Tag Archives: marriage

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

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All together, for always

“Ma-ma!”

I heard her clear little toddler voice ring out behind me as I stood at the kitchen counter, doing dishes. I turned around to find her decked out with seemingly every bit of finery her dress-up box contained.

“It’s time for the wed-ding!” she sang out, like our kitchen was a Broadway stage and I was in the back row.

She turned on her plastic high heels and clomped off to the front room. I followed and found Kev, sprawled sideways in his recliner, with a questioning look on his face that I’m sure matched mine.

“Okay, Mama, you have to say the words so I can marry Daddy,” our little Bear announced. Kevin smothered a snicker with a cough and a pillow over his face, leaving me to face the little bride alone.

“Umm…you’re marrying Daddy?” was all I could think of to say.

“Yes. I like him and he likes me. And I already know him, so we can get married.” Certain logic there, no doubt, and I hated to break the news to her.

“But, Baby Bear, Daddy’s already married,” I said and added, “To me.” Just in case that part wasn’t clear to our usually-precocious four-year-old.

“That’s okay. I can still marry him. And you’ll still be married to him for always. But now we’ll all be married together.”

That decided, she took her place beside Kevin’s recliner and motioned for me to begin.

So I did.

I married us all together for always.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”

________________________________________________________

“Mama, why did you say that?” She looked at me with questioning eyes when I hung up the phone.

“Say what, Bear?”

“Why did you say you were a ‘single mom’?”

I took a deep breath and sighed. “Well, a single mom is a mother who isn’t married and is raising her child all by herself…”

She interrupted. “But you’re married to Daddy so you’re not a single mom.”

I sighed again. “But Daddy died, honey, so technically, I AM a single mother. Most people don’t consider me married anymore; I’m a widow.”

We’ve had this conversation before, she and I. One time, as we watched a movie, I commented about a character not wearing a wedding ring anymore. And my girl piped up, “But you should always wear your wedding ring. It means you’re still connected to Daddy. If you take it off, it will mean he’s farther away from us.” Another time, as I attempted to explain how someone had a father and a stepfather, she said, “But you’re still married to Daddy, so you can’t marry anyone else.”

She’s not being stubborn or obtuse; I know she understands our situation. She simply doesn’t apply the rules and reality of death to it. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism; maybe it’s a way to deal with grief. I don’t know. And, honestly, in my heart, I agree with her. These new words feel so foreign: widow, single mom. I’m still wearing my rings. Kevin is still very much a part of our everyday lives. We talk about him, remember things about him, giggle about his silliness, kvetch over his picky eating habits – anyone listening to our conversations would assume he’s still alive and well and with us.

I married us all together for always.

But in my head? That’s a different story. Logically, I know that I’m a widow. I test the word out in my mind, roll it around. It doesn’t fit yet, doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t feel like an accurate definition of my life. Not when my life is so full of my baby Kev – she is so much like her Daddy, and not just in looks. With her around, he’s simply not gone yet, despite the fact that a very official death certificate is tucked away in the safe, ready to pull out when I need to legally verify his absence.

No, I don’t really feel like a widow, but I do feel like a single mom. Some nights, panic grips me as I carry the Bear to my bed and lay down beside her. And in those moments, I imagine impossibly terrible things: What if I die in my sleep? What will happen when she wakes up? How long will it be before someone finds her alone? Will she call someone? Will she sit beside me, crying, telling me to please wake up? I pace through the dark house, afraid to sleep, crying, feeling like this weight of grief and panic will crush me.

I can’t die, I cry out to God in those lonely hours, I can’t leave her alone.

And in that cry, in that release of my fear, I finally feel a peace, I feel a presence. I feel His promise.

You’re not going to leave her alone, He says. Just like you haven’t been left alone. I know you miss Kevin; I know you feel lonely and afraid. Yes, you are a single mom, but I am the Singular God. You are a widow, but I am the Wonderful Almighty. I will never leave you, never let you go. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I am always here, always holding your hand. And I’ve got her, too. I promise. You will always be together in Me. Trust me.

I take a deep breath. I stop pacing. I lay down in my bed, beside my beautiful Bear and listen to her slow, even breathing. I reach out and tug a blanket over her shoulder. Then I close my eyes and let His promises cover me.

Being a single mom is hard. It’s not what I imagined the day Kevin and I became parents to our incredible little girl. I never thought I’d be raising her by myself. I never imagined a life where he wasn’t on this parenting adventure with me, laughing and crying and trying to help our Bear make sense of this world. I never imagined we wouldn’t all be together for always.

Every day I have to stop and take a deep breath. And another. And another. I feel God’s hand close around me.

“People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, steady on their Feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit.” (Isaiah 26:3, The Message)

And I whisper, We’re all together for always.

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

The Air That I Breathe

She took a deep breath then plunged beneath the water’s surface. Down she sank, to the bottom of the pool. Beneath the pool’s clear, barely-rippling surface, with long tendrils of hair drifting slowly around her face, she floated underwater. Ethereal, calm.

I counted. Eight…nine…ten…eleven…

With a splash she broke the calm, broke the surface of the water, and surged upward, gulping air into her lungs, a huge smile stretching her face.

“Eleven seconds!” I called out.

“Wow!” Wonder glowed on her face. “Eleven seconds! That’s a long time!!”

She ducked under the water again and swam the width of the pool, then came back to me.

“Time me again, Mama, okay? I have to keep practicing so my lungs get strong. Then I can stay underwater a long time. Maybe even an hour!”

I smiled at her contagious excitement. “An hour might be a wee bit long, Beary…but you can try! Okay, then. Ready for me to start?”

She filled her lungs with precious air, nodded, then plunged beneath the water again.

I started counting.

I think about what she said: I have to keep practicing so my lungs get strong. My lungs are not as strong as they used to be. Kevin was my air and I feel like I haven’t taken a good deep breath since he died. It’s too hard to breathe without him. The life-filling oxygen of his love is gone, and I struggle with the thin air left behind, managing only shallow breaths – just enough to keep me going. The world seems foreign, alien. Without him beside me, I’m not sure I trust the air that’s left behind – the air that’s supposed to sustain me, keep me alive, but doesn’t have the most important element in it anymore: my husband.

I watched her splash up, inhale gratefully, and wait for me to announce the result.

“Ten seconds that time!”

A nod, a deep breath and down she sank again, to the bottom of the pool.

Making her lungs stronger.

I started counting again.

I think maybe that’s what I’ve been doing this past year. Counting the days. Trying to get stronger. Trying to learn to breathe, to live, in this new life where the air is unfamiliar. Breathing Kevin-less air isn’t easy; it doesn’t feel natural. Not yet. But I do feel a little stronger. Not better…but stronger. I’m not sure I believe there is a “better” in grief. Every day feels different, my emotions swing back and forth. There’s no graceful arc charting my progression through grief: good, better, best. Sometimes it’s overwhelming and I feel like I’m drowning in the sadness. And sometimes it’s a tear stinging my eye at the same time the corners of my mouth turn up in a smile at our beautiful girl and her goofy antics. The grief never leaves completely; it just doesn’t feel quite as heavy some days.

Those are my practice days, I guess. The days when I’m taking deeper breaths, getting used to feeling a different oxygen fill my life. I laugh more, get out more, maybe try new things. I gratefully gulp the joy that God lovingly sends my way: my daughter’s hand in mine as we walk the grocery aisles, my cat’s purr, the right song lyrics at the right time, a text from a friend. I drag these great drafts of love into my weak, Kevin-starved lungs, and feel hope and peace circulate through me. Each new breath makes me stronger.

She popped up again, sputtered and drew in the chlorine-scented air, then slicked hair back from her Daddy’s blue eyes which aimed the question my way: how long?

“Thirteen seconds that time, Little Bear!” I announced, kneeling at the edge of the pool with a towel. I marvel at her tenacity, her bravery. For all the days that I’m hesitant to fully breathe in this new life, she takes a big gulp and plunges deep into the water, trusting the air to sustain her.

She nodded, a proud grin stealing across her face.

“Can you believe that I stayed under that long, Mama?”

“I believe that you can do anything, Baby Girl.”

I just hope I can, too.

I take a deep breath.

If she can do it, so can I.

If I could make a wish, I think I’d pass
Can’t think of anything I need
No cigarettes, no sleep, no light, no sound
Nothing to eat, no books to read
Sometimes
All I need is the air
That I breathe
And to love you

(The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies)

Still Married…Still Grieving

As soon as he settled into his recliner and pushed PLAY on the remote, I grabbed a couple of pillows from the couch and laid down, making myself comfortable on the floor beside him. In a routine so familiar, so nearly choreographed, when he raised the footrest, I lifted one foot into his lap. Absently, his fingers curled around my foot and began massaging the arch. He eased the aches in my feet for a while, then I gradually made my way back to the couch and snuggled under a blanket throw. The television played on, flickering light and shadow across our faces, through trips to the kitchen for snacks, through idle comments about actors or events, and it was dark and quiet and comfortable in our cozy front room.

It was the two of us, in the little world we created. Not fancy…just full of love.

Later, he turned off the TV and we sat in the darkness, talking quietly. And he said, – as he always said – “Baby Doll, I’m so glad you married me. I like this better than dating.” And I laughed and agreed because I’d always hated dating, too. And Kevin and me? Well, we were not the kind of people you looked at and said, “Wow! I bet they have an active social life.” More like an active library card. But that’s okay. It’s part of what made us so perfect for each other. I think I knew even before our first date, through the months of working beside him, that he was the one for me. I’d never met anyone like him – and he said the same about me. It wasn’t a case of opposites attracting. It was a case of two pieces of one soul, separated and lost, wandering around looking for each other, and the moment of magic that happened when they joined.

I have found the one my soul loves.”

It took me by surprise the other day when my friend mentioned that someone had asked her if I was dating anyone yet.

I shook my head because the question didn’t even make sense. Dating? Why would I be dating? I looked down at the diamond sparkling on my left hand. I’m still married…

I know my marriage vows said ‘til death do you part – but that’s the thing: I don’t feel parted from Kevin. I miss him and I desperately want to see him again, to hear his voice, to feel his arms around me again as we do a family group hug with the Bear – but I don’t feel parted from him. I feel just as married, just as much with Kevin, as I did that day in August almost eleven years ago when we promised everything to each other. My love for him, for everything that we had together – that didn’t just suddenly stop at 3:42 p.m. on that dark April day last year.

“Why would he ask that?” I sat puzzled in my friend’s kitchen.

Puzzled because there seems to be an assumption in our world that you only get a certain amount of time to grieve. A year seems to fit most people’s idea of an adequate amount of time. Yes, certainly after a year, the reasoning seems to be, one should be getting on with life again.

But here’s the thing: Grief is not on a timeline. It cannot be squeezed into some neat little box to make everyone else comfortable. It’s more complicated than that. The shock of Kevin’s death is past. I am “getting on with life” — I wake up every morning and do the things that need to be done. But the grieving? It’s still here; it doesn’t go away. Kevin’s death is still happening for me. There are good days and bad days, but I still cry every day. I pick up the phone to call or text him all the time. On the very worst days, in the moments when I can’t stop screaming in this half-life I’m in, the broken bits of my heart squeeze so painfully I feel like the shards will stab through and pierce me from the inside out. My life with him – the two of us together – doesn’t feel over. Maybe that’s because our vibrant little girl is still dancing around me, the image of her Daddy etched across her delicate features. She has his mannerisms and genetic traits and it doesn’t feel like he’s gone. We talk about him every day. She keeps the best part of him right here on Earth. We giggle about silly Daddyisms that have been engrained into our daily routine. His body is gone, but his spirit? It’s definitely alive and surrounding us with his gentle love. For us, some way, somehow, he’s still alive.

I love him.

And I’m still married to him.

Dating.

The thought chills me.

I had – have – great love in my life. The kind of love that doesn’t happen for everyone, and if my heart wasn’t already broken with missing him so much, it would ache for those who never experience a marriage like Kevin and I had. He is the love of my life – the kind of love that doesn’t just happen every day. I’m so proud that he chose me to spend his life with. And devastated that his life was so short.

Any expectation that I will suddenly just simply stop grieving for him now that he’s been gone from me for a year is just unrealistic. That’s not how it works, but it’s hard to know that from the outside looking in. It was so easy to get used to living with him – it’s impossible to get used to living without him.

I don’t know what God has planned for my life. I am trusting Him to reveal it in His perfect timing. I do know that right now, I miss my husband. A year has done nothing to change that.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”