Tag Archives: love

Life and Yellow Lights

An involuntary cry caught in my throat as I watched the car I was following speed down the road while I braked to a sudden stop. The yellow light flickered to red and the car disappeared around a curve.

“Mama?”

I heard my girl’s voice from the back seat. A little quaver, not panic. She’s gotten so good – too good – at picking up every tiny shift in my emotional barometer.

“Where did they go? Are we going to be lost now?”

I replied mechanically, the same words I’ve used over and over and over these last eighteen months in every situation that I’m unsure of: “We’re okay. We’ll be fine.”

A tear slid down my cheek. I hoped my oversized sunglasses hid it from my daughter’s eyes, peering at me from her backseat perch. It’s such stupid stuff that makes me cry these days. Random stuff. A missed phone call, a canceled get-together, a song playing in a store, a car leaving me behind at a stoplight. The wicked, crushing sobs of that first fresh grief no longer overwhelm me, but these smaller moments when tears sting my eyes unexpectedly are no less painful or powerful. I still can’t control the anguish when grief prickles and probes at the gaping black loneliness I feel without Kevin.

We’re okay. We’ll be fine. I think, I added.

I need Kevin, I thought a little hysterically, and another tear dripped off my chin and rolled down the seatbelt. I need Kevin and his maps. It was a little joke that every major car trip included him handing me a stack of pages printed from Mapquest. He drove and I navigated, pulling one map after another out of his carefully-prepared trip binder. Not that we didn’t still get turned around and off the beaten track a few times, computer and human error being unavoidable, but at least we had a map.

I didn’t have a map. Not for this road, and certainly not for this life.

I need Kevin.

The light finally turned green and I lurched forward, hitting the gas pedal too hard as I tried to catch up to the other car, tried to close the gap between us. Impossible. I felt trapped in a nightmare of those stupid word problems that confounded me in math class: If Car A is traveling x miles per hour and has a five minute head start, at what point will Car B, traveling y miles per hour catch up?

Answer: Never. The answer is never, never, never.

I will never catch up. Not on this physical road. Not on the metaphorical road. As much as I try to keep up with the other cars and people, and blend in with the traffic and activities, and just keep life going on, going forward, grief is like a yellow light flashing to red. It slows me down, forces me to stop, and life…well, it goes speeding by.

But as I’m stopped, waiting for my chance to get back on the road, to get going again, I realize what I told my daughter is true.

I don’t have to catch up. I can travel at the speed that works for me and we’re okay. We’ll be fine.

I know.

Because I do have maps. God wouldn’t leave me wandering.

When I’m sad and desperately missing my best friend, I think about Kevin and his maps. And then I hear God say, Find Joy — there’s some in every day if you look — and start there and then keep going. It will take you straight to Peace. The road twists a little, there are some sharp curves, and it might take a long time, but just keep going; you can’t miss it. I promise.

When I’m scared and lonely and need someone to talk to, I imagine God holding another map up to me. If you take Prayer, He says, that street right here, see? Well, just stay on it for a while, no stopping, and Comfort will be coming up soon.

Living with cancer is not an easy road. There are lots of dead-ends and Road Closed Ahead signs. Detours and No U-Turns Allowed are all over the place – even when all you want is to find the road that gets you back to the life you had before – the one without cancer. After a while, you accept the fact that the road you most want isn’t on any map you hold anymore. You have a new map, and new roads to travel, and you just have to figure out the best route to get through one of the toughest journeys in life. And we did it. We got turned around and lost sometimes, and Kevin being Kevin, maybe even tried a couple of illegal u-turns, but that never stopped us. We kept going and we managed to find the roads to Joy and Love and Happiness. God helped us, with an ear tender to our cries for help and the best guidebook ever written. And He’s helping me still.

Life is moving forward. That much I know is true. It’s still moving much too fast for me right now. Sometimes there will be people to follow, helping me find my way along this bumpy road, and sometimes I’ll get slowed down by grief and sadness and I’ll be on my own, navigating the hills and valleys by myself. When that happens, I’ll reach out for the travel binder, full of maps and love and memories, and I’ll just keep going. That’s the only way to get to the joy that’s waiting over the next hill. And there is joy over the next hill. That I know for sure is true. God promised it, Kevin’s living it, and I just have to keep believing I’ll find it.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking…then the Lord will be my God…’” (Genesis 28:20-21)

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Love is Like a Prayer

We sat cuddled in Kevin’s recliner, watching “The Waltons”. In this life that feels like it’s falling apart sometimes, I need the reassurance and comfort I get from watching this show. I remember most of the episodes from when I was a kid, and my daughter thinks it’s funny that she’s the same age I was when I first watched John Boy and Jason and Mary Ellen and all the others.

My girl was especially interested in this episode, because Olivia had been stricken with polio. Anything medical is right up Beary’s alley, so she watched with particular enthusiasm. I knew I’d be in for a round of questions and a marathon polio research session at the laptop afterward, because that’s how my girl operates. The alternative remedies weren’t working for Olivia, though, and Grandma and John had all but given in to the resignation that she might not walk again. Not John-Boy, though. He fought against the prognosis with everything he had, and ran up into the mountains with his anger and frustration when it seemed as if everyone else had given up.

He shouted to his father, “All my life, I’ve been preached to about this God of love and mercy watching over us. You just show me one thing that’s loving and merciful about this.”

I felt the hot sting of tears behind my eyes, and thought about how many times thoughts like that had run through my head.

Why, God, why? Why does my little girl have to grow up seeing her Daddy so sick with cancer? Why does she have to know this kind of sorrow, this kind of pain? She’s so young. Why does she have to grow up without her Daddy? Why? Why?

She shifted toward me in the recliner, sensing my melancholy mood. “Mama?” The question in her voice broke into my thoughts.

“It’s okay, Beary, I was just thinking.”

“About polio?” Her mind was still on the show and the fascinating medical information she’d picked up.

“No,” A little laugh escaped me; I love her intensity and focus. “No, little girl, I was thinking about what John Boy said. And about what Grandma told him, about accepting God’s will. Sometimes I wonder if I’d prayed harder…or prayed more…” I choked back a sob. “I just wonder if Daddy would still be here. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough or believe hard enough. Maybe I just gave up. Maybe I didn’t really believe he’d get better…” My words trailed off.

“I don’t think that’s true.” Her words were so confident. “Grown-ups get stressed about stuff like that but kids just believe God is good. We love Daddy and I think love is like a prayer.”

I think love is like a prayer.

I wondered at her words. At her ability to break down the confusion and doubt and self-blame and just get to the heart of it. To shout truth to the accusing voice that hammered in my head at my lowest moments, the voice that filled me with shame and remorse and recrimination. I wanted so much for Kevin to get better, to beat the cancer. I wanted a miracle; I wanted the hateful tumors and lesions to go away forever. Like John-Boy, I’d been raised hearing about a God who loves us, and a God who still works miracles. Like John-Boy, I was angry when those miracles didn’t come to us, when Kevin wasn’t completely healed. I found it hard to give thanks after a CT scan came back showing cancer’s vengeful march through his body. There were days, as I watched my husband retch and sweat and ache and cry out through the endless chemotherapy, when I felt such despair, felt so hopeless, that it seemed too hard to open the Bible and find comfort…so I didn’t. I never turned away from God – and I know without a doubt that His hand held us through every day of that journey – but I did grieve for the life I felt slipping away and I did get angry with Him. I did question Him and His will and His plan for Kevin and me and our girl.

And at the end, when I brought my husband home to die, I wondered if it was my fault. If I’d had more faith, if I’d trusted God more, if I’d believed harder, prayed harder – would Kevin still be dying? I cried as I held our daughter on my lap and we told her what was happening. I said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over, but I wonder if I was saying it to her? To Kevin? To God?

The last eighteen months have done nothing to ease the blame I feel. Could I have done more?

But here was my daughter – my thoroughly rational, tell-it-like-it-is daughter – telling me no. I’d prayed enough, just by simply loving him.

Love is like a prayer.

Could it be possible? When I drove him to chemo, when I fixed his favorite foods to tempt him to eat, when I slept on the couch to ease his discomfort in bed, when I sat on the arm of his recliner and rubbed his head, when I did everything I could think of to help him because I love him – she says I was praying. Is she right? Was I praying in the only way my breaking heart could at the time? Was loving him my ceaseless, constant prayer?

I rolled her words over and over in my mind.

Relief tingled, slowly bringing feeling in the numb shards of my broken heart.

Yes.

Love is like a prayer.

I prayed. During all the awful days, during all the glorious days, I prayed. I loved and I prayed.

There are many kinds of prayers. Some are spoken out loud in moments of grateful thanks. Some are murmured through tears in times of great sorrow. Some are silent in the heart, when the pain is too much and the grief mutes the words. God hears them all. And He heard my prayers – the spoken ones, the murmured ones, the silent ones – and especially the ones offered in love as I cared for my darling Kevster. He heard them and He answered them – maybe not how I’d hoped, by giving us a miracle and more time – but He took Kevin’s cancer away and that was always my prayer.

I squeezed my girl close and turned back to the television in time to hear John Boy’s father tell him this: “Good times and bad times come to all of us and what counts is the way you take them. What you let those times do to you. That’s what counts.”

We took all our times with love. Love for each other, love for our daughter, love for the God who held us – even when we doubted Him and didn’t understand His will. We let those times strengthen our love and increase it so that it would always be with us, inside us.

And in the end, all that love was one long prayer that God answered.

I Want to Run Away

I want to run away
from the empty hollow in my bed, cold in the pale morning light
from the autumn breeze, spilling the rustling leaves in the last of summer’s grass
from love songs on the classic rock radio station
from the kitchen door, desolate and closed at workday’s end
from cats offering comfort in the crackled recliner
from books on shelves, spines worn from reading and scraps marking his spot
from smiling family photographs, frozen moments stolen from cancer

I want to run away
from happy shrieks of children playing in the tree-dappled sunlight
from salesclerks’ rote banalities
from phones chirping and vibrating with life moving on
from decisions to be made and bills to be paid
from the calendar’s endless march of days

I want to run away
because the sharp-teethed shards of grief gnaw savage at my heart
because the sadness swallows me whole
because the pain and panic attack my unsteady peace
because life is too lonely without his love

I want to run away

Speak Softly, Love…Still

I wrote this last year, on the eve of our tenth anniversary. Another year, another anniversary without the one I love…the words are still true.

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

Facing August

“Is it a new year now, Mama? Even if it’s not January?”

She asked me the question as her pencil hovered over the open grammar book, ready to make the first mark on its pristine pages.

“Yep. Sure is. The new school year starts today,” I answered, and pointed to her workbook. “Back to prepositions for you, young lady.”

She giggled and got down to work, studying the words, then quickly darting her pencil across the page, identifying prepositional phrases “right and left” as she likes to say.

August has always felt like the beginning of a new year to me. Even more so than January first, after which comes January second and it feels the very same. But August? There’s a definite break there, from summer vacation one day to back to school the next. It feels different. The weather starts to change, getting hotter and hotter for a few weeks in our part of the world, before settling down to the autumn that I love so much.

Yes, August means a new year, a new beginning.

It’s more than back to school, though, or even the final approach to fall. For me, August was the beginning of the most wonderful parts of my life. On August 17, Kevin and I had our first date. That began our romance – the one that had slowly been growing from our two-year friendship. Just over a year later, in late August, we got married. That began the best ten years of my life. Being married to my best friend. Having someone who understood me, who loved me, who supported me in everything – whether he understood and agreed or not. Having been single for so long, I knew exactly what I finally had; I loved and appreciated everything he did for me.

I was down the other day: glum, despondent, sad, unhappy. The words themselves are so gloomy, but they described my feeling perfectly. Despite all the fresh start, new-beginningness of August, emotionally, it’s a hard month for me, a bittersweet month, because the man I love most in this life isn’t here to celebrate the anniversaries of our wonderful beginnings. Our first date day came and went, and Kevin wasn’t here to say, “I love you, Baby Doll! I’m glad my last first date was with you.” Our wedding anniversary is coming up – it would’ve been our eleventh – and Kevin’s not planning some weekend getaway with me and the Bear.

I sent Beary off for her silent reading time, then sagged into Kevin’s recliner, feeling more miserable than I had in months. As I sat there, trying to float, the words of an old Garth Brooks song kept streaming through my head:

If tomorrow never comes,
Will she know how much I love her?
Did I try in every way, to show her every day,
That she’s my only one?
And if my time on earth were through,
And she must face this world without me,
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes?

Silent tears slid down my face as the words looped in my head. The hardest new beginning ever was the first morning I woke up without Kevin. I huddled in our bed, our daughter curled up beside me on his pillow , and he was gone, his time with us was over. I felt like the best part of my life was over, and I had no idea how to go on without him. Wracking sobs filled my lungs, shook my body. I hated the tomorrow that had come. I didn’t want that tomorrow. I wanted the tomorrow where we woke up and caught a plane to Mexico for our honeymoon. I wanted the tomorrow where we finally got to take our baby girl home from the hospital. I wanted the tomorrow after his colonoscopy, when we thought we’d go home and put the cancer nightmare behind us. I wanted all the tomorrows that we’d dreamed of spending together.

I wanted what I couldn’t have.

But I had what I needed. He’d made sure of that. It just took me a while to realize it, and gratefully embrace it.

He’d given me enough love in ten years to overflow my life. For the rest of my life. For all the tomorows that will come. In all the Augusts that will come.

Did I try in every way, to show her every day, that she’s my only one?

He won’t call me from work in the afternoon anymore, to ask how my day is going. But when the clock chimes two, if I stop and listen, in my mind I can hear the phone ring, and his voice: “Hey, Baby Doll, what’s going on?”

Showing me his love.

I won’t hear the garage door creak up, or the kitchen door squeak open and slam shut. I won’t hear his footsteps cross the floor behind me as he nuzzled in for a kiss. But if I stop at five o’clock and close my eyes, I can still feel his arms wrapped around my waist.

Showing me his love.

I won’t kneel on the floor beside our bed, my hands trembling as I unhooked his portable infusion pump. But if I pause while making the bed, and lean in, I can hear him mutter groggily, “I’m okay, Baby Doll. I’m gonna be okay.” Years of chemotherapy, trying to beat the cancer, buy more time, more tomorrows.

Showing me his love.

If tomorrow never comes, will she know how much I love her?

I do. I know how very much he loved me, how very happy our life was, and how very much I still love him.

Facing August isn’t easy. I can only do it because Kevin filled my life with all the love I’ll need to get through all the new beginnings and new years and tomorrows without him. He was always showing me the greatest love.

Thank you, Kevster, I thought. It’s going to be enough.