Tag Archives: music

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.

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Easter, or The Cat in the Window

I didn’t know if I’d take the photo or not. I didn’t know if I wanted a family Easter picture that Kevin wasn’t in. To see the empty space…

My girl woke up before the crack of dawn – the allure of a mega Easter egg and a basket of goodies too much to keep her in bed until a reasonable hour. I shuffled behind her in the dark as she raced from clue to clue, accumulating her Easter surprises. We ate a candy breakfast and dressed for church and I consciously reached for a pink sweater to coordinate with her new dress and jacket.

I hadn’t decided yet, but just in case…

We sang together, standing alone in the packed pew. Her clear, high voice rang out, joy on her face and Hallelujah on her lips.

“Where, o death, is now thy sting?”

The words hurt and the tears stung my eyes. Easter followed a little too closely on the heels of a hard week. I’m not ready yet to taunt death. I haven’t had enough time, though all I’ve for the last year, it seems, is time. Time to miss him. Time to cry out for him to come back. Too much time.

We prayed and greeted and my mind wandered as we sat and the choir sang an unfamiliar song. But suddenly, a phrase penetrated my thoughts. And I turned the words over in my mind, then scrambled for a paper and pen to write them down because I remembered that after dying comes life. How else could these lyrics, these words, be true?

“What other heart would let itself be broken every time ‘til He healed mine?”

I stared at the words. The threads of love stretching from that empty tomb wove in and out and began to stitch back together some of the gashes in my heart. Life is still in every beat.

Sunday School. Family dinner. Egg hunt with the cousins. Crack open the gaily colored plastic shells and candy spilled over the folds of her pink striped dress.

Happiness shone on my girl’s face because she understands it. Life goes on. We have the promise of heaven, and life goes on. Joy and hope and laughter and goodness and God caring for us and candy and celebration – it’s all still there, if I can just hang tight to that promise.

I’m not there. Not yet. Not all the way. It’s not easy to keep going. The year has been so hard, and I miss him so much. Life feels empty.

But I looked at her face, so open and smiling and her Kevin-blue eyes shine at me, partly because she’s hopped up on sugar and partly because she’s so full of delight that she glows.

I decided to do it.

“Hey, Beary! How about one family photo?”

I grabbed the tripod and went through the familiar motions of positioning it in the front garden. She sat patiently on the bench, waiting for me to set the timer and dash in beside her. We counted down – an Easter routine so familiar I didn’t have to remind her. Three. Two. One. Smile. If it doesn’t quite reach my eyes this year, that’s okay. Just hold to the promise.

I slid the camera card into my laptop to see the photo. An ache spread across my heart because Kevin’s supposed to be in this photo. And he’s not.

But then I saw it. In the background behind my girl’s sunny grin.

The cat.

Strategically positioned, posing for the family photo, with the grace and haughtiness only a cat can pull off.

He totally photobombed us.

I laughed out loud.

Well played, Kev! Good one. Your cat made me smile today, and I didn’t think I would. Thank you, my love, for that bit of heavenly humor, for reminding me that you’re always, always here. Your death still stings. It’s a part of life I’ll never get used to. But a song and a photobombing cat reminded me: Death doesn’t win…love does. I can laugh and I can cry and it’s okay to live with a broken heart. I love you, Kevster. Happy Easter.

La Vie en Rose

I heard her humming as I worked in the kitchen. I only caught snatches of the tune, as she danced around the house – always in motion, always so busy — and couldn’t quite put it all together. I followed the drifting melody into the classroom, where she’d finally lighted in her chair to read. Sprawled sideways, one leg flung over the arm of the chair, my little mini-Kev hummed absently as her thumb and finger rubbed the corner of each page, then turned it carefully.

I stood silent in the doorway and listened.

I smiled.

La Vie en Rose.

The life of rosy hues. Of beauty and love and hope.

She looked up and saw me.

“What’re you doing, Mama?” she asked curiously.

“Just listening to you, Little Bear. I like the song you’re humming.”

Her eyes sparkled. Her Daddy’s slow grin spread across her face.

“I heard it when you played that French CD,” she offered.

In a blatant cultural mashup, I’d had the sudden urge to listen to a CD of French songs while making scones earlier in the day. Kevin gave it to me one year for Valentine’s Day, and it seemed a good choice because I wanted something lilting, something to chase away the winter, something… joie de vivre.

Joy of living.

When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me in a low voice,
I see life as if it were rose-tinted.
He whispers words to declare to me his love
Words of the everyday
And that does something to me

The hardest morning of my life was the day after Kevin died and I woke up to the devastating emptiness of life without him. I had his pillow, filled with my tears, and our daughter, filled with his spirit. But I didn’t have the life I’d had the day before, the life where every day had joy, the one where even moments of terrifying sadness were filtered through the love we shared and it always felt like everything would be okay…we would be okay. His whispers of love did something to me – he made me believe we would always find the joy in living.

He has entered into my heart
A piece of happiness
the cause of which I know full well.
It’s him for me, me for him in life
He said that to me, swore to me forever

In the days and months after, I struggled. I couldn’t find any joy in anything. I was too numb to feel, then when that wore off, the searing pain of being without him left me gasping and crying and screaming for him to come back. I felt nothing in-between – it was unfeeling coldness or agonizing loneliness.

And then one day, I woke up and my Bear giggled in her sleep and I felt that space in between. There is a place between the numbness and pain, I’ve found. A place of calm; not peace, really, but a place of stillness. There’s something like strength here, and something like hope. It’s a place to catch my breath…for just a moment, and I need that place sometimes because I need to breathe. When the grief bears down, I hold myself together with prayers and tears until I can crawl to the in-between for rest. The holidays, my girl’s birthday – getting through those without Kevin drained me of the energy I needed to keep on, to be in this new year without him. I treasure the in-between, because the other — the numbness and searing pain — they’re still here; I feel a version of them each day because I always miss him. But in the in-between, joy and hope rise a little higher than the grief and pain. They’ll be back, I know, because grief ebbs then crashes back in. But in the in-between, I can breathe. And I can laugh and dream and enjoy the enchantment that is my Bear. I can drift and wait and find pieces of joy and cope.

I can find joie de vivre. Joy of living.

And from the things that I sense,
Now I can feel within me
My heart that beats.

I feel it in my little girl’s humming of a most charming song, and the lilting pattern of her notes feels like bits of happy floating dreamily in the air.

I see it in the crystal vase of pink tulips sitting in the window, delicate petals bravely spreading out, hiding the dead winterscape of broken branches, broken dreams, offering beauty and healing.

Offering joy.

Joy of living.

She turned back to her book and I turned back to the dishes in the kitchen.

And we filled the in-between with the hum of life.

La vie en rose.

The Song

About a month after Kevin and I started dating, he and his family took a vacation, a cruise to the Caribbean. I can’t say either of us was overjoyed at the thought of more than a week apart, but we emailed daily. Even though we had worked together for almost two years, and had cubicles less than six feet apart, there were still things we didn’t know about each other and this was a great chance to kind of catch up and fill in the blanks.

With Christmas coming, one of the questions I emailed him was this: “What’s your favorite Christmas song?” I laughed when I got his answer back, because, as I’d come to expect (and love), there was a Godfather connection. There’s a scene where Michael and Kay are shopping and Bing Crosby croons “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” in the background. So, obviously, that became Kev’s favorite holiday song.

We started a tradition that year, our first Christmas together, buying a new Christmas CD. As a joke, I got him The Chipmunks Christmas album and, wouldn’t you know…his favorite song was on it. We added to our collection each year and, more often than not, that song showed up on the track list.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
Our troubles will be out of sight

It’s funny how many Christmases we sang along to those lyrics, even in the middle of difficult circumstances. Right after we married, Kevin’s job was eliminated, so that Christmas was kind of hard. By the next year, he was working again, but infertility hounded us when we so desperately wanted to start a family. When our little Bear finally arrived, our hearts were light and we were thrilled and sure that everything was turning around. And it was good for a couple of years, until Kev was diagnosed with colon cancer.

We sang the song with special fervor that year, praying with every sweet note that the lyrics would come true:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay,
From now on,
Our troubles will be miles away.

Chemotherapy kept the troubles at bay, sometimes, but we could never get out from under cancer’s shadow. Some years, he had chemo during Christmas; others, we were fortunate to have a break. Either way, we squeezed every bit of joy from the season of miracles, watching our Bear marvel at the tree and the lights and the nativity and Santa, watching her sparkle every bit as brightly as the decorations. And sometimes, just for a bit, it did seem like our troubles were miles away.

Right after Halloween this year, she asked if we could play her Dora Christmas CD in the truck. I agreed, so we started rockin’ around the Christmas tree pretty early this year, but we needed it and it was good. As November wore on, I added more holiday music to the playlist. And that’s when it happened.

The song.

I heard the opening notes and I froze, hands on the steering wheel, driving down the street, drowning in grief as the music flowed over me. My lips moved, silently singing the words, and tears tracked down my face.

“What’s wrong, Mama?” Her concerned voice floated from the back seat. But I couldn’t answer because my mind was pulling out so many memories, all jumbled together, overwhelming me. So many Christmases, so many years singing this song. So many versions, but all of them beautiful and haunting, lovely to listen to as we drove the dark snowy streets searching for holiday lights.

Here we are, as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

And now. Now he’s gone, but the song’s still here and the lyrics, always so melancholy, are too much this year. I want so badly for all our troubles to be miles away, to be gone – for Kevin to be back with us, gathered near to me, healthy and smiling, secretly loving that The Godfather got all entwined in our holiday.

And I can’t explain to Bear how I’m sad and happy at the same time. That grief doesn’t come and go, but it mixes itself up with the happy and the joy and the hope, and there’s no separating them, and that it’s impossibly possible to be crying and smiling and heartbroken and heart-filled at the same time. That the song will probably make me cry every single time this year, and that I can’t get away from it because it’s included on nearly every Christmas album we own, but that’s okay. I need to hear it, to sobbingly stumble through singing it, because it’s Daddy, little Bear, it’s your Daddy in those words and when I hear it, when I sing it, he’s here with me. It’s every beautiful, magical Christmas moment we shared and I need to feel the pain to feel the joy.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

If You Listen to Me

My daughter loves music. Has ever since she was a baby. She may look exactly like her Daddy, but the music? She gets that from me.

We listen to music in the classroom, in the car, in the backyard on her iPod. And it’s all kinds of music. We go from Mozart to Putumayo Kids, from Glenn Miller to Journey. She’s just as likely to belt out “Dancing Queen” as she is to hum Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 while she does her math. We permeate the air around us with music, so it’s no wonder that my girl breathes it all in and exhales her own lyrics and melodies, dancing her way through life like the little fairy sprite she is.

She likes to seclude herself in the upstairs playroom to work on her new pieces, not letting a single note be heard until she declares its perfect place in her composition. Kevin and I loved to hear her announce an after-dinner performance. We clapped and “Brava”-ed and gave standing ovations at every front room recital.

_____________________________________________________

She put away her Literature binder, then turned to me and asked, “Do you want to hear my new song?” Her eyes shone with excitement, anticipating my answer.

“You bet!” I replied, wondering what she’d come up with now.

She grabbed her plastic microphone, and proceeded to pierce my heart with the lyrics she’d composed. They were not fancy or elaborate or groundbreaking. But they were God’s voice, speaking to me through my seven-year-old daughter.

One, two, three,
If you listen to me,
You can find you can do anything
.”

I’ve been struggling lately, unsure about this new life I have to live without Kevin. It’s hard. I hate it. I was promised a lifetime of love and happiness in all the wedding cards we received. Not one single card mentioned that his life would be much too short. I miss him every single minute of every single day.

When the loneliness overwhelms, I don’t always remember that I’m not truly alone; God is walking this path with me. It’s funny that I forget that now, when for five years of chemo treatments and CT scans, I always reminded Kevin of that fact:

“We’re not alone in this, babe,” I would try to encourage him. “Can’t you see we’re only surviving this because our friends and family are holding us up to God? He is with us, He is not letting go of us…not for one single minute.”

He didn’t then.

And He still isn’t.

But this week has been hard, and my faith’s been taking a hit, and when the grief takes me down and I forget He’s with me, and I won’t just be still and know He is God, He sends his message through the voice of my daughter, His beautiful creation:

If you listen to me…”

If I listen to His words, I can find comfort and peace. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

You can find you can do anything…”

If I listen to His words, I can find the strength to get through the days that seem impossible, when the seconds tick He’s gone, He’s gone and I can’t imagine getting through the next hour, much less the next day or the next years. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” (2 Timothy 4:17)

And I remember the verse from Zephaniah I selected for Kevin’s funeral service: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Sometimes His singing sounds an awful lot like my girl with her plastic microphone.

After turning over the stage to her purple Hello Kitty for the song’s bridge, she belted out the big finish (every song has one) and then looked at me and asked, “Was it good, Mama? Did you like it?”

Thanking God for this beautiful girl and His beautiful message, I answered, “I LOVED it!”