Monthly Archives: July 2013

Hugging Hearts

heart-cholesterolAfter Wesley’s passing I discovered that I was fiercely determined to keep his memory and presence alive for Julia and me. I refused, no I still refuse, to relegate him to some edge of our lives existing as a past memory of which we never speak. In those early hazy days of grief I vowed that the role of widow for me is defined in many ways, but none as important as that of memory keeper for Julia. Her father was kind and selfless, funny and witty and intensely loving. Her knowledge of Wesley will be in part made up of stories and photos and God willing, her own memories. But I cannot be the sole storyteller, it needs to be a circle of those who knew Wesley at different points in his rich life. A boy of 9, a friend and classmate in college and law school, a colleague in the frenzied days of law practice. I can tell the story of being his wife and mother of his child but cannot fill those other gaps and look to others to help me and Julia completely the memory of dear Wesley. Help has come and still comes to help us tell the stories we do not yet know.

But Julia finds her own ways to remember and find Wesley with us. Often her night time prayers are “Thank you God for our day and let us have a good night. Let Daddy be happy in Heaven and let us not be sad. Amen.” My heart catches and eyes often sting with tears to think that in these past months she has had to grow up so much, too much, and the knowledge that she bears of life and loss which is beyond her years. She is not a typical four year old, and I say that without a shadow of pride. I wish she was. But more than grief I’m filled with hope and pride to watch the ways in which she keeps Daddy near.

She often uses our dinner time conversation to talk about Wesley and her questions of, “What did Daddy do that was funny?” and “Do you remember that Daddy liked coconut doughnuts the best?” usually pepper our simple meals. I try to answer her with grace and compassion and above all reassurance. In her questions she wants to ensure I don’t forget anything about Wesley either because I suspect that she is afraid that my memory will dull and as Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Julia is intent to keep me sharp!

Her sweet and simple memories of Wesley are those that I cherish dearly, but often she lamented that she could not hug him. Her daddy was a hugger, not only to me and Julia but many people he met and she loved that touch of a strong and loving arms wrapped around her slight body providing protection and safety and unending love. She misses it. I miss it. But recently Julia has begun to find a way to hug Wesley even in his physical absence. She places her little hands over her heart, fingers laced together and squeezes her chest gently. Daddy lives in her heart so when she needs to hug and tell him she loves him, he is there. She talks to him, whispering little snippets of her day or the activities of her mischievous baby dolls and she laughs when he answers her. He is with her and my heart feels Wesley hugging me too as he watches this beautiful child smiling and laughing as her memories, and their memories live on.

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Lighting the Way

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At night I often am awake in the inky darkness. The sleeplessness that I experience is not unique to me and laying with my head on the pillow, eyes wide open happens to many people, grieving and not. The still nighttime is both comforting as Julia is peacefully asleep and I pray her dreams are happy and carefree. But for me laying still in that quiet I am free to think and wonder and question where I am right now in my life. Wesley and I had hoped and dreamt of so much that is now gone, like a book half-written I’m now charged with telling a story that has changed plots and characters and is not filled only with the optimistic tale it seemed to contain in it’s early pages. There is sadness in the pen that writes now.

Sometimes the reality that I am faced with when the world is hushed can be quite daunting and seem much larger than I can handle. I worry that I let Julia watch too much TV and she might lose her love of reading; that I will forget even the most mundane detail about Wesley because every memory and nuance is precious and I worry that the worn and tired face that stares back from the mirror will be heartbroken forever. And then I see the light.

We live on a large clear lake filled with fish and frequented by herons, geese and egrets with houses that surround it. During the day young boys and girls can be seen fishing on the grassy banks and there are kayaks that glide quietly through the water. At night it is dark and quiet with the only sounds being crickets and frogs singing in the night. It is a halcyon place to be and one that Wesley loved dearly. One of our neighbors across the lake often leaves their back porch light on at night and their light shines across the lake reflecting against the black water and as I look out my window I see it flickering and often my eyes fixate on it late at night.

That light and the darkness around it is much like where my life is right now. I have a beam to help guide me but all I can see is the twinkling in the darkness. I’m separated by wide water and I cannot cross over to hold the light myself. But it is only in the dark of night that I can see it shining for me. In the morning light it is obscured by the sun and other activity but is there for me when in the midst of night, both physically and emotionally, that I can see it. Much like this electric bulb that someone forgets to turn off night after night I feel that the gulf of grief and death separates Wesley from Julia and me, but if I look in just the right way I see his light burning across the divide. The candle he holds of his love for us will not burn out and gives me a point of light to focus on when the doubts become too great and the questions too many, Perhaps as he looks across the great waters he sees the light of my love shining as a beacon for him as well. My heart swells with hope and love before sleep once again steals me away.

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Lessons from PBS

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I watch quite a bit of children’s television programming. Much of which is public broadcasting television but with a 4 year old daughter that should be hardly surprising. I am intimately in the know about the Cat in the Hat (Who knows a lot about that!) and the daily adventures of Super Why. I myself loved PBS as a child and spent many hours curled on the floor of our family room following the daily activity on Sesame Street and being reassured by the quiet and steady guidance of Mr. Fred Rogers.

Mister Rogers Neighborhood taught lessons about kindness, that it was ok to have feelings of anger, sadness, joy…all were encouraged and supported. There was something in the way that the man in the zipped front cardigan sweater spoke that provided me and millions of other children with the reassurance that everything is going to be OK. Regardless of the way that you might feel or as overwhelming as a situation may appear the eternal truths of being a good neighbor, being kind and loving others would win the day.

Wesley and I listened to Mr Rogers explaining to how to talk to children in the early days after September 11, 2001, and wept at his calm way of explaining that what we see on TV might be scary, we can always look for those people trying to help and be reassured in the goodness of mankind. We laughed that even in our 20’s the person who could comfort us in those early days when the world seemed topsy-turvy also presided over the Land of Make Believe, provided the voice for a shy Daniel Tiger and wore blue Keds. But his words were comforting then and a few Christmases ago Wesley gave me the book pictured above. I think he meant it as a bit of a joke but I appreciated it. I admit that along with other books I have turned to in the past four months, this one with the red cover has been a solace.

The solid and simple words that speak of love, friendship and loss seem apropos. I am moved by the quote, “It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”

People have graciously credited me with having amazing strength and grace in a terribly difficult situation. I hope that I do give that impression for the most part because I am committed to figuring out our new life. But there are many times when I am scared of the future that is not clear, I am angry and hurt at people’s cruelty or thoughtlessness and when I am just tired of keeping it all together. But I think strength is not having a stoic face and a plastic smile that indicates for the comfort of others that everything is fine. Because at its core, everything is not fine right now and in admitting that I am strong. To only talk about the rosy times and happy stories would be false. Julia and I have many glad times, most often when we are talking about Wesley in fact, but genuine emotions are real and should be shared. Tears should not always be blinked away, sometimes they need to fall. Or so say me and the man in the red cardigan sweater.

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Shadows

There is a famous Civil War letter written by soldier and attorney Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah in which he spoke about his wishes if he should die in battle:

“If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.”

I have always loved the image of those that we have loved and lost hovering around us, silently standing in doors and just a moment too far away to touch. The soft light caught out of the corner of your eye, the whiff of wind that feels more like breath than breeze, all of these moments make me feel that Wesley is nearer to me. As the gospel song I learned as a child goes, “All night, all day, Angels watching over me.”

I know that people who pass away do not become angels. They are separate beings and people upon death are welcomed into Heaven as the souls of the faithful departed. But can a bit of them stay after they have crossed into Heaven? Quietly watching and listening like a child crouched on a staircase eavesdropping on conversations below? I feel Wesley with me, in my heart and in the air that surrounds me.

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Lions, Tigers and Bears

Yesterday I was blessed to have a guest post on Life as a Widower regarding the role of faith in my grieving process. My religious beliefs help me immensely but there are other rituals that provide solace as well.

I struggled quite a bit with how I wanted to celebrate and recognize Wesley’s birthday with him now gone. I knew early on that I would have a hard time being home so I planned to be out of town. But would I bake a cake and blow out the candles myself? Would I buy the presents I would give him if he was here and just leave them unopened? I was not sure. Julia understood that Daddy’s birthday was going to be coming up and asked how we would celebrate it. Of course her idea included sprinkled cupcakes.

I decided to spend the day in the way Wesley would have loved. We went to the Detroit Zoo and spent the day walking and seeing the animals, riding the carousel and riding the train. Wesley would have loved to walk beside us pointing out the lazy gorillas, diving seals and the “Marconi” penguins with their fuzzy yellow eyebrows. Julia ate a Frosty which was a treat they often shared and we had Italian for dinner and I mentally toasted him with my glass of prosecco. It was a day filled with love and good times. Sunny and fun and joyful.

I pray that all who loved Wesley had a day that brought them comfort. Whether cradling a baby which reminds us of the beauty of new life, calling a friend who you think could use a listening ear or just taking a quiet moment to appreciate what we all have. Those are the best presents Wesley could have wanted.

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Birthday card

Today is Wesley’s birthday and it is both incredible sad that his chronological clock is forever stuck at 37, like a malfunctioning watch whose hands are stuck but it is also really joy filled. Because we loved parties and always made a huge deal out of his birthday. Wesley loved a good time and his birthday was one more reason to eat cake, have balloons and open presents. Which he loved. Seriously, he loved giving and receiving gifts so much that he would not wait until a holiday to do it. It often felt like Christmas 365 days a year. So my gift this year to Wesley is saying some of what I would have told him on his birthday. Here goes:

Dearest and Darlingest Wesley,

No, I did not actually buy a birthday card which will not surprise you because in all 12 years we were together I think I got my act together once with a birthday card. But this year I might have really done it because Julia can write her name really well and would love writing a note to you. Possibly in cursive otherwise known as squiggly lines that you have to guess what they say. So, just imagine this is a card with Spider-Man on it or something.

I love you and miss you terribly. I miss you so badly that I could not bear to be at home on this day because having July 14th appear on my calendar without you was too much for me to face. So I am out of town and enjoying the sun and cool weather and thinking of you looking down on me and Julia.

I am imagining what we would be doing together if you were here. We probably would be out of town together, Savannah perhaps or New Orleans but I would have tried to have us get away for your birthday. But we would have had a party. My mother would have bought you a shirt. Because she always bought you a shirt. Every holiday. You wore them to please her and it did. Your parents would have called us at midnight to sing Happy Birthday. I would have complained about making your favorite cake, angel food cake with chocolate icing because invariably I always ripped the cake to shreds getting it out of the pan. It would have been so much fun.

But today is very different. I will go to the zoo with Julia because you would have liked that if you were here, I will drink a Manhattan and eat at Maggiano’s tonight because we loved that and celebrated your birthday, my birthday, the day I found out we were pregnant with Julia and other special occasions there. But I fear the food will taste markedly less good because you are not there.

People often say that the happiest day of their life is the day their child is born and it certainly was ours, but I equally rejoice in the day you were born because when you made your way into your parents life you changed mine as well. We were so happy together and I am blessed to have had you with me while I did.

Julia asked last night if you were going to have some cake in Heaven today to celebrate turning 38. She hoped Jesus had enough candles and sprinkles for the ice cream. I think He has it covered.

In Ecclesiastes 11:8 the Bible says, “However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all.” And you enjoyed every day here on Earth.

I love you darling and wish you the happiest of birthdays.

Love always,
Katherine

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Rock Castle

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I am on vacation with my parents for 9 days to visit my grandmother and other family. Currently on day 5 and I am tired. Everyone is so kind and caring and part of this trip was honestly a visit to show people who do not see me every day that “Yes, I am OK. Julia is OK. We do not profusely cry and scream all the time and I can talk about my grief experience. So pass the Pinot Noir…”

But as the days have gone on I find myself having a harder time being completely positive and upbeat. Talking about my loss and Julia’s loss and all of the things that entails from finances to emotions is exhausting. I find that I just want to be left alone. No matter how many times we drop the bucket down that emotional well I am coming up dry.

Which honestly scares me more than if I was crying and overtly upset because what does it mean to feel too tired to feel. I lie in bed struggling to remember a detail of Wesley’s face or voice and cannot recall. Not because it is not there or because I truly have forgotten but I am just too cluttered with other worries and heartache. I feel scattered and broken.

Last night this came into sharp resolution. After eating dinner is a very nice restaurant Julia got antsy. Like jumping around the restaurant like a lunatic antsy. So finally she and I stepped outside to get some fresh air and discovered a big pile of rocks to play with. Julia immediately set about building a rock castle with these small stones. Smooth squarish ones were doors, diamond shaped ones for windows, flat long ones for the roof…it was somewhat recognizable as a structure. But it gave me pause because it is a fitting description of how I feel lately. Like I am made of rocks, but am by no means a mighty fortress. There are gaping holes in-between the stones that don’t fit together quite right. My foundation feels shaky but the pieces of rock that I can make steady are solidly piled on top of each other. And for now my castle of hopes, dreams and the way I saw my life going is a pile of rubble in many ways, but I am building what I can from the ruins. And today that is enough.

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