Tag Archives: married life

Some Guy

She almost fell off her chair with laughter.

“What did you just call Daddy?” she asked me, interrupting my story and giggling so much she could hardly get the question out.

“I called him ‘some guy’,” I answered with a laugh because her giggles floating through the air were contagious.

“But Daddy’s not ‘some guy’ – he’s DADDY!”

“But he wasn’t always Daddy, Beary Girl. First, he was just a guy I worked with,” I started counting off on my fingers, “then he was my boyfriend, then my fiancé, then my husband, then your Daddy.”

“I just can’t believe you called him ‘some guy’, though! Why did you call him that?”

“Well, goofy girl, if you let me finish the story,” I reached down to tickle her side, sending her off in giggles again, “you might find out!”

While I gave her a minute to catch her breath, I thought about the trip we were getting ready to take, the trip that prompted my story. A road trip to Mount Rushmore, a good twelve or so hours away, in our new-to-us minivan. A trip her Daddy and I had talked about taking, that early spring in 2013 when we knew time was getting short and we wanted to cram in as many minutes of life as we could. We booked a flight to Hawaii, got out a map and circled all the places we could find within reasonable driving distance, checked airline miles and hotel points, and planned to travel with our girl. But we didn’t plan fast enough and cancer caught up to us. His body was too tired, too worn out.

He died before we could hit the road.

But this year, I pulled out those plans, dusted them off, asked myself, “Can I do this?” and decided that yes, I could, and yes, I had to – for Kevin, for our girl, and for me. I didn’t want to leave his dreams undone if I could help it. She and I sat down and planned our route – where we’d stop, what we’d see, how long we’d drive each day. It turned out the fastest route to Mount Rushmore took us right through Omaha, Nebraska. And took me smack dab into a whole lot of memories. Things I hadn’t thought about in years, but were special, funny moments that I wanted my daughter to know about, so she could learn more about her wonderful Daddy, the Daddy who had to leave her much too soon.

My first trip to Omaha was in 2002 with my sister and her two kids, ages two and nine at the time. We’d heard the Henry Doorly Zoo was amazing, and it wasn’t too long of a drive with a couple of kids, so we loaded them up and took off for the weekend. When in Omaha, one must eat steak, so I found a local steakhouse – the site of my later infamous “some guy” remark. When I ordered a filet mignon, I told my nephew, “Now, I’m going to try this with some butter on it, because some guy at work claims it’s the only way to eat a good steak.” Sitting side-by-side in our cubicles at work, Kevin had heard me talking about my weekend trip to Omaha, and, being a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, offered up his favorite steak-eating tips. I listened because even though he was just some guy at work, I’d already starting thinking I’d like him to be more. I wanted to go back to work and tell him I tried a steak with butter and it was as fabulous as he’d said it would be. I wanted him to know I listened and I wanted him to figure out I wanted him to be more than “some guy”.

It turns out butter on steak is great, and I told him so as soon as I got back to the office.

And two months after my first trip to Omaha, Kevin and I had our first date.

“Are we going to eat at that restaurant, Mama? Can I have butter on my steak, too?” My Bear had stopped giggling and looked at me expectantly as I finished that part of the story.

“We might. It depends on what time we get there. And, yes, you can have butter on your steak.”

“Mmmm…steak,” she said dreamily. She’s her Daddy’s daughter all the way.

While she thought about steak, I thought about the next part of my Omaha story.

By November 2004, Kevin and I had been married for a little over a year. We were both in our thirties and we wanted nothing more than to start a family right away, but it just wasn’t happening. We were about to dive headfirst into the world of fertility treatments and I was depressed and sad and scared and a million other emotions. But Kev was my rock. He set aside his own disappointment and took care of me. He called me at work for no reason, he held me when I cried all night, and when we realized what we were up against, he said, “We need to get away for a few days.” We’d just watched “About Schmidt”, a movie set in Omaha and, it turned out, a few scenes were filmed at the “some guy” steakhouse – Johnny’s. When Kevin found out I’d been there, and the part it had played in our little romance, he wanted to go there, too. He did some more research and found a mystery theater dinner train in the Omaha area and some World War II planes. That was my Kev: always taking care of me, thoughtfully planning a perfect weekend getaway: the zoo, the Strategic Air & Space Museum, some good steak, and the dinner train.

And it was perfect. I can still close my eyes and hear Kevin’s voice reading the script on the dinner train, because he was one of the lucky guests to be chosen for a part. And I love the photo of us at Johnny’s, in the spot where Jack Nicholson stood in the movie. And I especially loved ordering a filet and trying to tell Kevin with a straight face, “You know, some guy once told me to put butter on my steak, that it would taste so good. You should try it.” I couldn’t make it through my sentence without giggling, especially when Kevin started in with his rumbling laugh. And even when we got back from that weekend and the doctor told us we had less than a 1% chance of conceiving a child, God had other plans. Plans that included a curly-haired baby girl with her Daddy’s face. It wasn’t an easy road, but it was worth every hard minute of the journey when, after an emergency cesarean, the doctor held up our little Bear and Kevin hugged me, with tears streaming down our faces.

My girl and I didn’t end up eating at Johnny’s Steakhouse when we stopped in Omaha on our trip last month. We found a different steakhouse, close to the hotel. The instant I saw it, though, I knew Kevin would’ve loved it. It was very old school, red leather and ornate, and had all the touches he loved in a good steak restaurant. Forever her Daddy’s girl, the minute I started reading from the children’s menu, “There’s chicken fingers…” I was interrupted with, “Mama, no one comes to a steakhouse to eat chicken!” And I thought, You are so right, Baby Kev. And, little girl, thank you for giving me another memorable story about Omaha to add to my collection.

From some guy to boyfriend to fiancé to husband to Daddy. It makes my girl laugh to think about it, but it makes me smile. He was all that and more.

I’ll keep telling my girl the stories that make her laugh, and stories that make her think, and stories about the man I loved, the man who adored her, the man she should’ve been able to get to know on her own, in his words not mine. And all of them will begin the same way.

Once upon a time, there was some guy at work. And, it turned out, he went on to be other amazing things: a great boyfriend, a wonderful husband, a compassionate friend, and a doting and loving Daddy.

And in telling my stories, our girl will see: It takes some guy to be all that.

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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

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)

The ‘Boys

In the years before Kevin, I was vaguely aware of football.

In my years with Kevin, it became such a part of my life that I automatically checked with him — and the Cowboys team schedule — before making plans during football season.

In the years that I am in now — the years without my love — I am in a weird holding pattern. I know it’s football season, but I can’t bring myself to watch the games without Kevin. I miss the sounds of the raucous crowd and confident announcers blaring from the television; Sunday afternoons seem so bleak and quiet now. I miss hearing him yell, “Yeah, ‘Boys!” after a spectacular play. I miss a part of autumn that had been such a big part of my life, but has now fallen away, like the leaves from my sweet gum tree.

I miss Kevin.

I miss football.

I miss…so much.

Now it’s the second football season I’m living through without Kevin, and I’m feeling as lost and sad as I did last year, when I wrote this:

How ‘Bout Them Cowboys?

I asked Kevin one time why there was a hole in the roof of the old Texas Stadium. Like a true Dallas Cowboys fan, he replied, “So God can watch His favorite team play.” And he wasn’t joking.

I’m sure Kevin didn’t watch much football the year he was born, but he always found it exciting to recount that it was during that 1970 season that the Cowboys went to their first Super Bowl. He was less excited to admit that they lost in the final seconds to the Baltimore Colts. I teased him that if his first words had been “Go, Cowboys!” instead of “Mama” maybe the outcome would’ve been different.

We started dating in August, and by the time football season started in September, we were in love and planning our future together. That’s when I learned our future would include football every Sunday…and occasionally Monday nights and Thursday nights, not to mention Thanksgiving Day. Go, Cowboys.

I sometimes play a game with myself, trying to decide what day I would pick if I were offered the chance to spend one more day with him. Obvious contenders are our wedding day, the night our daughter was born, the night he proposed, and of course, those were all extraordinary moments of love, but I can’t discount the ordinary days of quiet joy.

Like a cold winter Sunday afternoon. Home from church. Lounging on the couch in sweatpants and a Cowboys t-shirt. Listening to the announcers on the TV; their voices became as familiar to me as Kevin’s. I’d make it through the first quarter, a little longer, then around halftime, I’d lay over on the arm of the couch and let the roaring cheering crowd lull me to sleep. When Kev noticed, he’d get up and tuck a star-emblazoned team throw around me and kiss my forehead.

“Take a nap, baby doll,” he’d whisper. “I’ll let you know how it turns out.”

And so we passed the lazy afternoon. Him watching the game with chips and a Dr. Pepper, and me dozing on the couch. Particularly great plays would rouse me briefly and I’d glance at him grinning broadly as the ‘Boys celebrated on the screen.

“You look happy,” I’d murmur from the couch.

“Hey, I’ve got a Cowboys game and my girl…I’m doing great, baby doll!” he’d exult from the recliner.

I loved those days.

Gradually, I picked up football terminology and the rules and names of coaches and players and the odd smattering of Cowboys history and fan lore and I understood the joke when someone would ask for one good reason he was a Cowboys fan and Kevin would hold up his hand, wiggle his fingers, and say with a twinkle in his eyes, “I’ve got five reasons!”

When the little Bear joined our team, one of the first things he purchased for her was a Dallas Cowboys onesie, bib, and team logo baby bottle. When football season rolled around that year, a new family tradition was born: the Dallas Cowboys opening game day family portrait. I’d set up the tripod, we’d deck out in our team gear and pose on the front porch. Go, Cowboys!

It snuck up on me this year. I’ve never had to look up the football schedule before; that was Kevin’s job. I watched some leaves drift lazily to the ground one afternoon and it struck me that fall was coming and I panicked. What if I’d already missed the opening day? I cried, thinking that I might’ve blown it, that I might’ve let a family tradition die and how could I do that to Kevin?

This past Sunday, we came home from church. She changed into her favorite team shirt and we set up the tripod and posed on the front porch. And it was sad and I was wistful and she remembered making silly faces on the “outtake” photos with Daddy last year, my two goofballs in front of the camera.

And later that evening, I tucked her into bed, then hauled a basket of laundry to the front room and turned on the TV, the game already underway with the Cowboys leading the Giants. I folded some towels, some washcloths, and watched a few plays, but then suddenly I couldn’t listen to the commentators or the roaring crowds anymore because it was all so alive…

And Kevin isn’t.

I doubled over, rocking with grief and tears rolled down my cheeks, soaking into the laundry, and some of the numbness that’s been protecting me since April wore off and the pain of missing him was sharp and gut-wrenching. I couldn’t move; I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t imagine a football season without Kevin here to watch it with me. And you wouldn’t think one more hole in the fabric of my life, which is already torn to shreds, would make a difference now but oh, it really does.

The game played on and I cried, then quieted, letting the familiar sounds surround me and comfort me. The Cowboys beat the Giants and I roused myself enough to go whisper in my sleeping daughter’s ear “Hey, little Bear, the Cowboys won!” because that’s what her Daddy liked to do.

And even though I know it’s only a whimsical fancy and not at all what happens in heaven, I stopped outside her room in the dark hallway and smiled to myself, thinking that if God had peered through the hole in the stadium and watched His team play, Kevin probably sat right beside Him, recounting stats and fist-bumping the angels with each touchdown:

“How ‘bout them Cowboys!”

DSC_0034

In 2010, Kevin took a little break from chemo and we took a road trip with his family to Dallas for Thanksgiving. The Cowboys lost to the Saints that night, but Kevin was just thrilled to have been at the game.

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.