Tag Archives: memories

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.

The Long Walk

She held the memory out to me, the edges smoothed gently from handling and hugging. It was a treasure and I accepted it as such.

I looked at it, turned it from every angle, thought about what it might mean, and raised questioning eyes to hers. “This?”

She nodded, a smile playing at the corners of her Daddy’s mouth.

We veered right at the line to the London Eye, and quick-walked through the small tree-lined square, dodging people heading for the Embankment as we hustled the other direction – to the street, with cars nipping neatly from lane to lane and busses squealing and hissing as they pulled up to a stop, then belching a thunderous roar as they swerved back into the always-moving traffic. I saw the blue bus approaching our stop, the one we were rushing toward, but without so much as a pause, it glided on, not breaking the pattern of traffic for two weary travelers from the States.

“Was that it, Mama? Was that our bus?” My daughter had seen it, too. “Why didn’t it stop? Didn’t it know we were coming?” The questions came quickly now, anxiety on the horizon.

“I don’t know, Beary. Maybe it wasn’t on this line – maybe it was a Purple Line bus that’s cutting through. I couldn’t see that far.”

I tried to keep my bewilderment from infecting her anxiety. “Let’s go wait for a few minutes and see if another bus comes by. That one was earlier than the driver told us it would be, so…yeah, let’s just wait.”

We’d gotten off the tour bus about half an hour before, hungry after visiting the British Museum. I remembered a fish & chips place on the Embankment, but it was getting late, so to make sure we had time to eat, I asked the driver how long we had until the last bus – at least forty-five minutes, he’d assured me.

Or not.

My girl played on the sidewalk, spinning around this crack, jumping over that one, while I scanned the street, willing a blue tourist bus to rumble our way. Five minutes…eight minutes…twelve minutes… It was obvious that the last bus had passed by. I only had a few pounds in cash, not enough for a cab. I didn’t have an Oyster card yet, because we’d been using the tour bus to get around, so the city bus wasn’t an option, either.

“Okay, Beary, let’s go.”

It was time to start walking.

“Do you know where we’re going, Mama? Are we going to get lost?” The questions pounded out with each step we took on the London pavement.

“Nope, we’re not going to get lost. We can figure this out, right? Westminster Abbey is right up there, and I remember the bus coming around that corner this morning, so if we head that direction, we should find the Palace. It’s huge, right? I mean, how can we miss Buckingham Palace? It’s going to be a long walk – I won’t lie to you – but we are definitely not lost.”

My confidence reassured her and she swung my hand as we waited to cross the street. We wandered back across Westminster Bridge, stopping to listen to the bagpipes, then kept going. We paused to admire the last bit of sunlight splashing across the Abbey, then started walking again. We meandered the sidewalk along St. James Park and played with the statues we came across. Each time the idea of being lost niggled into her brain, we came across a huge “YOU ARE HERE” map posted along the sidewalk and I pointed out where we’d been, where we were, and where we were going.

“Almost there, Little Bear! You’re doing a great job!” My stride was longer than hers, but she’d kept up, even running ahead in places to explore a bench or a statue, waiting for me to catch up. So confident was she in my navigating ability, she even conceded to a quick detour to see the front of the Palace, since we were so close. Forty-five minutes after we left the London Eye, we straggled into our hotel room and collapsed on the bed.

“That was a really, really long walk,” she murmured, “but we did it.”

My mind looked at each bit of the memory, then I handed it carefully back to her and asked, curious, “Why did you pick that one, baby girl?”

“Because it was an adventure! And we were together. And you didn’t get lost.”
Her simple statement made me smile.

There are days I feel like I’m not going to make it. I miss Kevin so terribly much. It’s been days and months – and now, how impossible!, almost years – since he’s been with us and I feel sad. I feel cheated. I feel overwhelmed and bewildered. I don’t make great parenting choices some days, but my daughter is filled with abundant grace and she forgives me over and over. Because she knows as much as I do: we’re in this together.

I don’t want to overanalyze her memory. Maybe it’s as simple as she explained: once she realized we were going to be okay, it became an adventure that we shared. A long walk through London. And she likes to think about that adventure when she thinks about us in London.

But for me, if I take it a little deeper, it’s a little more. For me, I can see parallels to our life, the life we have without Kevin. Left behind and forced to figure out how to get to a safe place. Worrying about getting lost in the grief, but instinctively knowing that we have to stick together, figure it out as we go along. Knowing where we have to get back to – a feeling of family, a place of happy and content – and knowing we can make it if we just keep going. Starting to feel more confident in this unexpected life, able to take a break from the grief and see the beauty around us.

Knowing that through all the sadness and misunderstanding and tears, if we stay together, we won’t get lost. The road always curves toward joy if we just follow it.

Dreams

“Shhh…don’t tell me until after you eat breakfast, or it won’t come true.”

This was Kevin’s response every time I woke him up saying, “I had the CRAZIEST dream last night!”

I have no clue where he came up with this little snippet of superstition. He didn’t really know, either, which led me to suspect he made it up so he could grab a few more precious minutes of sleep.

A dream is a wish your heart makes
When you’re fast asleep.
In dreams, you will lose your heartache,
Whatever you wish for, you keep…

He was here last night. In my dreams. Sometimes when he comes, it all makes sense but sometimes it’s so jumbled and the scenes move so quickly and I can’t quite catch what’s going on, but it doesn’t matter because Kevin is here, with me, and we’re together again and in my dream, I forget that he can’t stay.

I asked him, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” And I was a little weepy, a bit hysterical; Beary was so heavy as I carried her and traipsed through some waiting room that seemed familiar but not really; everything was turned around.

And he leaned close and his breath brushed my cheek. “I’m sorry, Baby Doll – I had to move when they started shifting things around.”

Then he took Beary from my arms and settled onto the bus with her and she snuggled up to him and said, “I’m glad we found you, Daddy!”

I squeezed in close on the seat to those two pieces that make up my heart. I closed my eyes and tried to doze – it seemed like we were taking such a long trip – but the bus engine rumbled so loudly, I couldn’t sleep…

I opened my eyes.

It wasn’t the bus. It was Katje, loudly purring into my face, trying to wake me up.

She reached out a paw, her claws grazing my cheek as she chased the tears that started to slide down my cheek to the pillow.

My girl rolled over, stretched her lazy Daddy-stretch, and smiled a sleepy smile. She snuggled in close to me, then closed her eyes for those last few precious minutes of sleep. “I had a dream about…” she started to mumble.

“Shhh…” I interrupted her. “Don’t tell me until after breakfast or it won’t come true.”

No matter how your heart is grieving,
If you keep on believing…
the dream that you wish will come true

“A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”, written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston for the Walt Disney film Cinderella (1950).

Of Socks and Birthdays

I swept through the classroom, closing binders with one hand, even as I precariously aimed my foot at the reading rug and pillows scattered across the floor, trying to straighten them out in front of the fireplace.

“Beary! You got socks on? Time to roll!” I called down the hallway.

“I’m ready!” She emerged from her room with a stuffed cat and pointed a foot at me.

I glanced down and saw the solid blue star on the white background of her sock. A sock that didn’t begin to remotely match the outfit she’d put together, but totally made sense for the day. I looked at her and nodded. She nodded back and smiled. We didn’t have to say a word.

Dallas Cowboys socks on her birthday.

Of course.

It’s the day I miss Kevin most. Of all the beautiful things we created together – memories, traditions, a happy marriage, an incredible friendship – our little Bear is the most beautiful. And we made her. We made her. It still is such an awesome, gives-me-chills, mind-boggling realization. She is part of me and part of him, and all of God’s amazing plan. Infertility was our first struggle and I like to think it made us strong enough to face the fight with cancer that would come our way just two years later. In so many ways, our little miracle baby girl completed us, bringing more faith and love and happiness into our life than you could imagine six pounds and 12 ounces would be capable of holding.

And Kevin loved his Little Bear. Oh, how he loved her. Loves her still, as she reminded me not long after he died. He was fascinated by her and marveled at her tiny fingers and tiny toes and not-so-tiny baby cries. From the moment he walked in the door after work, he held her, hardly even putting her down to eat his supper. I always went to bed a little early, leaving her and Daddy sitting together in the front room, watching ESPN or reading a book. He’d feed her the nighttime bottle, then rock her to sleep. Sometimes I wonder what he whispered to her, as he cradled her in his arms, holding her close, his voice a soothing deep timbre in the dark. Did he tell her he’d always be with her? That she’d always be his little baby girl? That he’d love her forever…no matter what? Even if she wanted to date a Washington Redskins fan someday?

Yes, her birthday is the hardest day for me. I know life isn’t fair, but it seems so incredibly unfair that I get to be here, watching our little girl grow up, sparkling with magic and whimsy, and Kevin can’t share that joy with me. I feel guilt for celebrating this day that brought me so much joy, and I ache for what the two of them will never get to share, and I grieve because I want him here with us so badly. He’s supposed to be here – we’re supposed to do this part together. She’s so much like him – more every day, it seems. Her handwriting, her wry jokes; he would get such a kick out of her spot-on observations of the absurdities of life. She is the best thing I’ve ever done and I still can’t believe she belongs to me. How did I get so lucky? She’s nine now, going on twenty-nine it seems, and every day with her brings more delight – even the hard days.

And on that hardest of days, she surprised and delighted me again. I woke with a heavy heart, thinking of Kevin, memories of the night she was born chasing through my dreams. But her exuberant smile and birthday excitement were contagious. She ripped open her gifts and asked for leftover ice cream cake for breakfast – just like her Daddy. She chased the cats, made her bed, and read a book.

Then, to make sure Daddy was with her every step of the day, she pulled on her Dallas Cowboys socks – never minding the fact that sports socks don’t go with black Mary Janes.

She’s ready, all right. Ready to show me that he’s still here, still with us, still loving us, still part of this birthday celebration.

Somehow, over the last nine years, that tiny baby I snuggled close at the hospital turned into an amazing, smart, and brave girl. A girl confident in love and secure in knowing her Daddy is still with her.

I nodded again. It’s still a hard day, but it’s going to be okay. Our little girl is still bringing more faith, love, and happiness into my life than I could imagine. Thank you, God, for the gift of her. It’s her birthday, but she’s the gift.

“Okay, then,” I said. “Let’s go, birthday girl!”

And we were off.

Stand. Watch. Wait.

She lolled on the couch, musing out loud. Fortified with sugar cookies and Mountain Dew, we were in it for the long haul, determined to make it to midnight to see a new year begin. The clock chimed. One…two…three…

Eleven o’clock. Almost there.

“You know what, Mama?” she began. “I wish we could make a deal with life. If we don’t like the year we’re in, we can either go back or skip ahead. I don’t know if I’ll like 2015…and if I don’t, it would be good to get out of it.”

She paused, and her words hung silent in the room.

Then she looked straight at me. “You’d go back to years with Daddy, wouldn’t you?”

Yes. Yes. Yes, my broken heart cried. A million times…yes.

I knew she wasn’t judging me, or accusing me, or doing anything other than acknowledging the Kevin-sized hole in our life. It’s not just me – she feels it, too. We miss him, and as much as we fill our days with work and play and laughter and crazy cat antics, we crave his presence and we still can’t understand why he’s not here hanging out with us. Why did he have to die? Why do we have to live without him?

I remember my first New Year’s Eve with Kevin. We were newly engaged, and he’d made reservations at a hotel’s dinner-and-dance party…where it turned out we were among the youngest people there. We laughed, and ate the delicious food, and danced to the live Glenn Miller-type band, and promised that we’d come back in thirty years to see if some other young couple had stumbled into the same delightful mistake. I didn’t know then that the clock had already started ticking for us, counting down the already-numbered and too-few days we’d get spend together.

We looked forward that year, and there was no thought of making a deal with life and going back to a different time. The times behind were what brought us to each other – they’d served their purpose, and we didn’t want to go back. Then the New Year’s Eve I was pregnant with our Bear – we looked forward to the new year and our new life as a family of three, with new names: Mama and Daddy. The first New Year’s Eve after Kevin’s diagnosis, when the numbers were going in the right direction and it seemed like we’d won a few rounds of our battle with cancer – we looked for a year of respite, and maybe remission. Forward, forward, forward – always looking forward. Looking forward to time together, time with our Bear, just time…more time.

There wasn’t enough time.

And now? Well, now there’s too much time, and there’s a lot of truth in my girl’s late night musings. How many times have I begged for the same thing? The chance to make a deal with life? To only live the years I knew I would like? I knew on December 31, 2012, as I stood in the dimly-lit hospital hallway with the doctor, barely hearing the words he didn’t want to say, that 2013 was not a year I wanted to live in. I was right. And last New Year’s Eve, the idea of 2014 – a year where Kevin never was and never would be – it scared me. I didn’t know if I could do it, even with my little Bear dancing alongside, carrying her Daddy’s spirit wherever we went. And this year, with my constant companions, grief and loneliness, I stare into the future of another year without Kevin. And another. And another. Go back? Skip ahead? Where’s the place where I can be at peace again, and feel safe and loved and whole?

I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me… (Habakkuk 2:1)

Between the swirling uncertainty of the years ahead, and the solid loving comfortableness of the years behind, there’s one place I need to be right now. I know it – and as tempting as my daughter’s theoretical deal with life sounds, it’s not the answer for the aching loneliness and hesitation I feel in going on without Kevin.

No, the place I need to be at the beginning of this new year, that place is right here – right here in the middle of this life that God is unfolding every day, guiding me along paths that He set in motion long ago. I will stand here, in this new year, even though I am unsure of the future, and I will stand watch, and find joy, and wait for God’s answers to all my questions.

It’s not exactly earth-shattering, as resolutions go, and it seems too simple, but I know it’s the right thing to do. It’s what I’ve been doing half-heartedly, but now I know I need to do more intentionally. I need to be here – in this year – to stand watch and wait for God. There’s a plan; He works all things for good. It’s time to figure out what my part in the plan, in this next part of my life, will be. It’s time to see how God answers my “Why?” and “What now?”

“Mama?” She bounced up from the couch and settled herself in the recliner with me, cuddling into my shoulder. “Even though I don’t know what 2015 will be like, I’m glad I’ll spend the new year with you.”

I squeezed her close. “Me, too, little girl. Me, too.”

Stand.

Watch.

Wait.