Tag Archives: memories

She Won’t…

I sank down on the edge of my bed, holding the pile of fresh towels, still warm from the dryer, and buried my face in them. I inhaled the fresh, spicy scent deeply, and exhaled shakily, tears threatening at the back of my throat. My girl wandered in, looking for the cats. I held the towels out to her and said, “Hey, Baby Bear, what does this smell remind you of?” She gave me the kind of look only a nearly-ten-year-old girl can manage, the one that says You’re acting sooo weird, but she leaned in and sniffed. She looked up at me, quirked her eyebrows in thought, then leaned in for another whiff of the fragrant towels. She straightened up, wrinkled her nose and said, “Umm, I don’t know…” paused, then slowly, “Daddy?”

Yes.

She did know.

He’s been gone from us for two and a half years, but there are still smells and tastes and sounds that bring him close to us.

Like a new brand of dryer sheets that I picked up on a whim at the store. The dryer sheets that smell a lot like Kevin’s favorite Brooks Brothers cologne.

An icy-cold Dr. Pepper at a baseball game, or a Snickers bar at Halloween. He always picked through the bowl before the trick-or-treaters arrived to get all the Snickers out. And as soon as our girl got finished trick-or-treating, she’d dump out her haul and immediately pass over all the Snickers to her Daddy.

The Sunday afternoon sound of a football game on TV, background noise to whatever else was going on in the house.

I struggle some days, worried that someday her memories of him might fade. She was seven when he died – a first grader – and it hit me the other day that she’s nearly ten now. Somehow, she became a fourth-grader, and soon she’ll be a young lady. How did that happen, and why can’t her Daddy be here to see it? My memories of him are so vivid, but are hers? She’s got a magnificent brain, it’s truly amazing to see her mind work but, like she says, “If I remember it, I remember it forever. But if I don’t, I just don’t.”

I don’t want her Daddy to fall into the “I just don’t” pile.

So I stock up on the new dryer sheets, hoping to engrain that scent in her mind, to associate it with her Daddy. And I fall asleep every night, feeling like he’s with us.

I dump out the Halloween candy and pick out the Snickers; she helps. We save those until last to eat. And I buy her an icy Dr. Pepper at the baseball game because, as she told me once, “It tastes like the ballgame, Mama.” And Daddy, I always add.

And I buy us new game day t-shirts and turn on the Cowboys games on Sunday afternoon, to help her internalize her Daddy’s love of football, to make the sound of a roaring crowd be comfortable and familiar. And we take our opening game day family photo because keeping those traditions is what will keep her Daddy close.

His photos are scattered all around the house, and when she says, “Tell me the story when…”, I always stop and do it. I’m teaching her to cook his favorite recipes, the ones he always asked for; and she laughs when she asks for catsup because she knows I hate it, but her Daddy loved it. She is so much like him, my little mini-Kev, and I want her to remember him well, to know that she’s more her Daddy than just her physical looks.

I remember crying to the hospice grief counselor, “She’s so young; I’m afraid she’ll forget him,” and she reached over, took my hand and assured me, “She won’t. I promise you – she won’t.”

And I promise you, Kevin – she won’t.

I tiptoed into the bedroom, tugged the scented sheets a little closer to her face, kissed her forehead, and whispered, “Sweet dreams, little girl.”

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20)

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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

Another Good-bye: The Big Red Truck

The icy sleet angrily pecked against the glass windows as I picked up the ringing telephone. My greeting might not have been so cheery had I known an operator with the state highway patrol was on the other end of the line.

“There’s been an accident…” she started. I swayed against the door frame to the living room, watching my three-year-old daughter and her older cousin playing on the floor. I dropped to my knees on the floor, even as I looked quickly out the window to the front porch, expecting to see a state trooper slipping up the icy sidewalk.

But he’s all right, I thought to myself. They wouldn’t call if he wasn’t all right. Someone would come here to tell me.

I forced my attention back to her words.

Ice on the highway.

Lost control.

Rolled the vehicle.

Emergency crew cut him out.

Refused hospital treatment.

Trooper took him to a gas station to wait for someone to pick him up.

He’s okay.

He’s okay. I kept telling myself as I called my dad. It took a while to get to Kevin that icy, snowy day. My grandmother came to stay with the girls while my dad and I slowly drove the treacherous roads for an hour to the gas station where I flung open the truck door and threw my arms around my still-shaken husband. Ten minutes later, when we drove into the wrecker’s parking lot, I could see why. His blue Explorer was totaled; smashed in doors, broken glass, outside mirrors hanging at crazy angles. We silently filled plastic bags with the bits of our life that survived the crash and walked away, thankful that he’d survived.

When the shock wore off and we could joke about it, I teased Kevin because I’d actually been up for the next new vehicle at our house. “Wrecking your truck? That’s kind of a hard way to make sure that YOU get the next new car, not me,” I told him. But I laughed because I didn’t really care about the new car, as long as I still had Kevin.

A few weeks later, after insurance claims had been filed, Kevin went looking for his new vehicle. He found a 2005 Dodge Durango, bright red, low miles and, with our insurance check and a little bit we’d squirrelled away, it was the right price. It was the base model – no frills, no bells or whistles – but it got us where we needed to go. Kev loved it; it drove a little rough for me. I told him it was like riding in a feed truck across a bumpy field, a comparison my city-bred husband didn’t really get.

I think he liked the bright red color because it felt so alive. Just a couple of months before his wreck, Kev’s oncologist had okayed a little break from the chemo that was fighting the colon cancer’s unrelenting spread through his body. Kevin had been through a lot over the last nine months – diagnosed with cancer, two surgeries, six months of chemo – and being able to walk away from that smashed-up Explorer made him realize that he had a lot to live for; the cancer hadn’t gotten him, and the wreck hadn’t killed him. He was supposed to live.

And so we did.

We piled our luggage into the Durango early one spring and headed to the airport. Destination: happiest place on Earth. And, at the end of our Disney week, the truck welcomed us back, funny mouse ears and all, and got us back to our real life.

We went to baseball games and amusement parks and church and work and the zoo and museums, and the Durango safely got us there and back, always up for whatever kind of adventure we were in the mood for.

We sang along one summer as Frank Sinatra blared from the speakers, “My kind of town, Chicago is my kind of town” and Beary passed bottles of water and cans of soda from the cooler by her side as we road-tripped to the Windy City for a conference. The following spring, I loaded the cargo area with Kevin’s oxygen concentrator, portable oxygen canisters, a wheelchair, our luggage, and Beary’s beach toys and we drove sixteen hours to Orange Beach, Alabama, so he could watch our girl play in the ocean for the first time.

It was our last family road trip.

Just a few weeks later, I drove the big, red, rough-riding Durango home from the hospital, with Kevin in the front seat. I winced at each bump, anxious not to cause him any extra pain. My dad sat squeezed into the back seat, ready to reach out and catch Kevin if he started slumping, or if he passed away on the way home, a fear my dad and I didn’t voice to each other, but felt every mile of the way home. We’d spent the night in the emergency room and, when morning came, our doctor told us time was short. I drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on Kevin’s arm, needing to touch him, keep him with me, get him home safely because I’d promised him I wouldn’t let him die in a hospital.

He died the next afternoon, laying by my side in our bed.

The truck sat in the garage for a week; in my grief, family and friends drove me to the places I needed to go.

But one day, I climbed into the driver’s seat again, and my girl fastened herself into the seat behind me, and we drove Daddy’s truck to the store. Then to church, and the park and soon, we drove Daddy’s truck everywhere. It was a way to keep him with us, to remember him seated behind the wheel, music blaring, taking us to another family adventure. We drove it to the airport, so we could get back to Disney’s magic and remember Daddy again; we drove it on the long road trip back to the beach, to be in a place of wonderful memories on the second anniversary of his death. We drove it and drove it to the zoo and museums and baseball games and amusement parks and took Kevin with us everywhere.

Two years went by and the odometer ticked steadily and I knew it wouldn’t be long until we’d have to give up the Durango. I started looking around, searching for the minivan I’d been wanting since before Kevin’s icy wreck. Finally, six years later, it was my turn for the new car, but it was hard to get too excited about it, because we’d be giving up the Durango. Losing the rough-riding truck itself didn’t bother me; but losing another piece of Kevin, a tangible something that connected us to him and our memories – that was harder.

I didn’t know it, but we had one more memory to make with Kevin’s truck.

It’s kind of like we saved the best for last.

I don’t know what my girl will remember about her childhood, but I hope she remembers the night that I woke her up at 11:30 and drove eight miles out to the middle of a bean field in the country. We layered blankets on the hood of the Durango, then leaned back with our arms crossed behind our heads and watched the stars shoot across the sky. She giggled with delight at the idea of sitting on top of the truck, then said, “I can’t believe we’re part of all that, way up there,” gesturing to the Milky Way spilling out across the heavens above us. We cried out each time we saw a glowing bit streak across the sky and burn out as quickly as it appeared. Me and my girl, on the hood of her Daddy’s truck, feeling him with us, watching God’s fireworks.

That’s what I’ll remember.

A week later, I finally traded the Durango in for a minivan. It was déjà vu on the car lot, silently filling a plastic bag with the bits of our life left in the Durango. Beary bounced with delight, trying out all the seating options, and I struggled to maneuver the new buttons and controls. I cried as I turned out onto the street and drove past Kevin’s big red truck, sitting alone on the lot. I couldn’t feel his presence in the minivan and I missed glancing over and imagining him sitting next to me. I wanted to turn around and go back and sit in his truck just one more time, spilling my tears over the steering wheel.

But then I remembered what he’d learned after his wreck: We are supposed to live.

So we will. My girl and I will keep on, because that’s what he wanted. We’ll take our new minivan and make some new memories. We’ll go on road trips and adventures. We’ll drive and drive and drive – to museums and zoos and baseball games and church and amusement parks.

We won’t be in Kevin’s truck, but that’s okay – he’ll still be with us.

He’s always with us.

big red

My girl likes to make chalk drawings on our driveway. This is one of my favorites: Daddy’s bright red Durango.

Sand and Life and Two Years Later

It’s in that moment when the waves crash to the shore and I watch the tide pull back and pull everything with it, when shells skitter as they wash back into the sea and precariously-close-to-the-water sand castles crumble and dissolve, and footprints in the sand disappear – that moment when it seems everything is destroyed – that’s when I see it. An intricately formed sand shape, carved into the slope of the beach, pounded into beauty by the relentless surf. Standing firm in that moment against the tide, not disappearing, but letting the waves work to create something new and magnificent.

God, I think to myself, if that’s a message to me, it’s a beautiful one. Thank you.

We trekked across five states to the beach where we’d last vacationed with Kevin. It seemed the best place for us to be on the anniversary of his death – a new tradition and a beautiful memory to get us through what is still a very hard day. Trusting the hope of heaven to keep us going.

Two years ago, on April 16, I lost the love of my life. My daughter lost her Daddy Bear. In an instant, our world changed completely and forever. So much loss, so many tears, so much heartache…even still. I wasn’t sure how to go on without him, but I knew I had to, especially for our daughter. It wasn’t easy, but nothing about this life alone is. The idea of being cheerful and thanking God and believing that all things work for good – that seemed impossible…still does sometimes, if I’m honest. I felt so pounded some days, so pulled under by the grief and the tears and the missing him. Everything destroyed by the relentless battering of life. I sobbed at his graveside; I screamed into a pillow in my closet; I sang lullabies to my girl as I rocked her in my arms on our sad days. And when it all still seemed incredibly overwhelming, I simply told her what I had to believe was true: “Life’s not fair, but God is working good, Baby Bear. Always. We have to trust Him.”

Slowly, the days went by, then weeks and months, and we started putting the broken pieces of our life back together. She made me laugh and I helped her learn and finally we started to really live – not just exist. Parts of our old broken dreams and traditions got swirled around and mixed up with our new dreams and traditions and Kevin is still so much a part of everything we do every single day because he’s always, always, always in our hearts. We remember him with happiness and love and laughter and celebrate everything that was and is still beautiful about this family of ours that God carefully and lovingly created.

So we came to the beach, to be here on this hardest of days. We came here to be by the water he loved, that his daughter simply adores; to be in a place where the memories are all happy, where we were all so happy.

And at the beach, when I look one way, all I can see are the waves, the grief and loss, constantly rolling and swelling and sweeping the beautiful bits of shells, the beautiful bits of life, away forever. But when I look the other way, when I look ahead with faith and love and hope and joy, I see the shape of something more, the shape of something formed by the hardest parts of living, the shape of something breathtaking and intricate and resilient. I see those shapes in the sand. And I see something that felt impossible two years ago, but something I know Kevin, out of the deepest love, would want for me – something that God has planned for me.

I see a beautiful life. Not beautiful because it’s easy and carefree, because it’s not; the loss and sadness are part of me forever. No, it’s beautiful because God is using all the parts – the pain and the tears and the joy and the dreams – and forming them into a new story for me and my daughter. It will shift and change, as stories – and sea-sculpted sand creations – do, but it will be okay. It will be better than okay because God is working all things – all things – for good.

I love you, Kevin, I whisper it into the waves and the salty sea breeze. I love you and I miss you, but I’m taking you with me as I keep moving through this life with our girl. You always said I was strong and beautiful…I guess it’s time to find out.

Some Assembly Required

I didn’t know that opening that box containing pieces for a new kitchen island would open a box of memories and make me smile and laugh out loud. I didn’t realize, until it was all over, that the slow, tedious, hand-blistering, detailed work of putting those pieces together to create a beautiful, functional structure was the perfect metaphor for the journey through grief I’ve traveled these past two years.

I thought I was just finally getting an island for the kitchen.

The box was too heavy by far for me to carry into the house by myself, so I cut it open in the garage and started carrying the pieces into the kitchen, one by one. Slowly, a pile grew in front of the refrigerator, the white planks tipping precariously once when a curious Katje tried to navigate their height. I kept carrying and the pile kept growing until, at last, I brought in the last piece and stood for a moment, surveying the mess in front of me.

In all the time I’d admired this kitchen island on the website, and saved my pennies to purchase it, I’d secretly hoped that “Some Assembly Required” really meant just installing the shelves behind already-attached cabinet doors. Not so much. “Some Assembly Required” was actually a bit misleading, I thought, once more taking in the piles of pieces littering my kitchen floor. “Total Assembly Required” would be more accurate.

“Mama, are you sure you can do this?” My daughter came into the kitchen and looked around doubtfully. “It won’t fall down on me while I’m eating, will it?”

I stuck my tongue out at her. “Beary, do the drawers in your dresser slide in and out? Is your armoire still standing?”

When she answered yes, I said, “Well, I put those together – and I was eight months pregnant with you when I did it! – so I think I can manage this little island. Now scram while I get all this stuff sorted out!”

She giggled and ran off to play with the cats, and I got busy. I unearthed the directions, and started laying out the pieces in order.

It was time.

For the last two years, my daughter and I have eaten most of our meals on trays in front of the television. After Kevin died, I couldn’t stand sitting at our kitchen table, trying to get food past the grief in my throat, looking across at his empty seat, knowing he’d never smile at me again over a slice of deep dish pizza, or sigh with satisfaction after filling himself with roast beef and gravy. I moved the table and chairs into the basement and convinced my daughter that having our meals as a picnic in the front room would be so much fun. She happily agreed – partly because of the novelty, I’m sure, and probably partly so she could eat a meal without watching tears stream down my face.

Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain…then
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!

I looked at the directions, pulled the first two pieces toward me, and reached for the screwdriver. And I smiled, remembering all the times I’d put furniture together with Kevin and he always handed me the wrong screwdriver. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, but taking a pile of random parts and assembling them into a bookcase or a television stand or a rocking chair just wasn’t his thing. We had a running joke, whenever I got underway with a project. Like our daughter, Kev would look doubtfully at all the pieces and say, “Sure you can do this, Baby Doll?”

I always replied, “Kev, I come from a long line of people who just get in there and figure out how to do it.” And he’d come back with, “Well, I come from a long line of people who HIRE people to get in there and figure out how to do it.”

We’d laugh, then he’d pull up a chair and read the directions out loud and hand me the wrong parts until finally I announced the project was finished. We put together an elliptical exercise machine, a desk and hutch for his office, and all of the Bear’s nursery furniture like that. Just the two of us, apprehensive about all the pieces and hardware, but game for an adventure, for a good laugh, for just spending time together. He was just so much fun to be around. I miss that.

I thought I might be sad putting the kitchen island together by myself. I thought the memories would overwhelm me and tears would stain the directions and I’d end up on the floor, just another broken piece among all the other parts scattered about. But it wasn’t like that. I felt happy and content and full of wonderful memories and even when I accidentally put a section together upside down and had to take it all apart, I didn’t get frustrated. I felt peace, I felt assurance.

I felt Kevin.

O, and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside…then
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live

Sometimes I catch myself writing the date and I wonder how it can possibly be almost two years ago that Kevin died. Time is so weird and relative and fluid; it feels like it was just yesterday, it feels like it’s been a lifetime. And I still stumble through the hours and days and weeks and months, feeling broken, feeling unhinged, feeling like I will never be able to fit together all the bits and pieces of my shattered heart. My life couldn’t be more disassembled than that kitchen island scattered across the floor.

The kitchen island is complete now. It looks lovely and solid and functions perfectly.

And my life? My journey with grief? Well, that will never be completely finished; I know that. I love Kevin and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life. But through the grief, through the tears and the excruciating pain of loss, through the cries to God and the whispers of joy, through the laughter of my girl and the silence of the lonely nights – through it all, I’ve been picking my way through and sorting things out, putting the pieces of my life together, fastening them with moments of peace and bits of happiness.

It’s starting to come together.

Lyrics from “The Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)”, sung by Chris Rice.