Tonight I will toast the anniversary of a couple who has been married for 40 years. 40…it is touching and in some ways rare in today’s culture. I am delighted for this couple who have had children, grandchildren and fruitful careers and now are settling into retirement together. They have faced the death of parents, cancer diagnoses and remission but have done it together with each other by their side. But I feel a bit sad as I think of this momentous event because it is also a wedding anniversary I will never myself see. Because today is an anniversary for me too, three months since Wesley died. And I don’t want to toast that with champagne.
Wesley and my wedding was my affair. Well me and my mother. He patiently nodded as we picked out different china than he wanted, switched the grooms cake from a personalized caricature of Wesley’s World, his editorial column in college to the much more elegant grooms cake of chocolate ganache with sugared fruit. But he made all of these concessions because we had the secret pact that for our 10th anniversary we would do it up the way he wanted. He would get to have all those fun and quirky elements and we would invite the old friends who watched us become man and wife as well as new friends we had made as our lives together blossomed. Those old and new friends were there three months ago when Wesley died but it was a very different occasion than we had planned.
Our 10th Anniversary will be next April and I will celebrate that date because we are still married, just separated from one another right now. And tonight I will smile because Wesley would have loved to toast to this union we are celebrating. He would have squeezed my hand under the table as we imagined ourselves together years from now being the ones with children and grandchildren. And he would have been happy. Now I am happy for us both.
When did it start, this love story of mine? I cannot truly tell when the first marble was in play that ultimately led to Wesley and me coming together to share our happy life together. Was it the day I walked across the green summer lawn of 823 West Jefferson Street at 19 years old wearing an impossibly large bow in my hair to join my sorority with another girl, who would become my best friend and 3 years later introduce me to her studious and thoughtful co-worker who was so different from other boys I knew? Is it when I pledged my undying love to fried okra after Wesley missing the facts that admitted he was in love with me? Is it when he wrote to his best friends that he had met me and “was smitten with the Kitten?” God only knows. But for us the marbles were in play years before we ever met face-to-face and for that I’m so grateful.
I’m not sure we can ever mark the moment that sets in motion the chain that leads us to the one that we love. “What if I had not gone to THAT bar at THAT time and never met her?” or “If I had not forgotten my umbrella and gone back, I never would have run into him.” I believe it is the mysterious hand of God that puts the wheel in motion that gently guides us onto this path or that. I might never have met Wesley if I had decided to attend another university, if he had not gone into journalism, if I had kept dating that horrid baseball player who treated me poorly instead of giving the dark-haired young man with the pretty brown eyes a chance. It is those brown eyes I see when I look at Julia and I’m blessed that this game of marbles is still in play.
Fashionista Julia and her stylist Lucy
In this blog I will write about my experience being a young widow who is navigating her way through the uncertain and rocky road of being a single mother unexpectedly and parenting a young girl while managing my own grief. But I also will tell the stories of Julia and her own process of losing her father.
Julia’s first response after hearing that Wesley had died was to comfort my parent’s collie, Lucy. We are Episcopalian and were in the Easter Triduum period of Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday when Wesley died. Julia was there when he died peacefully in our home and his last words were to her, which is a blessing beyond measure. In those harried minutes with emergency medical workers I told her we needed to pray because “Daddy is very sick.” Which he was, we just did not know that detail yet.
The first morning we awoke without Wesley was Easter Sunday and we opened Easter baskets and saw the Easter goodies that the jolly bunny had left for us all at my parents house. Then I sat Julia down and told her that Daddy was gone. The man who had proudly donned a pink Brooks Brothers polo shirt on the day she was born, had relished the first time Julia called him “Daddy-o” and honestly had bought most of the Easter candy she had just opened in her basket has passed away and now lived in Heaven with Jesus. I explained that just as the Holy Spirit lives in our heart Daddy lives there now too. Even though we cannot see him, Daddy still sees us and loves us both very much. We may be sad and miss him but Daddy is in Heaven and is not sad or sick. I sat on my childhood bed with my sweet daughter beside me and opened my mouth to tell this little girl that her Daddy was dead and amazingly the words came.
But I believe they did not come from me, it was Wesley putting those words in my mouth because that is the way he would have told her should I have been the one who passed away. Kindly, gently and honestly. Her response to being told that her father was dead was immediately to comfort those who she thought would mourn, namely Lucy-Pup. Which was Wesley’s spirit through and through, immediately thinking of how he could help another person and bring them comfort. So comfort she brought to her four legged companion who she thought might need a hug and kiss because she would be sad.
As days have morphed into weeks and weeks to months we have had so many moments of blessing and comfort, some of which I’ll share on this blog. But the peace that Julia feels knowing that Daddy is in Heaven cannot be measured.
Some have asked that since Wesley died over Easter if that holiday will hold an unhappy association for Julia and me. No colored eggs or fluffy bunnies? No joy at the Resurrection? Nope, we find just as much joy in Peter Cottontail as we always did. In fact, if anything the timing has helped immensely in this process. Because Jesus just took Daddy with him when he rose to Heaven on Easter Day. And that makes me smile.
When Julia, our daughter first started to walk my husband Wesley and I watched, hands cautiously braced to catch her fall and fully expecting her first halting and tentative steps to end in tears and bumped foreheads. But she was sure-footed and confident her brown eyes shining with an air of, “I’ve got this Mama and Daddy-o” as she let go of the couch to walk towards us and the ever-ready video camera. She wanted to be sure she could do it before her chubby little fingers ever left the safety of the armrest, but once she let go she had no doubt that she would reach the other side.
I guess that is true in these more recent first steps that I have taken as a new, young and completely unprepared widow. I was not ready to embark on talking about my experience of Wesley’s death and my mourning until my feet were steadier, my eyes more fixed and my heart could start to speak.
Wesley died in our home on Saturday, March 30th, 2013 at 37 years old. What we thought was a stomach flu but was truly an aggressive undiagnosed form of leukemia that we had no idea he was battling. A young, robust man who a week before was chasing our daughter around our large front yard pretending to be “Papa Bear” to our own blonde Goldilocks passed away in our living room thinking he just had become dehydrated overnight. We all thought that.
I want to express how I’m navigating the unsteady days and weeks that spread before me, how a child who is grieving the death of her father walks this path with her mother, how our faith shapes our journey and to be a beautiful tribute to a man whose life was shaped by kindness and compassion and love. And much like this experience I do not know where I’m going yet.
I’m just needing to talk…