Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dear Rob,

My niece was going through some photos and sent me a picture of the two of us from almost 23+ years ago.  It was at a holiday family gathering before digital cameras, before smart phones were a thing.  So, it wan't a picture I had seen before. It is about 6 months before we were married.
   I studied the photo like an exhibit in a museum, examining every angle, every hair, every shade.  The way your arm laced around my waist and your hand rested on my hip, I looked so long I could almost feel the pressure on my skin of your arm wrapped around me.  The way my head perfectly fit into the the place where your head and shoulder meet, like it was made for me.  My arm entwined around your back in a casual way, like it was habit, something that we'd done a thousand times and took for granted that we'd always be side-by-side.  Your sweater is balled up in my fist, I am not sure why, but I remember I used to do that to pull you closer to me, maybe I did that this time.  I can't remember.  We were smiling for the picture, but there is more in our smiles than a fake pose, we were happy.  From the very beginning we were happy.
Most days I do ok.  I am going forward, I am finding a path and a way to be present in a future I never asked for.  But, your birthday was last month and next month our wedding anniversary, and that picture.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

a quilt is more than memories, it is a hug from an old friend

"Measuring a summers day
 I only find it slips away to grey
the hours they bring me pain.
Tangerine, Tangerine
 living reflections from a dream
 I was her love she was my queen
 and now a thousand years between.
Thinking how it used to be, 
does she still remember times like these
to think of us again
and I do" 
(Led Zeppelin)

  (above, Rob in some of his many awesome T-shirts.  Left, Rob and Noah in a side by side comparison in the exact same T-shirt around the same age, too.)

If you never met Rob and only know him through my words, I bet you can still get a visual of him in his Converse, Levi's, a T-shirt, and a flannel.  I knew him 24+ years and rarely saw him in anything else.  It was that (and his love for Mountain Dew) that people who knew him best vividly remember about him.  Oh, sure, he was in the Air Force for 16 years and so he wore a lot of uniforms in his day, but having his work clothes pre-decided for him just meant that his entire closet was full of flannels, his drawers full of T-shirts, and his shoes only ever black converse high-tops (well, except the time he wore purple plaid ones for our wedding).  Both his son's closets and drawers hold exactly the same wardrobe with many of the same favorite brands, bands, and (of course) Star Wars. 
     As Rob's best friend, Kraig, put it to me in a recent conversations, "Rob always did have the best shirts".  They ranged from his favorite bands (Led Zeppelin, Pixies, Aerosmith), to Itchy & Scratchy, CoCo's (where he worked in Waukesha for a long time), Independent Skateboards, Star Wars, to brands he loved, and then later to military shirts from places he was stationed or runs he completed after he discovered he was kind of great at the long distance running thing.
   After Rob passed away we saved all his wardrobe, and for a long time I couldn't think about doing anything with the clothes.  Finally, three years passed, and I was willing to give in to what Sarah had suggested in the first place.  I let my mom take all the T-shirts and flannels that we had (some had been lost over the years, and others the kids claimed to keep) and she created an awesome memory quilt.  It took her a while to complete and she is still working on the binding, but I can share the finished face and backside with you.   
 what an amazing job my mom did.   I am so grateful for her time.  I am thankful for Sarah helping me pick out all the shirts and flannels.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Shelf

 One of the hardest things about having to move across continents after Rob's death is how, while settling into our new home, his stuff didn't have to be unpacked.  His shoes weren't lying by the front door, his keys not hung on a hook, his coat not flung over a chair.  Those little pieces that made him still so present in our house in Germany weren't in the new home and it didn't make it any easier.  Instead, it made it feel more empty. One of the first things I wanted to do when I moved into the new house was to have some sort of area where we could display all Rob's things so that his presence was in this house, but not in a heavy, sad way. I had a shelf custom made for the foyer of our upstairs and began adding to it very slowly.  The work was painstaking and emotional, so often it would sit for months until I was ready to try and tackle the project again.  I had help from Rob's parents and my mom, help from people who used to work with Rob, and support and encouragement from my kids.  Finally, I feel the shelf is finished enough to be able to share on the blog.  The only thing still missing are pictures of Rob with his kids, but going through photographs is still something that I am not able to do very well. I plan to hang a couple frames next to the shelf on the wall.  
    Thank you for always reading my posts and sharing in my grief.  He's been gone three and a half years, but the hurt is still just as fresh and raw.  
  Monday was Rob's birthday.  He would have been 44. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

an ordinary Wednesday

There was a day in the German hospital, after all efforts had been exhausted and there was nothing more they could do, but before they moved Rob to hospice in the American hospital located on Landstuhl Army Base where the kids came out to visit their Dad. It was during this visit I had explain that Rob was not going to get any better. After I had done my best to relate his condition, I then asked the kids if they had any questions, and Micah asked me, "So, will dad get to come home soon?" and I gently answered, "No, honey, dad's not going to get to come home again."
And I always thought that all three kids understood. I always thought that they all got the connotations of that conversation.
But Micah was very young. He was just nine years old at the time. He came to me, tonight, and asked me if I remembered that conversation.
That's how these memories happen, an ordinary Wednesday and it comes back. He came to confront me to ask me if I remembered what I'd said. Of course I did.
He went on to tell me that he thought it meant that his dad was just going to have to live in the hospital from now on, and didn't understand that it meant his dad was dying. 
He doesn't remember when he really understood fully, but that there was another moment when my friend had to take him to buy a new black suit (because I was living at the hospice) and he asked his big sister why they all had to get new black clothes.
It's moments like these.
Sometimes I think it was hardest on me because I lost my best friend, or sometimes I tend to think that it was hardest on Sarah because she was the oldest and knew him the longest of any of the children, but then I am faced with my 13-year-old son and that fact that he has a memory like this and I realize that it's not easy on any of us, and none of us have escaped the grief.
This is my reality. This is my kids' reality.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

unfortunately, they did find a malignancy

got a new chain so I can wear Rob's wedding ring around my neck. 4 years ago, on this day, we found out what he was fighting and what we were up against. I miss him so much every day. All day. It's not something you get past. So on this day, when I really only truly began to understand the horror that Cancer is and what it can steal, I remember you. I remember you.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

the story comes later

these pictures are part of a blog post I am currently working on writing.  I am just putting the pictures on here ahead of time.  Please check back soon to read the story that goes with them.  Thanks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

a ghost story

When something comes to a terrifying, abrupt halt your mind keeps moving forward as if some sort of cruel mental inertia is at play.  What do you do with all that residual momentum?  The information still in your brain that keeps taking you in a direction other than the brick wall you’ve just hit?  There are leftovers that linger.
We have ghosts that live in our Yahtzee game-box who like to prey on those leftovers.  I don’t mean ghosts like actual entities haunting us, more like an unwelcome knot in the pit of your stomach brought on by a sudden, unexpected reminder of a future that was supposed to be.  The unforeseen wave of nostalgia hits so hard; it is like a tangible manifestation and its presence grips you with hands you can feel.  Seeing those names at the top of old scorecards is shocking and heartbreaking.  They taunt and tease, shrieking and mocking your discomfort.  Just when you’ve stopped checking the other lane of traffic, hoping and yet dreading a glimpse, just when you’ve deleted all the pictures and messages off your phone.  Just when you’ve begun to accept, to move on, to heal.  You let your guard down only for a moment.  And BOO!  Those damn ghosts. 
Games go on and eventually, someday, new names will be scribbled on a fresh pad of scorecards.  We leave some of those beings in the box because we can ultimately find comfort in their presence.  Reminders of a happier time when games were played and memories of smiles gone by, before cancer, before loss.  Those are ghosts that become a lot less scary.
Certain papers we crumple and tearfully discard, knowing that some things just won’t ever be okay.  Some ghosts are meant to haunt. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

to my kids

     I recently saw a touching interview on the Stephan Colbert show where he spoke with Joe Biden, two men I admire very much. One of the topics they discussed was the tragic loss of Biden’s son, Beau.  Vice President Biden talked about his reluctance to run for President in the face of his ongoing, overwhelming grief.  This also brought up the story of how Colbert lost his Dad and two of his brothers at the age of ten.  The men discussed their shared experience of grief. Biden talked about his incredible support system in family and faith when he lost his first-wife and daughter in a car accident many years ago and then the recent loss of Beau. When Biden related his grief to Colbert’s Mom, wondering how people get up and put one foot in front of the other after facing such a tragic loss, Colbert was honest and said that she did it because she had other kids to care for.  But, also, that they were there for each other, it was a mutual dependency and in many ways, he had to “raise his mom” as she learned to face the new normal.  Biden said that his boys did the same for him after losing their mom in the years of grief that followed. 
   It was an incredibly emotional interview for me to watch as I related so much to what these men were saying.  Colbert said that his mother was "non compos mentis" for years after her loss.  It selfishly validated my grief by knowing that it isn't just me who cannot get over things or let them go.   But more importantly, it left me feeling that I had no choice but to stop everything that I am doing this instant and take time recognize the sacrifice and bravery that it takes for my kids to “raise” me in the aftermath of their father’s death.  This blog post isn't enough, nothing is enough, but I need to take this time and admit that they are truly everything that's 'right' about me in this moment.  I was so lost, and I still very much am, in who I am supposed to be now.  I’m needy and angry like I never was before.  And so sad, I'm still so very sad.  My kids go out of their way to make sure that I am okay, many times taking on responsibilities and roles well beyond their years and often times giving up much of their time as kids to adjust to this new and scary role they have had thrust upon them.  Often times, though I know they are sad, they put those emotions aside to first make sure that I am okay.  And though caregiving is not every minute of everyday, the effort that they put in takes a toll on them.  It wears on their emotions and their own relationships.  This isn’t how it's supposed to be for them and I wish we weren’t mutually parenting one another.  Sarah, who took on the role of my greatest confidant, has definitely risen above, especially in the loss of her recent engagement, as a key player in keeping our family running smoothly.  I am sure that it wasn’t ALL to do with me, but I know that taking on this new expanded role just as she’s coming of age definitely hindered her relationship and probably contributed to its downfall.  Noah, who became man of the house at the age of 13 can’t even be a normal, angsty teenager because I am not emotionally stable enough to deal with anything, and while he could push - he absolutely does not.  He is a steadfast source of strength and comfort.  He also works very hard to learn, mostly from his Grandpa, how to take care of our house and yard taking on many of the traditional 'Dad' roles.  Micah, who has not only had to deal with the loss of his Dad, but also have me completely preoccupied with my own grief and full-time schooling at an age when I should be volunteering to go on field trips with his class – or better yet still homeschooling him -  tries to take it all in stride.  He is so good about keeping track of all our schedules, permission slips, and reminders of items needed. He is also so kind when my scattered brain forgets something, yet again.
    All three kids do very well in school and work so hard to help around the house as well as all their many, many extra-curricular activities. No one really has a road map as to how this is supposed to work for us.  Every time we think we've got it figured out there's a new hurdle, another conflict, more chaos.... but the kids balance things out and help me carry the weight instead of adding to it.  Sure, sure, they've each had their moments to freak out and give-in to madness, but it is never as bad as I make it out to be and often they're the ones who right themselves first and calm me down in the wake of any misbehavior.  
   During the interview, Joe Biden mentioned an expression his father used to say, ‘A Father knows he’s a success when he turns and looks at his son or daughter and knows that they turned out better than he did’.  Biden said he knew he was a hell’ve a success because of who his kids were. 
      I couldn’t agree more, and so, even though I feel like a failure at almost every turn, I watch my kids in all that they do, in the kindness they show everyone, in the care that they take to look after me, and in the effort they put into all they’re involved in and I know that I am successful. 
   I love you kids.  Thank you.  I would be incapable of anything without you.

And I’m sorry for your loss.     

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

the Maple tree

There is an enormous Maple tree in my backyard.  It's branches reach up to the sky as wide as they are tall, a sort of grandfather protecting and observing everything we do.  In spring the blooms appeared early as if in expectant anticipation of the positive changes that were happening and the promise of the year to come.  But, as the thick and strong leaves shaded summer celebrations the tree looked on with sadness as plans came to a standstill and were replaced with shock and heartache.  The foliage reluctantly changed in late autumn, as though it was hesitant to admit time was moving on.  Now the tree stands empty, devoid, the branches bare and wanting.  All its covering bagged up and carted away, the last remaining witnesses to a year almost over.  How delicate a balance  between the time that moves on and the memories that remain.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

truth behind a cliché

"So forget this cruel world where I belong.  I'll just sit and wait and sing my song.  And, if one day you should see me in the crowd, lend a hand and lift me to your place in the cloud"  - Nick Drake "Cello Song"

       I do not put any stock in the supernatural - except for the occasional entertainment value it provides in different FICTIONAL mediums.  I don't believe in ghosts, or that Rob is sitting up in heaven looking down (that's just not Biblically accurate), or that people become guardian angels. This being the case, I'm not one to read too much into dreams either. 
       But, I had this dream the other night about some leftover issues I am having surrounding the anger and hurt I feel over what my daughter is going through.  It was one of those dreams from which you wake and have to spend the first few minutes of foggy wakefulness assuring yourself that it didn't really happen. I 've had a hard time shaking the ugliness that went along with that dream.  I started thinking about dreams and how weird and random they are.  I was wondering why, why, why I had that dream and why I never dream about Rob, for good or bad.  I've taken my generals and learned from psych 101 that most often you dream where your mind was before you went to sleep.  Well, not lying, my mind is constantly on Rob - and not just the tragic ending, but on all the pieces that intertwined our life of more than 20 years together. I don't think that theory holds much truth.  In some small way I guess I've thought the lack of dreams might be God protecting me, because I dwell enough already - if I had to have vivid dreams that stayed with me for days I don't know if I could function.  But, this haunting dream from a few days ago got me wondering.  
   I *think* (in my uneducated opinion) it might have something to do with the whole "unresolvedness" surrounding certain situations for me. There was nothing left unsaid between my husband and me.  Sure, there are things I wish I could tell him now, things I'd like to ask his opinion about, or just hear his voice on the other end of the phone line.   Sure.  But, it's different than having a nagging sensation of things left unfinished.  I don't need any answers, and that peace is priceless.  I've seen - all my life - so many, many, many of those meant-to-be uplifting sayings that encourage you to tell those around you that you love them because tomorrow is not promised.  'Say your sorry, express your concern, don't wait' ...  so-much-so that we become desensitized to the real benefit behind such statements. 
    I'd like nothing more than to tell Rob that I love him one more time and to hear his voice reciprocate.  But, the truth is, I don't really need that because I know that he knew and in return I know that I was so loved.  We got to say things before it was too late.  We weren't always so expressive, but Cancer makes you stare those things down.  
And I can tell you that it matters. 
 It matters that my kids know, beyond anything, how loved they were by him.  It matters they heard it in their father's voice and each have a letter that he wrote to them - it matters that it's not me assuring them.  It makes a difference that I have a conclusion and no unanswered questions.  I'm still messed up, but it could be worse - 
 It matters - those things we say to one another to help each other understand.  Speaking love, or apologizing. It makes a difference - the comfort or the hurt that we can be.  Those things matter.  And, as cliche as you might think it is - tomorrow isn't promised.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

my word's but a whisper, your deafness a shout

·  Grief doesn’t change who you are, it becomes who you are
· •There’s no wrong way to grieve
· There’s no time limit to your grief    

These are the mantras that play over and over daily in my head as I cope.  These are the things I tell myself so that I know I’m okay, even if I am still so lost in sadness.
   But, now I think I have to add one more.

   Grief changes the way you grieve.

   Because becoming one with your grief changes the way you are able to process emotion for everything else that follows
           – maybe forever, I don’t know, I’m only 1,112 days into this.  There’s a lot I don’t know.-   

But, what I do know is that it doesn’t matter how you arrive at this point – my grief isn’t “more” or “longer” because I lost a spouse.  It is what it is because of how it affected me and how my brain processes it.  You can’t tell me to get over it any quicker than you can tell someone who’s had a fight with their best friend, lost a pet, or lost a child.  I know that grief comes in all shapes and sizes and some people can process and accept – and some times the loss of your favorite pencil might send you off the deep end.  Grief has broken people just as often as it’s made them crusaders for a cause.  I don’t claim to be an expert, but what I have learned is that loss is loss, and it becomes a part of you. 
    Becoming this person of grief, I have already experienced how it effects daily life and witnessed the survivor’s guilt that numbs any joy and happiness.  Grief mars the simplest of pleasures. I’ve had good moments, but even then…. I am different and they are muted. 
  Recently, my family went through another loss of a sort and it’s only after experiencing those events that I’ve come to realize the next page I have to add to my grief textbook:  Grief changes the way you grieve. 
This is huge to know.  Let me explain.
     When my kids do something “stupid’ (like forget an assignment that was due, lose something important, etc.) I always tell them to stop getting so upset over the ‘why did this have to happen’ and focus on the ‘what can I do about it now’.  They work themselves up because they are so upset with themselves it ends up making the situation all the more stressful. 
“Stop making yourself sick over the fact that this happened, learn from it, do what you can to fix it, and them move on,” I tell them. 
      It is the same for me with sadness in watching my daughter hurt.  I should be there with a cup of tea, a fuzzy blanket, and a horror movie.  I should be the one nodding as she rants or hugging her as she cries.  AND, I have done all those things – but I’ve also felt her pain and her sadness much more than I should.  I’ve dwelt and nearly made myself crazy with vial thoughts and unforgiveness.  Then, realizing that I was spending far too much time and effort being upset over this, I made myself sick with thoughts like, “what is WRONG with me that I can’t let this go?”  “Why am I letting this effect me to the point of obsession?”  (okay, maybe obsessed is a bit strong, but I felt a bit insane at the time)
       I started to write.  I started to make lists.  I talked to my trusted confidants.  They said things I didn’t want to listen to – things like, if Rob were still here I wouldn’t have been able to work myself up into this much of a tizzy.  And, they’re right –but through writing and praying, I’ve come to realize that it’s more than that.  Being a person of grief and having a brain that isn’t totally recovered, I can’t just get over things.  I can’t stop that I turn everything into another reason why Rob should still be here.  (and yes, I have gone to pieces over losing my favorite pencil since Rob died, that was me). 
     So, my first step is to take my own advice and stop making a hard situation harder by reprimanding myself for being sad.  I can be sad, I SHOULD be – it was a heartbreaking situation and my poor daughter is still trying to pick up the pieces.  Should I be this damaged by it? 
No, absolutely not.  I should have been an appropriate amount of dignified anger/sadness and then the model of forgiveness and recovery, I suppose. 
But, honey, that just isn’t who I am anymore.  Grief is messy.  And it messes with your head.
I’m going to give myself that freedom and start from there.  Maybe tomorrow will be better. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

the change jar

How do you let go of hurt and anger toward someone who has so completely misused your child? 
     Every day it’s like my daughter comes home with another handful of coins in her pocket, it is the change made up of the remainders of hurt, anger, and unresolvedness that she’s picked up throughout the day.  She carries it around and takes it all on herself.  She has not lashed out, been vengeful, or vindictive, but just carries the weight of each new burden until she can come home.  And then I listen, pray, and cry - picking up the handfuls as she lays them down.  
But, each day she picks up more, and my pockets are getting full. 
This is a different knot in my stomach than the grief we’ve all shared.  Though that grief is deeper, it is a shared grief.  It is a sadness that we all participate in and help each other through.  This is my daughter’s grief alone and I am helpless on the sidelines with nothing comforting to share except that dreaded word, “time”.  I do not wish to give this person power over me any longer by dwelling on unanswered questions and unresolved anger. So, while I will continue to hold my daughter’s hand, to buy more tissues, and to patiently wait for her to be ready to heal, I am also going to speak my piece on this blog, I'm going to empty my pockets. Because this is my space and I owe no apologies. 

An Open Letter to that boy
          Tucked away in a corner of my basement amongst boxes of unused picture frames and toys long since outgrown sits a box of Christmas lights.  When we bought the lights last year, I was apprehensive.  You reassured me that you would help hang them along the outside of my house and take them down when the season was over.  You promised that you would come back for as many holidays to hang them up again.
          The lights won’t get hung this year.  They will stay in the box, untouched, just another broken promise. 
            Not too long ago I spent the morning at the seamstresses while Sarah had her last fitting on the wedding dress she picked out.  When you unapologetically walked away from the wedding, the dress had already been purchased and cuts had been made to the fabric in order to alter it into her dream dress. The only way to complete the project was to have the bride-not-to-be try on the dress since it was being designed to perfectly contour her shape.  She had to stand, still and stuck, in that dress, in a room full of mirrors while adjustments were made.  So, while you have moved on with a brand new Facebook that completely erases any sort of involvement you had with our family and you have gone on to a new relationship (when you swore up and down that there was no one else. It’s a small town, voices carry), things have not been so easy for Sarah.
        With the recent announcement of your brothers’ engagement, your family gets to plan and prepare for a different wedding. It's almost as though these last two years didn't have to exist for you. 
But, for Sarah, it's not so easy.
          There was a registry at a department store that she forgot the two of you created which sent her a reminder saying a while back saying, "your wedding is one month away, time to update your registry" or there were the decorations for the tables that arrived a couple days after you disappeared without explanation, just more souvenirs of your disregard. These are just moments of the called-off wedding, but the hurt and anger that lingers is strengthened with each different reminder.  It tosses her back into the inexplicable loss making it nearly impossible for her to go forward. It hasn't been easy.   Not easy at all.  
           I saw you the other day, your truck followed me to a grocery store parking lot, you didn’t recognize the different car I’m driving now and so, you did not see me.  It was the Monday after the wedding date came and went, and I was so angry at you in that moment.  Angry that you’re still in this town and that you looked just fine.  I suppose you’re allowed to go on, your reasons your own.  I suppose you’re allowed to shop and drive and exist. To date and to have a life.  To present yourself as healthy, whole, and a democrat. I suppose you can just think yourself blameless (even though Sarah is not the first you’ve abandoned like this.  She’s, sadly, not even the second).  I suppose.  I just needed you to know – it hasn’t been as easy for Sarah.  Not easy at all.