage to float. It’s still kind of uneven, but that’s just how grieving works. Someday there will be a better balance; I know it. It’s just that all the parts aren’t there yet. There’s a lot left to be filled in. So many lines yet to be drawn in this sketch of my life. So many details that will help me live with the Kevin-sized emptiness I feel. I don’t know what the days and months and years ahead of me will hold. There are a lot of details God hasn’t revealed yet. He knew me before I was formed, and He knew that some of the details of my life would be hopeful and exciting, like marrying Kevin and the birth of our Bear, and others would be hard, forcing me to lean even more on Him, like cancer and death. I’m trusting Him with the details. I hope there’s laughter and adventures and opportunities to reach out and help others. I hope that when all the parts are filled in, my life looks good and God-filled.

She sketched a few more lines, then scrunched her nose up ruefully as she studied her incomplete work.

“I don’t know, Mama. You kind of look like a cartoon dog.”

We looked at the sketch, then looked at each other and burst into laughter.
Through her peals of merriment, I suggested, “I think maybe we need to add some more parts.”

Nora self portrait
(This is not the portrait we agreed should be called “Mama, the Cartoon Dog” – that one ended up in the recycling bin. This is a, I think, really well-done self-portrait of my girl from last fall, used with her permission. She’s even more beautiful in real life.)

The Pickle

The jar is still in the garage refrigerator. I’m not sure how Kevin managed to get it home sometime in those last weeks before he died. It’s the big jar – 2.5 quarts. Hauling that and his portable oxygen tank through the store couldn’t have been easy – but he loved those giant dill pickles.

The jar is still there, still half-full. He didn’t get them all eaten before he died, and I didn’t think about tossing the jar because cleaning out the garage refrigerator was not on my radar last summer. I barely cleaned out the refrigerator in the kitchen this past year.

I’m not sure what to do with the jar now. It’s obviously over a year old, but I don’t want to throw it out. Kevin touched it. That means something, though I’m not sure what.

***********************************************************************

I heard the garage door rattle up and the truck roared into its parking spot. For a second after the engine stopped, I could hear talk radio blaring through the closed windows and garage wall. Then it was quiet. The kitchen door still didn’t open, and I knew what was going on. Sure enough, when Kevin walked through the door to give me a kiss, his lips were cool and tasted of pickles.

“Ewww! Did you just drink pickle juice?” I backed away, holding my nose after a quick peck.

He laughed, admitted to his crime, and tried to pull me closer for another kiss, just to tease me. Little Bear had come running at the sound of the word “pickle” and now danced around our legs, jumping up and down. “Daddy, where’s my pickle?! Daddy, can I please have one of your pickles?! Please?!”

I just groaned.

And knew that in about five minutes, after he’d changed into some sweatpants and a t-shirt, the two of them would be sitting in the recliner, watching cartoons, and crunching on giant salty dill pickles.

Those two and their pickles.

*************************************************************************

We wandered around the Renaissance Faire, clutching various treasures she’d accumulated along the way: a dragon’s teardrop, a few jewels, a homemade pirate flag, some business cards. After the jousting tournament and her presentation to the queens upon completion of the Kids Quest, I asked her:

“So, Bear, are we about done? Is there anything else we need to do before we head out?”

We took a few more steps along the tree-shaded path, our feet making little clouds of dust in the road as we passed by the storyteller, dramatically waving her arms about to illustrate her story. Another few steps and then, very quietly:

“Well, Mama, did you forget about my pickle?”

The pickle.

We’d seen a cart by the jousting field. A black chalkboard advertised in scrawling white letters: PICKLES $1.00.

“Look, Mama! Daddy’s pickles!”

And I promised her we’d get one when we finished the Quest. And then, over the course of the afternoon, I’d forgotten because pickles have never been high on my list.

But she’s her Daddy’s girl. And those two love their pickles.

I looked at her pleading eyes, shook my head with a wry grin, and we backtracked through the village, on a quest for a pickle. I passed over the dollar, and my girl accepted the giant dill pickle with an equally giant smile on her face. We wandered down into the shady hollow and found a little bench, tucked back from the dusty trail.

CRUNCH! She bit in and the pickled skin snapped and the smell of vinegar floated in the air around us.

CRUNCH! I saw Kevin’s laughing face and tasted the dill on his mouth.

CRUNCH! Her cool lips brushed my cheek in a quick kiss in between bites.

“Daddy and I love big pickles, don’t we, Mama?” She kicked her legs happily, the smile never leaving her face even while she crunched away on her icy treat.

I nodded.

“Why do we like pickles so much, Mama?” She wasn’t necessarily looking for an answer, it was just part of the script surrounding my two pickle people.

I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe because you’re sour?” Her delighted laugh rang out through the trees. “Maybe because you’re so ‘dilly’?” Somehow a giggle escaped around the bite in her mouth.

It didn’t really hit me until later. But if I think about it, the whole point of pickling something is to preserve it, to flavor it, to make it last. And eating pickles is a way to keep Daddy close to her; it’s something the two of them shared – even down to drinking the leftover juice from the jar. Maybe she likes pickles so much because she loves her Daddy so much. Maybe eating these sour pickles flavors her memories of him with a sweetness only the two of them could ever understand. Maybe these giant dill pickles preserve Daddy in her heart, keep him with her in a way that only she can appreciate.

Those two and their pickles…

The jar is still in the garage refrigerator. I think for now…it needs to stay.

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.

The Broken Shells

She came skipping across the sand, hand tightly closed around something she’d collected at the surf’s edge, her face glowing with excitement and exclamations jumping from her lips.

“Oh, Mama! Look what I found! You’re going to be so amazed! They’re SO PRETTY!”

She leaned against me. Her skin was cool from the gulf water, and the drips of saltwater plopping from the ends of her braids felt good against my sun-heated arm. She unfolded her hand and beamed with pride.

“Look,” she invited. “Don’t you think they’re amazing?”

In the palm of her hand were two pieces of shells. Broken pieces, with jagged edges not quite yet worn smooth by the tossing of the waves. Of all the shells on the beach – and there were a lot to choose from – these two pieces had caught her eye. Two broken shells.

“Mama?” she prompted, “don’t you love the colors? They look so bright.”

She smiled down at the pieces and gently touched them with the tip of one finger, careful not to damage them, enchanted with the beauty she’d uncovered in the gritty sand.

“You’re right, Beary. They’re beautiful,” I finally said and smiled up at her.

“Will you watch them for me, Mama? I don’t want them to get lost because they need to be in my collection.”

I pulled a plastic baggie from the beach bag, scooped in a couple of handfuls of sand, then carefully placed the pieces inside. “Snug and safe,” I assured her.

She danced away to dare the surf to roll over her toes and I tucked the baggie under the beach chair. I sat, watching her jump and splash and simply vibrate with energy. The crashing waves, the cool ocean breeze ruffling the edge of her beach hat – her every sense was satisfied with the colors and sounds and sensations of the beach.

I looked at that joy shimmering in front of me and I looked at the baggie with its broken treasure and it made perfect sense to me that of all the shells on the beach, she saw the beauty in those two broken ones. That’s just how she is, trying to find the positive, recognizing the good in this imperfect life. I thought how many people had gotten up early to walk the beach and search for perfect shells rolled in on the night tides. I thought how these bits had been overlooked until my little sprite happened upon them, dug them out of the wet sand pressing them down, and declared them beautiful.

I taught her how to do that. It feels like a lifetime ago, but I did that. I taught her how to find all the little things that make life happy and good, things that others might overlook but are really gifts from God. You have to, when cancer comes to live with you. You have to find all the good things in life, all the joy, all the little moments that bring great happiness. It’s the only way to keep going. But then Kevin died and I forgot how to do it. I forgot how to look at my life, our life, and find beauty. All I could see through my tears were the broken pieces, jagged and jutting up, sharp reminders of the pain and loss and loneliness I wake up with each morning.

I’m trying. Between God’s promises and my little girl, I get plenty of reminders that life is still to be lived and enjoyed and, yes, even celebrated.

I reach under my chair and pull out the baggie. I look at the shells again, past their brokenness. Really look at the colors and shapes and texture. And I see what my girl saw. Beauty. Unrecognized beauty. A gift to those who know how to find and appreciate the little joys God gives us each day.

I’m out of practice, but I try.

Cool sand under my sun-hot feet.

The cry of a bird skimming over the ocean waves, diving for a fish.

My daughter’s shrieks of delight rising over the pounding surf.

Broken shells. Broken life.

It’s still possible to find the beauty in both.

My girl says so.

Note: I’ve been trying each day to find a bit of beauty, a little gift of joy. When the grief overwhelms, finding something good gives me a focus and I think Kevin wants me to keep looking for the happy bits of this life – especially the happy bits our girl brings me. To keep me on track, each Thursday I’ll list a few bits of happiness that I recognized and dug out to treasure.