Tag Archives: love

Speak Softly, Love…Again

“And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!” (Charles Dickens, 1812-1870)

He was only in my life for a little over a decade. Ten short years. But we lived forever in that short time. Our anniversary is coming up; at this time of year, I always go back to the words I wrote two years ago, on the first anniversary I spent without Kevin:

Kevin liked to say he waited a long time to get married because it takes a while to find a girl who will let him have The Godfather at the wedding.

I was that girl.

I sang Speak Softly, Love for him as we lit the unity candle. He never knew there were words to the love theme of The Godfather. But there are and I found them and it was my gift to him that day.

Speak softly, love, so no one hears us but the sky
The vows of love we make will live until we die
My life is yours and all because
You came into my world with love, so softly, love

We were so happy. So in love. The formality of the ceremony couldn’t keep us apart. We laughed and talked quietly and entwined fingers and arms at every chance because we couldn’t bear the inches that separated us on a day that joined us forever. The music swirled around us, the lyrics lingering as the minister prayed for health and happiness and long years together.

____________________________________________________

The doctor stopped me in the hospital hallway on New Year’s Eve and the soft-colored walls and carpeted floors couldn’t mute the sound of his words because I still heard the fragments: “counting time in months” and “less than a year” and “I’m so sorry.” When we were finally home and watching the ball drop in Times Square, I dropped to my knees and cried in my husband’s arms and he promised me that he wouldn’t die. Not this year.

Two weeks later, we sat in the social worker’s office at the cancer center and listened to her explain disability and Social Security and forms and deadlines and then a question about our anniversary, except she didn’t come right out and say it because when you’re dying, no one reminds you that death sits silent in the room with you. And I must’ve startled because Kevin reached out for my hand and squeezed my fingers and he reassured me, “Of course I’ll still be here for our anniversary.”

So we got back to living and I circled the date on our new desk calendar, with the oversize boxes to mark the busy-ness of life. I marked it Anniversary #10, the letters inking his promise to be here. It’s on the calendar — in ink — so it has to happen. He will be here and we will wake up with kisses and “I love you” and the sickness won’t scare us because we’re together, for better or worse.

‘Til death do us part.

We were married just less than ten years.

I cried when I ripped away July and the empty expanse of August stared up at me, with only the reminder of our anniversary marking the page. The boxes quickly filled with appointments, life moving me closer to the day that I can’t celebrate this year. I should be shopping for a tin anniversary gift to give him, and teasing Kevin for his appallingly bad attempt at pronouncing “aluminium” with a British accent, even as I search eBay and Etsy for a pendant necklace that fit this anniversary’s gifting criteria. There should be a chocolate pie in the refrigerator and bags packed for a weekend away with our daughter.

Instead, I’m feeling numb, worn out from the dream that haunted my sleep last week. I dreamed Kevin came back, wrapped me in his arms and gently chided my disbelief: “Of course I came back, baby doll. Did you think I’d miss our tenth anniversary?”

___________________________________________________

I watched our wedding video earlier this week because I think it will hurt too much on our anniversary. I smiled at my nieces and their toddler antics as they tossed flowers along the aisle. I laughed out loud as I watched myself turn to Kevin and say, “Look at me” and he mouthed back, “I can’t” because he was fighting emotion and trying to compose the tears of happiness bright on his cheeks; and I pulled him closer and our heads touched as I discreetly handed him my great-grandmother’s handkerchief, the “something old” I had wrapped around my bouquet. I cried as I watched us promise everything to each other and dance up the aisle with stupidly happy smiles, love spilling everywhere.

And through my tears, I heard echoes of Don Corleone:

“Well, there wasn’t enough time. There just wasn’t enough time.”

We did not have enough time, Kevin, but death cannot stop my love. I love you. Happy Anniversary.

I found him whom my soul loves. Song of Songs 3:4

Of Socks and Birthdays

I swept through the classroom, closing binders with one hand, even as I precariously aimed my foot at the reading rug and pillows scattered across the floor, trying to straighten them out in front of the fireplace.

“Beary! You got socks on? Time to roll!” I called down the hallway.

“I’m ready!” She emerged from her room with a stuffed cat and pointed a foot at me.

I glanced down and saw the solid blue star on the white background of her sock. A sock that didn’t begin to remotely match the outfit she’d put together, but totally made sense for the day. I looked at her and nodded. She nodded back and smiled. We didn’t have to say a word.

Dallas Cowboys socks on her birthday.

Of course.

It’s the day I miss Kevin most. Of all the beautiful things we created together – memories, traditions, a happy marriage, an incredible friendship – our little Bear is the most beautiful. And we made her. We made her. It still is such an awesome, gives-me-chills, mind-boggling realization. She is part of me and part of him, and all of God’s amazing plan. Infertility was our first struggle and I like to think it made us strong enough to face the fight with cancer that would come our way just two years later. In so many ways, our little miracle baby girl completed us, bringing more faith and love and happiness into our life than you could imagine six pounds and 12 ounces would be capable of holding.

And Kevin loved his Little Bear. Oh, how he loved her. Loves her still, as she reminded me not long after he died. He was fascinated by her and marveled at her tiny fingers and tiny toes and not-so-tiny baby cries. From the moment he walked in the door after work, he held her, hardly even putting her down to eat his supper. I always went to bed a little early, leaving her and Daddy sitting together in the front room, watching ESPN or reading a book. He’d feed her the nighttime bottle, then rock her to sleep. Sometimes I wonder what he whispered to her, as he cradled her in his arms, holding her close, his voice a soothing deep timbre in the dark. Did he tell her he’d always be with her? That she’d always be his little baby girl? That he’d love her forever…no matter what? Even if she wanted to date a Washington Redskins fan someday?

Yes, her birthday is the hardest day for me. I know life isn’t fair, but it seems so incredibly unfair that I get to be here, watching our little girl grow up, sparkling with magic and whimsy, and Kevin can’t share that joy with me. I feel guilt for celebrating this day that brought me so much joy, and I ache for what the two of them will never get to share, and I grieve because I want him here with us so badly. He’s supposed to be here – we’re supposed to do this part together. She’s so much like him – more every day, it seems. Her handwriting, her wry jokes; he would get such a kick out of her spot-on observations of the absurdities of life. She is the best thing I’ve ever done and I still can’t believe she belongs to me. How did I get so lucky? She’s nine now, going on twenty-nine it seems, and every day with her brings more delight – even the hard days.

And on that hardest of days, she surprised and delighted me again. I woke with a heavy heart, thinking of Kevin, memories of the night she was born chasing through my dreams. But her exuberant smile and birthday excitement were contagious. She ripped open her gifts and asked for leftover ice cream cake for breakfast – just like her Daddy. She chased the cats, made her bed, and read a book.

Then, to make sure Daddy was with her every step of the day, she pulled on her Dallas Cowboys socks – never minding the fact that sports socks don’t go with black Mary Janes.

She’s ready, all right. Ready to show me that he’s still here, still with us, still loving us, still part of this birthday celebration.

Somehow, over the last nine years, that tiny baby I snuggled close at the hospital turned into an amazing, smart, and brave girl. A girl confident in love and secure in knowing her Daddy is still with her.

I nodded again. It’s still a hard day, but it’s going to be okay. Our little girl is still bringing more faith, love, and happiness into my life than I could imagine. Thank you, God, for the gift of her. It’s her birthday, but she’s the gift.

“Okay, then,” I said. “Let’s go, birthday girl!”

And we were off.

I Will Remember

She doesn’t sit and cuddle up with me as much as she used to, so when she snuggled her head into my shoulder and I felt her warm breath soft against my neck, the song rose unbidden and filled the air around us. I didn’t even think about it – just closed my eyes as her fingers tangled in the ends of my hair – and sang the words low into the night.

Toora-loora-loora
Toora-loora-li
Toora-loora-loora
Hush now, don’t you cry
Toora-loora-loora
Toora-loora-li
Toora-loora-loora
It’s an Irish lullaby

I remembered all the words, though it’s been years since I sang my Bear to sleep. I sensed, rather than saw, her beautiful mouth curve into a smile as she curled more closely into me. She remembered, too.

My voice broke as I struggled to finish the song through the tears that filled my throat and threatened to spill from my eyes. It’s so lonely, sometimes, being the only one who remembers. Her daddy fought so hard to stay with us long enough that she would remember him, to have her own stories to tell of him, but I’m the only one who remembers so many of the details of her life – our life as a family of three – before he died. If she’s to know the stories, the anecdotes, the inside family jokes – it’s up to me to hand them down, like some modern-day minstrel, wandering the lanes of my life with Kevin, weaving our story and giving her a sense of the family we were and the one we’ve become.

I could buckle under the pressure of being the family bard, and in that first wicked wave of grief, I did. I was frantic to remember everything and I showed myself no mercy. I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I wandered around in the night, blearily, wearily, trying to hold on to every memory that flooded my mind. Distraught, discouraged, drained – I knew I was going to fail at this one simple task: telling my girl about her Daddy.

I had to remember.

Then Grief’s heartless cousin Guilt moved in, making itself at home in the wreckage of my life. And I felt bad that I couldn’t remember the name of Kevin’s summer-league baseball team, or the names of the guys he roomed with in college, or the only phrase he remembered from high school Spanish. He’d told me all these things, but our daughter hadn’t heard them yet, and now…well, now, it was up to me and the answers weren’t right at my fingertips. So I got mad. Not at Kevin, but at cancer. Stupid, hateful, life-destroying cancer. If cancer hadn’t taken him away from us, our Bear would know these things, and more, about her Daddy. We only had ten years together – we were still learning things about each other, and now I’ll never know what I didn’t know about him.

The guilt and the anger and the grief pulled at me. I searched for joy and snatched moments of happiness, but those three dogged me and I worried about the things my girl would remember about me, about this time after Daddy died. I didn’t want her to think back to a frightened, irritated, worn-out mama who talked about keeping on and trusting God, but didn’t really seem to live it, who cried and yelled and desperately needed sleep. I needed to trust in the Lord with all my heart and seek His will and pray without ceasing and let Him comfort me in my mourning.

I needed to remember that my God will supply all my needs.

All my needs.

Even my memories.

He didn’t bring Kevin into my life, didn’t walk with us through the days of infertility and sustain us in the years of cancer, only to abandon me when Kevin died. He didn’t shower us with blessings, with comfort and joy and happy days, with heartachingly wonderful moments, and a beautiful Bear, only to leave me with no love and hope and no memories to hold on to in the dark days.

We will remember we will remember
We will remember the works of Your hands
We will stop and give You praise
For great is Thy faithfulness

You’re our creator, our life sustainer
Deliverer, our comfort, our joy
Throughout the ages, You’ve been our shelter
Our peace in the midst of the storm
….
When we walk through life’s darkest valleys
We will look back at all You have done
And we will shout “Our God is good
And He is the faithful One”

So I stop and I float and I pray and hold tight to His promises, and I live and love my girl and believe that all will be well; God’s working it out. He is good and He is faithful.

And I will remember. When I need to, I will remember, and she will, too. Words to a long-ago lullaby, stories of Kevin’s childhood, crazy travel mishaps, funny things that he and Beary did together.

But more than that, I will remember the love. Oh, the love. The glorious, life-altering, fill-me-up-to-overflowing love that spilled over and streamed through this home and bound the three of us together and created a family story we will tell again and again and again. That’s what I want my girl to remember most of all. The love. Whatever else I remember to tell her or forget to tell her, I want her to remember the love. God’s love. Her Daddy’s love. All the love we had for each other.

I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of thing you never forget.

“We Will Remember” by Tommy Walker

The Unremarkable Room

The room was unremarkable, really. Square-ish, small, with scuffed wooden floors and an outdated fireplace. But he could see the possibilities of that room and imagine it and in his mind it was the home library he’d always wanted.

“Hey, Baby Doll, we can line that wall with bookshelves and put a couple of leather chairs facing the fireplace. It’ll be great!” Kevin’s voice echoed in the mostly empty room.

His eyes shone as the space transformed in his mind. The scuffed floor disappeared as I entered his imagination. “And a cozy rug under our feet. Maybe a couple of lamps by the chairs for reading light. Oooh, and a low table in between our chairs for a cup of tea.”

“Quite right, old girl,” he clipped out in an appallingly bad British accent, then reached out to squeeze a hug around my waist. At my feet, our six-month-old baby Bear woke up in her pumpkin seat. Her Kevin-blue eyes blinked slowly as she twisted her head up toward our voices, then a giggle bubbled out.

“I think Beary likes this house, too,” laughed Kevin. “This is it. This is the one. Let’s do it.”

A few weeks later, with papers signed and new keys in hand, we moved into the house with the unremarkable room. The cozy rug went down in front of the fireplace and beautiful oak bookcases lined the long wall. We filled them with books, books, and more books – all the history we loved and read voraciously, arranged in a loose chronological fashion. No overstuffed leather reading chairs yet, but a floor lamp and an old lounge chair from Kevin’s bachelor days offered a place to sit, at least. A few toys scattered across the floor and a baby girl rolling in the sun lighting the room from double windows on the south wall completed the picture. No echoes in the room now, just happy baby babbling.

We surveyed the scene from the kitchen entry. “The books look nice, Baby Doll!” His voice rumbled by my ear. “Yeah,” I replied, “The shelves turned out so nice. And we’ll get the chairs eventually; it doesn’t have to be finished all at once.”

The years went by and the room never was finished – at least, not the way we’d first imagined. More toys found their way into the cozy space. A Christmas tree went up by the fireplace and Santa brought a play kitchen which fit perfectly, tucked into a corner of the room. An art easel and sturdy plastic Step 1 play table claimed the space on the rug in front of the fireplace. A bin of stuffed animals lounged in the warm window and a wooden train track nestled in the valley between the bin and the beautiful bookshelves. We laughed about how a tiny girl had taken over our hearts…and turned our dream library into a playroom.

A couple more years passed and we thought of the day when our girl would head to school and the playroom could finally turn to the library we still imagined from time to time. But plans changed again and the playroom turned into a classroom as Little Bear and I explored preschool fun together, then moved to full-time homeschool. When his declining health forced Kevin to leave work, he took on a new job as history teacher to our girl. Their matching blue eyes shone with pride as Beary recounted the morning’s lesson to me, with Kevin nodding when she glanced at him for confirmation about a fact.

I cleared the room out over the weekend. A hailstorm damaged our roof last spring, and it had started to leak by the fireplace in the classroom. New shingles and flashing fixed the problem outside, but some of the classroom ceiling had to be removed and replaced. A two-day project, I was told, but everything had to be taken out of the room before work could begin. Art carts and storage cabinets and bookshelves lined the hallway, while the classroom table found center stage in the kitchen. I took down all the maps and posters and the mostly empty room once more echoed with my footsteps. It felt like déjà vu.

The cats sniffed around, curious at the emptiness, and my girl danced around, delighting in the echo-ey reverberations that bounced off the walls. I stood in the middle of the room, on the still-scuffed wooden floors.

“Can you see it, Baby Doll?”

I heard his voice echoing from my heart.

I felt a tear slip down my cheek. Yeah, Kev. I can see it.

And I could, because I knew he didn’t mean the once-dreamed about library. We had a single dream for that room, but God gave us so much more, because our dream was so small and His plan is huge and perfect and He knew that a room filled with books couldn’t fill my life with the memories I’d need after Kevin died. I could see a laughing baby crawling across the cozy rug. I saw tea parties with Kevin’s crown perched precariously atop his head as he balanced himself on a toddler-sized chair. I saw our girl, completely splattered with paint, laughing gloriously as she swiped her hands across the easel and created “art” for Daddy’s office. I saw a manger and a reindeer and a Christmas tree with a little girl laying underneath, mesmerized by the twinkling white lights. I saw books and pencils and three-ring binders and our Bear at her study table, her little brain soaking up all the knowledge we poured over her. I saw all the love that filled this room every day and spilled over into the house, as the library gave way to a playroom and classroom.

That unremarkable room filled our life with extraordinary happiness and the memories of it all still echo in my heart. There is still so much aching and loneliness in my heart, but sitting there on the floor in that room echoing with Kevin’s voice and my daughter’s laughter, I felt a little less empty, a little more able to keep on going without him. We never got the library, but we got the life God allowed us to live – and, as Kevin predicted when we first saw the room…

It was great.

Broken Hearts and the Glue of Joy

She felt a little nervous about this; “for it might end, you know,” said Alice to herself, “in my going out altogether like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?” And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle is like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.(from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

The sun dropped down into the trees behind her shoulder and not even the last, defiantly fiery blaze of scarlet rays could ward off the chill I felt inside at her words.

Fell down…
skull fracture…
ventilator…
We just don’t know…

I stumbled through clumsy words I hoped were enough, even as I knew they weren’t. No words are sufficient or right in that situation. This I know. Then I stumbled home, tears filling my eyes as I crossed the short stretch of yard that separated our houses. It hurts too much; I can’t take anymore. The broken pieces of my heart crumbled a little more at knowing my neighbor lay hurting in a hospital.

More bits crumbled inside when, later, I tucked my daughter into bed and listened to her sweetly childish prayer, “Bless Mr. C, God, and make his head better.” I fervently echoed her words then leaned in for the warm hug she squeezed around my neck. She doesn’t know it, but I depend on that hug every night to pull all the broken bits of me back together, to spread the glue of her love and compassion and joie de vivre across the fissures inside, to press my shattered heart gently back together, at least enough to manage another day.

Like Alice, I’m a little nervous right now. I worry that I’m disappearing, that the me I was is no longer and I don’t know about the me I’m becoming. Lots of days, the spirit is battered and the flame is weak and I cling to God’s promise that He will not break the bruised reed or put out the flickering wick (Isaiah 42:3). When Kevin died, grief split me wide open and all the wonderful bits of life were shattered by cancer’s heavy-handed blow. I struggled then – I struggle now – to gather all the pieces we’ve left and put a life back together, a life with my daughter that honors the spirit of her Daddy, that keeps his love swirling around us and inside us, linking us forever as a family. It’s not easy – this keeping on.

And this life alone…some days I wonder if I’m strong enough for it. I feel lonely and lost. I miss him so much. I want to hear his voice booming through the house. I want to feel his lips brush mine in a good-night kiss. I want to see him cuddle our girl and read her a story. And I wonder, if my heart keeps breaking over and over again every day in grief for him and sadness for the world, what will happen?

Will enough be left to keep hope alive and love beating steadily?

Yes.

The confident voice rises from somewhere deep inside the heart that my daughter’s hug has gently pressed back together.

Yes.

God knows broken hearts. He knows overwhelming grief. He knows the sadness in this life and He knows the darkness death brings. He knows we will feel overwhelmed and exhausted and our hearts will be frayed from being broken open for others.

But He also knows hope and love and peace. And He knows even just one small bit of joy found each day will be enough glue to hold me together for a little longer. When tiny fragments of joy collide with jagged shards of despair, they don’t shatter into crumbs of dust and blow away. No, all those specks and smidgeons gloriously scatter and, like magnificent God-filled-up prisms, reflect even more of His light into my life, multiplying the joy. And the joy is glue, more glue, enough glue to patch the pieces of this broken up heart, strengthening it for another day. The joy grows and my heart heals and it’s slow, but it’s enough.

Hope is alive and love beats steadily.

Updated to add: My neighbor passed away, and my heart cries again for the loss his family feels. Thank you, Mr. C for sending over a guy to blade the snow from my driveway. Thank you for mowing an extra strip (or two) of the grass between our yards. Thank you for generously sharing your tools as this stay-at-home mom tried some DIY projects. Thank you for waving each time you saw me in the yard – sometimes it was my only human contact on a hard day. You will be missed.