Monthly Archives: September 2013

Trees in the Forest

Julia the little treehugger

Julia the little treehugger

Someone said over a recent cup of coffee that in these early days of grief I should try focusing on the immediate concerns facing me and not think too far ahead because the future spanning before me is uncertain and unimaginable. I smiled and nodded while blowing on the steam billowing from my cup but I find that advice is easier to adhere to in theory rather than practice.

Day in and day out, I just keep myself moving. A day passes in quick succession with lunch packing, meetings at my office, bedtime prayers as the blips on the even keel in our day and clinging desperately to the routine keeps me, and us, in the moment. But at times I move my eyes from the tall pine tree of “right now” that I imagine three inches from my nose and behold the forest entire and the immensity of the boughs and trunks around me feels too much. I want to scream, “This is not how my life should be!” while simultaneously asking how my life should be? Why should I be immune from hurt and grief? But as the thick brush of foliage surrounds me my mind goes to the places of “Why?” and “That’s not fair!” my feet stamping the soft earth like a petulant child. I imagine the months, years, decades spanning ahead of me and Julia and it seems impossible that we will face it without Wesley, our consummate cheerleader and supporter, by our sides.

I cannot help but look at Julia and think of how much she will change and grow and see and experience in her lifetime and how much Wesley would have loved to watch and mold this young child whom he loved so very dearly. With each hug from her tight little arms around my neck I mourn that Wesley will never feel that, and she will never again feel his strong and secure arms around her either. Julia has a distinct love of language and frequently talks of things being “splendid” “enchanted” or “absolutely hil-ar-ious” I smile because she is so very dramatic and Wesley would have loved that, to see her rolling these words around like marbles in her mouth while gesturing emphatically with her little hands. Wesley loved language and made a living of the beautiful crafting of words, he’d just love it to see this little person painting the canvas of her world with expressive verbal watercolors as well. I find such joy in Julia, but the pain of what I’m blessed to see that Wesley may not colors my moments of joy and I find my smile quickly fades from my lips.

I take solace in that Wesley does see, hear and know what we are doing here on earth. I imagine him laughing and smiling as he looks down on us from his heavenly vantage point. A childish image perhaps, but it gives my mind comfort and is easily explained to Julia. As I stand looking at the vast forest surrounding me I sometimes find a soft breeze rustling the leaves and whispering “Peace, peace” quieting my aching mind. With the love and help of those closest to me I find a way to wipe my tears, steady my breath and focus once again on the thin, flaking bark right in front of me.


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Last week Julia was watching me pay bills while she ate plain noodles with butter, a staple in our house, at our kitchen table. She kept intently staring at me from across the table while I wrote checks for our mortgage, car and other household expenses. I could feel her eyes as my head was bent over this new domestic task. “How do you know how to do that?” she quietly asked as my pen scratched the paper, double checking my math. “Oh, somebody taught me, maybe in middle school.” I said absently as I licked envelopes, gagging on the disgusting sealant taste. I looked up to see Julia’s face scrunched in worry, her dark brown eyes crinkled as she said, “But if you die, who will teach me? I don’t know how to pay bills.”

And my heart broke. I’m tearing up, a lump in my throat even as I type this now to think of her little 4 year old mind that should be worried about baby dolls and which exact color Strawberry Shortcake’s dress is and instead is concerned that she cannot write a check to pay our mortgage and nobody could teach her should I, like her father, die unexpectedly.

Let me say, she still cares immensely about crayon colors, the exact rules of a made-up game called “Popsicles and Minnows” which is like something out of a Dr. Seuss story involving jumping over a person who is lying down, and said person is presumably praying they are not leapt on, and yelling, “Minnow Jump!” She is intensely aware of the care and comfort of the veritable nursery of baby dolls she owns but I find she is also more adult than seems appropriate. I’ve said to friends that the sentence that sums it up is, “Julia is a typical 4 year old who has a non-age appropriate understanding of mortality.” Death is real to her.

But back to watching, I catch her watching me quietly. Which for her is unusual because typically it is a James Joycean stream of consciousness monologue festival in our house. Literally, I have said to her, “You have to stop talking to me” in order to get a few minutes of peaceful quiet. As she stares I’m struck by her dark eyes, her daddy’s eyes, that seem out of place among her fair skin and blonde hair as she looks and gauges my mood. She gazes as I go through our routine and tries very hard in her 4 year old way to take care of me, which is heartwarming and a blessed testament to her kind, kind spirit. I get lots of sweet kisses and bone crushing hugs and books and loveys…my bed is rarely empty of these items.

I watch Julia too, ever ready for her to say or do something that I need to deal with because should she fall apart and her grief coming tumbling out like a great flood, I need to be there to deal with it carefully and appropriately. I’m ever ready for the deluge. I find myself asking her if she looks a bit serious or just seem quiet, “Julia, are you sad?” as an emotional pulse check. She’ll look at me questioningly, “No, why should I be sad?”

I want to cynically laugh, “Why indeed?” Because our lives feel topsy-turvy, because you have to watch other children’s fathers pick them up from school and know yours never will again, because everything feels so unbalanced, like standing on a see-saw where our feet are ever unsure. I want to shake my fist at the sky, I want to wheedle and bargain with God, I want everything to be as it was when this year began because that life, not this one, is my reality. I want to shout all of these things like some shrieking harpy, filling the kitchen with my ranting.

I look at Julia, her eyes questioning me as she says, “Why do I need to be sad? Daddy is happy in Heaven, you know.” Very matter of factly and simply. No gnashing of teeth, no wailing, just simple faith and understanding. Julia does not at her core comprehend why we should we be sad when Daddy is happy in Heaven and we will see him again. Daddy plays with his friends and family who have died, he has Chick-fil-A for breakfast, he is content. Where is the sadness in that fact? To quote what I find myself saying umpteen times a week, “It is what it is.” And in a moment I am the one who lacks the understanding she possesses in those captivating brown eyes watching me, watching her.

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100 Reasons to Love

When Wesley and I started dating we lived 821 miles apart. His ratty apartment door to the front door of my parent’s house where I crashed after graduating from college with miles of interstate in-between. We were young and early in our relationship but I was head over heels in love with Wesley and knew pretty early on that he was the man I’d marry. Friends and family have often said that it was obvious Wesley was deeply in love with me and that my every desire he catered to without question or complaint. But really I was the one who was hopelessly in love. We lived far away so much of our contact was over email or phone and while it was hard at the time we were forced to put our feelings down on paper through cards, letters, emails. All of which are incredibly precious to me now.

I sent him this list in March 2001, almost 12 years to the day that he died and every word is still true. I could write 100 more reasons today.

100 Reasons I love Wesley

1. The way his eyes look when he tells a story
2. He will read me stories when I can’t fall asleep
3. The way he kisses me
4. That he rubs my back when I’m sick
5. That almost throwing up in the Wheat Thins box didn’t scare him away
6. The feeling of his hand on the back of my neck when I’m driving
7. That he loves his family
8. That he chops wood for old ladies at church
9. That he read Pat the Cat to me on the floor of Border’s Bookstore, even though it had very little to do with the cat
10. That he went to look at alligators with Daddy because he knew it meant a lot to me
11. That he didn’t make fun of me burning dinner
12. That he teases me
13. That I can tease him
14. That no matter how much I’m babbling I always know he is listening
15. That he remembers what I say
16. He makes me a better person
17. He believes in my dreams
18. He has dreams of his own
19. His smile
20. The way he massages my shoulders
21. The way he smells
22. That he will try grits for me
23. That he will drive 9 hours just to see me
24. He takes off my shoes when I lay down on the bed
25. He tries to make me more wild and crazy
26. He thought the taxidermist shop was gross too
27. The way he slow dances with me in the kitchen
28. That he checks on the Siamese cats at the rescue everyday
29. That even when we disagree he listens to my side
30. He isn’t afraid to let me see him cry
31. He lets me cry
32. He lets me complain about my day
33. He only charges me an eighth of a wish for my bad language
34. His laugh
35. That he can make me laugh until I cry
36. If I’m crying, he can still make me laugh
37. He tries to please my parents
38. That he worries about me, but doesn’t smother me
39. He doesn’t make fun of me for my borderline narcolepsy
40. He doesn’t take it personally that every time he sees me I’m sick!
41. He is willing to talk out a problem until it’s solved
42. He has nicknames for my pets
43. He knows my grandmothers name
44. He tells me it will all be OK, when I’m doubting
45. He wants to know what my favorite attribute about everything is
46. He loves Mommy Cat as much as me
47. Even when I’m cranky, he still says he loves me
48. He is proud of me
49. He doesn’t tell his mother the truth when she claims I’m a “Master” at anything
50. He lets me see his middle school yearbook pictures
51. He lets me see him dressed up as a woman for School Spirit Day
52. The way his hair curls in the front like Superman
53. He never tells me my concerns aren’t valid
54. His hugs
55. He cares what my parents think of him
56. He isn’t grossed out when I have strange things hanging from my nose
57. He knows that for every time I tell him I love him, there are 100 times I just slug him in the arm
58. He never lets me forget who kissed whom first
59. He sat on my couch looking at the Christmas tree for hours and was happy
60. He is smart
61. He makes me proud
62. He wakes up at 7 in the morning on the chance I’ll call on my way into work
63. He is never mad if I call him in the middle of the night because I can’t sleep
64. He will be a wonderful father
65. He will be a fantastic husband
66. He asks me to marry him almost everyday, even though I say No every day!
67. He is willing to try new things
68. He doesn’t let me manipulate a situation too much
69. When his kisses me, I feel like the world stands still
70. He can cook a mean Tombstone pizza
71. He gives great rides in shopping carts
72. He likes Veggie tales and doesn’t hide them under a bushel
73. He likes the way I sing
74. He tells me I’m beautiful, and something about the way he says it makes me believe it
75. He knows how hard it is to come up with 100 things you love about a person
76. He loves to read
77. Even when I think my story ideas are dumb, he encourages me to write
78. Every time I read “Wes’s World” I smile
79. He owns Disney films
80. Even when I don’t bathe he says I’m smell ok
81. He can pick me up without grunting
82. He can hold me upside down with one hand
83. He tells me my mom is pretty
84. He says my dad is cool
85. When we talk about my family he never jumps to conclusions or criticizes.
86. He is well groomed
87. That he thinks of others before himself
88. He is kind
89. He is the most genuine person I know
90. He wants to be with me, even when I’m pushing him away
91. He lets me steal the blankets
92. He has nicknames for me
93. He looks good in glasses
94. He looks good in plaid of neutral tone
95. He thinks I look good in the morning
96. He makes me so happy I’m dizzy
97. He sound of his voice makes me smile, no matter how bad a day I’m having
98. He is appreciative
99. He is beautiful
100. He loves me

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Little things


Over the past months many people have asked me how will I handle the absence of Wesley in the huge milestones in my life and the lives of others. Birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduations and all of the other moments of joy or sadness that, God willing, will be a part of my life. My answer is that I have no idea.

We have survived a handful of events this spring and summer including our anniversary, multiple birthdays of loving family and close friends, the birth of our newest nephew all of which would have been occasions of joy and his absence at these happy moments has been acutely felt. As I have said before Wesley loved a party and took great joy in celebrating the happy times in our and other people’s lives. But I know that I have only begun to face the events and celebrations of which Wesley will not be a part. At least not in the way we had imagined a mere 5 months ago.

But it is not in the momentous occasions that I find his loss most pointed so far, it is the smaller moments, those simple and mundane details. Reaching to grab a case of Dr Pepper in the grocery store only to remember that I don’t need to buy that anymore because there is nobody to drink it, setting the table and grabbing one too many plates, holding my phone to text Wesley some funny detail of my day only to realize that I’ll not get a reply back. And it is crushing. Because in that small moment I have forgotten.

I’ve failed to remember how much our lives have been altered and in that instant it is like every other day in our lives, the life that had three not two people living in it. When the harsh facts click back into my mind and the fast rush back to reality begins to set in I’m dizzied and can hear the blood rush in my ears. It often sounds like screaming. These everyday thoughts are like muscle memory and the involuntary breathing in and out but I’m having to find a new way to draw breath in a chest that is heavy with worry, sorrow and doubt about my life. In those moments of forgetting for the briefest of instants mine and Julia’s lives and the lives of those we love are not inexorably changed. It is just another Saturday or Tuesday afternoon and Wesley will be coming home soon. I think, “Maybe I can get him to make meat loaf tonight if I get the mashed potatoes to go with it.” But that is not real and in my heart and head I know it. I have the lie to take solace in until I carefully place the extra plate back in the cabinet, put my phone in my purse and take the Dr. Pepper out of the shopping cart. Then my eyes usually pricking with tears re-focus and I step away from the fantasy and into the reality.

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