Tag Archives: marriage

Missing Him

It’s been almost nine months since Kevin died.

Nine months.

I look at the calendar but it’s not keeping the same time as my heart, and I don’t know which one to believe. Where did all the days go? How can it be so long? Sometimes it feels like he just stepped out to the grocery store, and some days I panic because I can’t remember the deep timbre of his voice.

I’m getting better at controlling my life, at “managing my grief”, as the counselor would say. I remember to pay bills and feed my daughter. I can rouse myself enough to care if the carpet is vacuumed and the litter box emptied. I make to-do lists and dutifully check off little tick marks just to prove that I can keep going, that I can function. I visit with friends and take vacation and celebrate holidays and birthdays.

I am doing the impossible: waking up each day, loving my little girl, living without Kevin.

But it’s so much harder than I ever imagined. In those first dark days after he was first diagnosed, I was so scared. It all sounded overwhelming: Cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy and doctor visits and CT scans. But I had a toddler at home and appointments to arrange and there was no time for fear. I allowed myself five minutes every day. Five minutes to let my mind go to its scariest recesses and imagine the worst. Five minutes to imagine living without Kevin.

And the images I conjured paled in comparison to the reality of life without my husband.

I am surrounded by his books and his clothes and the rings he gave me are still on my finger. But he’s not here. I frame photos of him and our Bear, knowing there will be no more. She is frozen at seven, and he will always be 43 and smiling. A box of ice cream drumsticks sits uneaten in the freezer, past its expiration date but I can’t throw it out because Kevin bought it and he’ll never stock our freezer with ice cream treats again. My throat is choked with unspoken words because my best friend is gone and I don’t have anyone to share my secrets with. I don’t know if it’s right to keep all the bits of him I can find, the handkerchiefs and hand-written notes, but I know I have to because I can’t let him go. He was the best part of me.

I am fortunate to have a couple of people who want to talk about Kevin as much as I do. We share stories and laugh and for a few minutes, Kevin’s alive again and right in the middle of us, his hearty chuckle echoing through space. And I have some close friends who, though they didn’t know Kevin well, let me talk and cry and remember as much as I want. They don’t judge or put my grieving on their timetable, expecting me to follow some pattern society dictates. They see me laugh and they see me cry and they understand both, and don’t care if it’s bizarre and complicated. And when they see me teetering on the edge, unsure of my footing around this abyss of grief, they hold my hand and keep me steady and for that I am so grateful.

I miss him so much.

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So much, and yet…

I lifted the lid of the crockpot and we peered in, her soft brown hair swishing against my cheek as she leaned in for a closer look. She was the first to giggle and her merry chortle filled the kitchen.

“Mama! It really is the world’s tiniest turkey!” she laughed. The way her eyes sparkled, I knew she was imagining this tiny turkey strutting around on teensy legs, with miniature feathers colorfully spread. I was still laughing as I carved the meat and arranged the side dishes on the dining table – in small bowls, to match our diminutive bird, to match our perfect, tiny family and our tiny celebration. Smashed sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, hot rolls, appetizer sausage balls for Daddy who wouldn’t touch poultry. French silk pie for dessert.

“C’mon, guys!” I called and they wandered in from the front room. Beary danced around, still excited about the Macy’s parade. Kevin followed, a little slower, shuffling to his chair. He sank into it heavily, then placed his infusion bag to the side. The smell of food wasn’t bothering him too much, yet, and I hoped he could manage a few bites of something.

We joined hands and he prayed and it was Thanksgiving. Thanks-giving. My favorite one. Just the three of us, eating, laughing, talking. Quiet, reflective. Dinner, dishes, then the Cowboys on TV. Thankful for the moments we had together, the black infusion bag dark on the table, an aching, stark reminder of how precious life is.

Through it all, we gave thanks. And it was easy, because we were together.

I’m actually feeling hypocritical this week, asking the Bear to list the things she’s thankful for this year. Because if she turned the table – if she asked me to list what I’m thankful for…I don’t know. I could toss off the few obvious ones and, if I could distract her watchful eyes and wise soul, she’d probably be satisfied, but the truth is this:

I’m finding it hard to to give thanks this year.

I have so much and I am thankful for all of it. I have a beautiful daughter and we have each other and a warm home and clothes to wear and food to eat. And we can freely worship in our church each week. And we have wonderful friends and family who have poured love over us over the last seven months – so much love and care and concern. I have Kevin’s love inside me, and his essence inside our Bear, and beautiful pieces of the life we created. I have so much, so very much.

And yet.

There is a hole, an ache.

I don’t have Kevin.

Who will watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” with me, pausing the movie every time I jump up to check on the pie in the oven? I’d never even seen that movie before Thanksgiving eve 2002 and now I can’t imagine the holiday without it. I remember thinking, “I can’t watch a movie now. Doesn’t he know I’ve got all these pies to bake?” But he insisted and he pulled me down in his lap until I relaxed and started laughing with him. For the last ten years – no matter what – we’ve watched it. Even if we had to stay up until midnight because of a culinary catastrophe. Even if we had to watch it in black & white because something wasn’t hooked up quite right on his mom’s television. We watched it.

But now.

I don’t have Kevin.

I have memories and a barely-beating heart and an empty bed with a lumpy pillow. I have silent screams and tear-wet cheeks and hands clenched in prayer. I am trying to remember to count my blessings and trust God in all things and find the buried bits of joy that let me push through another impossible day.

But I don’t have Kevin.

I remember the world’s tiniest turkey and a dancing Bear and our happiest Thanksgiving. It makes me smile.

And now it’s all jumbled together, the smiles and the tears and the heartaches and the joy and the grief and the thanks and the giving and the losing and it’s messy and mashed-up and emotional.

And all I can think of are Del Griffith’s words, from a movie I don’t know if I can watch this year:

I wish you were here with me right now. But…I guess that’s not gonna happen.”

Batter Up

Kevin liked baseball.

Kevin liked movies.

Kevin liked baseball movies.

On hot summer evenings, if the Yankees weren’t playing on TV, we’d pop in a baseball movie. On cool late autumn nights, when the Yankees weren’t in the Series, we’d still watch the games, but sometimes alternate with a movie. We had our favorites: For the Love of the Game. Fever Pitch. Field of Dreams. A League of Their Own. The Natural. We watched them over and over and laughed at the same parts and cried at the hard parts and I cried more when it all turned out okay in the end. Quotes from the movies were our shorthand, the way we talked to each other.

They also became a way we dealt with cancer.

When we spent a long day at chemo and he’d been poked and poisoned and sent home with more to drip through his body, and tubing was attached to him and hanging from him, he’d give a feeble laugh as I steered him through the house and tucked him into bed. He’d sink into his pillow and as I arranged tubing and blankets, he’d ask me, ”What if my face was all scraped off and I was totally disfigured and had no arms and legs and I was completely paralyzed. Would you still love me?” knowing that I’d come back with, “No. But we could still be friends.” And we’d laugh and the heartache of dealing with cancer would fade for a minute because we couldn’t imagine a time when we wouldn’t love each other. Especially when the cancer made us love each other even more.

And when the chemo racked his body weekend after weekend and he was exhausted from fighting cancer and his mind got stuck in the dark places and he felt like he couldn’t go on, I’d tell him, “You just throw whatever you got, whatever’s left. The boys are all here for you. We’re gonna be awesome for you right now!” And he knew that I was there, that I was going to fight with him and hold him and hug him until the darkness went away.

And when the first chemo stopped working and the cancer came back, and it was hateful and vengeful because it hated us for fighting it, and the oncologist told us about a different protocol, we took a deep breath and said, “A new season. A clean slate. Yep, this smells like the year.” Only it never was the year. As hard as Kevin fought, he could never make the cancer go completely away. But he tried. Oh, did he try.

When he’d regain his appetite after a round of chemo and I’d fix him some deep dish pizza or a French silk pie – anything to get some food into him – he’d take a bite and I’d giggle as he exaggerated his delight with the flavor. “Is this heaven?” he’d grin at me. “No, it’s Iowa,” I’d smirk back. And the house was full of laughter and we could breathe hope and it felt like there really was enough magic in the moonlight to make our dreams of beating cancer come true.

So he fought and he tried and we loved but sometimes the answer to a prayer isn’t “Yes” but it’s “No” and now the World Series is on, but the Yankees aren’t playing, and it’s hard for me this year and it turns out there IS crying in baseball. The memories are swirling around me and I should be pulling out a baseball movie to watch because that’s what we do, because baseball goes on, and life goes on.

But I can’t, because it’s hard to go on without Kevin. I just want him back. So much.

But I also know what he wants. He wants me to keep swinging. He wants me to watch and wait and take a swing at this curveball life’s thrown. He wants me to hit it and curve toward joy and watch happy and delight and hope round the bases and head toward home.

So, okay, Kev. This one’s for you.

Batter up.

(Quotes from For Love of the Game, Fever Pitch, and Field of Dreams)

The Daddy Game

Sometimes it feels like we’re playing a schoolyard “picking teams” game with Kevin. Only it’s not Daddy we’re choosing for our team, but all the parts of him that were left behind. She picks first, then me. She’s laid solid claim to his recliner. I slid some of my things over to his shelf in the bathroom and constantly wear his Cowboys and Yankees t-shirts. She takes the last piece of pizza now and all the pickles, while I’ve become the buyer of ice cream. (No one can eat potato chips like Daddy, so we compromise and both of us work on the bag together. It takes us a lot longer and I feel like I should apologize to him for letting some go stale.)

And so on. Back and forth. Pick and choose to keep Daddy with us.

Because that’s what we’re doing. We can’t stand the emptiness, so we take on a little more “Daddy-ness” each day and spread ourselves across the house, slowly filling the spaces his death left in our home, in our life, with the bits of him we can’t let go of, the bits of him that keep us functioning as a whole even though our team fell apart.

Neither one of us could do the job properly alone. I have the benefit of loving him for a decade, learning his quirks, absorbing his magic. But she has his genes, his blood, his Kevin-ness, flowing through her, creating such a chemistry that I would swear the moment he took his last breath, his essence floated out of our bedroom, down the hall…and my girl inhaled her Daddy.

Sometimes it’s really hard, the picking and choosing, discovering each day how much of Kevin we’ve taken in us. Especially when I realize that she chose his side of the bed, leaving his restless nighttime wandering to me. And it creates an odd mixture of emotions: overwhelming grief that he’s not here with us, but joyful delight when I spy another piece of Daddy that my girl has claimed for her own.

We are keeping him alive because we love him and miss him and want him back more than anything. Maybe, if we keep doing it, keep selecting the memories and traits that keep him close, we can win some moments of happy, of hope.

And Kevin should be delighted to know that this is one game where he’ll never get picked last.

Speak softly, love

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.

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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?”

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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