Monthly Archives: November 2013

Giving Thanks

Wes and Kids

In the past few weeks Julia’s school bag has come home brimming with handmade wreaths decorated with marker colored squirrels and glued on pine cones, turkeys traced from her small hand and a white construction paper Pilgrim’s bonnet tied with colorful yarn under her chin. Julia has loved getting to know more about Thanksgiving and enjoys sharing her knowledge with me at night as we are preparing for bed. She told me that Indians get their names from nature and according to her fabric head dress, Julia’s Indian name is “Princess Sunny Day.” Recently, as we were saying our prayers Julia asked me what I was thankful for. I quickly said, “I’m thankful for you” and was met with a shocked face at my quick and rather easy answer. “That’s it?” Julia questioned tucking her footie pajama-ed feet under her. “But, I’m thankful for so many things, mommy. Aren’t you?”

I have found thankfulness to be hard to wrap my heart around of late. I have always loved the idea of gratitude and finding a quiet time and way to say thank you and to reflect on the blessings bestowed upon us and the comforts we have as a family and community. But I must admit that finding the gratitude in my heart is not easily come by. I find so much that I’m just moving through the hours, the days and cannot find time or energy to reflect or really think on my feelings, happy and sad; joyous and poignant.

But Julia’s question has caused me to pause and think on the people and community for whom I’m grateful. so here goes:

I’m thankful for friends and family who meet me where I am. Who know that I may cry in the middle of a lunch. Who don’t bat an eye when Julia starts talking about how her Daddy lives in Heaven. Who don’t Baker Act me when I say things like, “I wonder if Heaven is like a giant Starbucks where our loved ones who have passed on meet for coffee.” Who love me and Julia with a ferocity that at times can take my breath away with their tenderness. Who never, ever tell me to stop talking about Wesley even when I know they’ve heard our story 10 times. Who sometimes say “what can I do?” and more often than not just do it without asking. Who are my secret eyes and ears at Julia’s school watching over my sweet girl and reassure me that she is doing OK and is just as neurotic and crazy as her other 4 year old peers. Friends who have embraced me when I needed strong shoulders to hold me up and laughter when I could not bear to shed another tear.

I’m thankful for prayers, for cards, for Instant Messages, for the question of “How are you doing?” that wants an honest answer, not some quick reply. I’m thankful for dinner invitations, those I accept and those I say, “Not today, but how about next week?” I’m grateful for little gestures of kindness from people I have known my whole life and those who I have connected with in the last eight months. I’m thankful for knowing that Julia and I are lifted up in prayers and kind thoughts.

I’m thankful for Julia and her sweet, sweet spirit. I believe she is the bright light in the darkest days I have ever known. She can be that way because if the amazing community of love and support she and I feel enveloping us on a daily basis. She feels safe, secure and loved and that is a village of people far and near who help her feel that way. I’m thankful her memories of her loving and doting father are so vibrant and that Wesley is a part of our daily conversations, his name and presence slipping in and out of our interactions as if he was sitting at the table with us or on the floor coloring Strawberry Shortcake and her cat Custard with us.

I am thankful for days that are sunny because I now notice the way the rays of light shine from above, I am thankful for the moments of quiet reflection where I truly can think on the love Wesley and I shared and be grateful, I am forevermore filled with peace for the life Wesley and I shared and the ways in which he lives on.

So today I will try to find grace, comfort and the spirit of thankfulness surrounded by family and friends, far and near, and think of the happy times shared around a turkey and the meaning of gratitude. Because Wesley was the spirit of gratitude for every detail small and large and that lives on.

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Stones in the River

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In the recent weeks I have been terrifically busy. Florida State University is abuzz with students and activity which has in years past filled me with hope and excitement. Fall has a nip in the air, and I smile at the end of the day when I hear the Marching Chiefs practicing as I leave my office because regardless of what has happened in the past 7 months, that cacophony of drums and trumpets is the same as it has been since I was a student here in the late 1990’s. To see the new young men and women at the precipice of new experiences, different friends with their lives spreading in front of them immediately takes me back to my own early collegiate days. I was not always as focused on my studies as I should have been, sometimes opting to hang out in my sorority house TV room watching Titanic or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun with my friends instead of going to Biology Lab (sorry Mom and Dad!) but those experiences were just as enriching to this young 19 year old. I grew up in those four years of college and found my focus and love of language through classes and experiences I hold dear to my heart like memories forever captured like fossils in amber. But now I am older and not surprisingly none of these young students mistake me for “that girl” in their Intro to Communications class. If anything, they might think I’m teaching the course, but I still feel a tug in my heart as I watch their young shoulders carrying backpacks and pedaling bikes to class.

Part of my college experience was an awakening in the world of literary theory through the numerous literature classes I took as an English major. From Milton’s Paradise Lost to modern Irish literature I analyzed and thought deeply on topics such as how James Joyce’s later works influenced the oft-ignored Samuel Beckett short stories. I spent countless hours in the study carrels at Strozier Library working on my papers on these topics, but what captured me most was feminist theory  and specifically Virginia Woolf. 

One thing that I always was affected by was the image of her suicide. Virginia Woolf was suffering from crippling depression in the early 1940’s, one day she put on her overcoat, filled her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse near her home, and drowned herself. Now before you go dashing to the phones to call the authorities or see this anecdote as a transition to me talking about ending it all, fear not. That is not my point.

But the thought of someone putting on her coat, perhaps brown and green houndstooth or tan camel hair or black wool, and filling her pockets with heavy rocks to weigh her down as she ended her life was an image that stuck with me as a young feminist literary scholar in college. I poured over A Room of One’s Own and Mrs Dalloway, and pondered hours over essays that praised and reviled Woolf and other feminist scholars and authors. In short, I put my nose in a book and occasionally raised my angry fist against patriarchy. But that vision of her brilliance cut short by her own doing…it haunted me.

My mind returns to that image of filling one’s pockets with stones to weigh one down in many moments of my bereavement. I find that there are times in dark shadows where I am searching the shores of my mind for rocks to place in my own metaphorical pockets. I look at the smooth, round pebbles and great craggy stones and feel them weighing me down as I imagine me placing them in silk lined pockets of the black Brooks Brothers wool coat that Wesley loved so well. I find sorrow in moments that could be joyful; Julia throwing her little arms around me at night and hugging me so hard I fall against the pillows, laughing with friends over some frivolous little joke, discovering a song that Wesley put on my iPhone that I did not know was there. I feel joy but then guilt, sorrow, heaviness. Julia should be hugging Wesley’s neck too. Wesley should be taking the joke a little too far as he was wont to do, I should be calling him to say how much I love that song he surreptitiously sneaked onto my music playlist. I take moments that should lift my spirits like a bird in flight, and I feel my emotions tether me to the ground. My shoulders stoop as I grab dirty and jagged rocks of despair and bitterness and shove them deep, muddying the silk lined pockets.  

I yearn for the joy, hope and the grace I felt in the early days following Wesley’s death. Over and over I extolled how blessed we were to have the time we had together, that I was thankful for our rich lives and the incredible mercy shown to us by God. Logically, I know those first dark days were a time of shock and that I was not living in the permanence of Wesley being really, truly gone, but that fierce and determined woman who was so present then seems far away now. It is as if the soft cocoon of anesthesia has worn off. A month ago I had a lightness of heart and saw blessings in every day that had blue skies and in every sweet and kind thing Julia did or said whereas, now I struggle to see bright days when my eyes often cannot focus on the beauty through tear-clouded eyes.

But my shoulders hurt under this weight, I find myself brought to my knees by my desire for my old life, my real life.  And it is when on my knees that I can look up, I can hear the stones of hurt and bitterness clicking in my metaphorical pockets and feel the weight momentarily lifted. I can pull the stones from my pockets examining them and seeing the beauty of their shape, the sharp ruggedness and find the beauty in the loss I have felt and still feel. I have loved, desperately and with my whole heart.  I was loved likewise. That is the beauty and the tragedy I believe at its core. We had such blissful happiness with most of the days of our lives filled with terrifically happy moments of safety and comfort. We were blessed beyond measure. My stones, not ugly and burdensome are monuments of grace and solidity. I place the stones around me forming words of love and peace, each rock a reminder of not pain but love shared and I realize I’m not Virginia Woolf whose terrible grief and depression drove her under but Katherine Cline whose grief is measured in stones and rocks and bits of earth that I tread on with my husband and my love. There is a peace in the pain if I look at the stones surrounding me forming words of comfort and care. 

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Pride Lingers

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I often found myself amazed by the layers of Wesley’s character and personality, even after our wedding I constantly found myself saying to him incredulously, “How did I not KNOW that?” Never one to brag or elevate himself above others he quietly just assumed his accomplishments were in his words, “no big deal.” Like being a National Merit Semi-Finalist in high school; the first and possibly only person to be both the editor in chief of his high school newspaper AND yearbook; having a editorial column “Wes’s World” in his college newspaper, which he was editor of his senior year, that was so popular he annually rode in the Homecoming parade and was recognized on campus; winning a prestigious law school award at Emory…the list went on and on. He would just shrug his broad shoulders and say, “Katherine, honestly, it is no big deal” But to me it was. It is. I was so very terribly proud of him and his successes. His perseverance and tenacity was a marvel to see and the joy with which he tackled a challenge, his dark brown eyes intent on the puzzle at hand was inspiring. Not only with work, where it was terribly evident as he studied and studied a legal case to find the nugget of gold to help his client and persuade the judge as he stood confidently in front of them but his strong will was pervasive in most areas of his life.

I smile to remember him taking such delight in assembling our nieces and nephews bright gifts at birthdays and Christmas and of course putting together our Julia’s many singing, whirring, blinking plastic toys. He loved the feeling of a screwdriver in his hand and seeing something come together. I invariably would try to do it myself and give up halfway through tossing a mangled conglomeration of silver screws and wadded up instructions at him saying, “Here! You do it!” which would make him smile as he silently completed my discarded task. Wesley loved the tools he had at his disposal both physical and mental to figure something out for himself. I see that drive in Julia, his inquisitive mind working through her small hands and furrowed brow as she works on a puzzle or building with the wooden blocks Wesley insisted she needed lest Julia think the only things she had to play with were baby dolls and tea sets. He could not bear the thought that she might not know she could do anything, ANYTHING she wanted. She has so much of Wesley in her little personality that I know he would love to see as she grows and changes. My heart hammering in my chest both aches and hitches with sadness and swells with pride because in a moment there it is. The adage of Wesley living on through Julia is in front of my eyes as she creates something with her hands, blonde bangs in her eyes and brow creased.

I fear I never told Wesley how proud I was of him, for who he was and what strengths and assets he brought out in me. Through his eyes I because more confident because he believed in me wholeheartedly, even when the prospect of success was slim. I became more caring because of the selflessness he showed to me even when I was a complete brat ordering him around. I learned to not take him for granted, but that lesson I fear came too late. He loved being needed and I desperately needed him. I have said so many times both before and after Wesley died that I did not want to just get married, I wanted to marry Wesley Cline. He was not ever “some guy I’m dating” because even in the early days I was proud of him and cared for him in a way that transcends words and knew this was different. We were different.

There is a funny story that Wesley loved to tell of when he first summoned the courage to say “I Love You” to me. I was eating fried okra at Sonny’s BBQ and replied, slapping my hand on the table,”You know what? I LOVE OKRA!” because I was not listening, a common theme in our relationship. But Wesley just laughed and laughed because he knew I loved him. He did not need to hear the words repeated to him, he just knew it.

Now I would give anything to tell him how proud I am, how much I love him, how much I miss everything about him and how sad I am that he is missing everything now too. I’m proud of not what he did, but who he was. At the core of his most basic level Wesley was kind and compassionate and loved others so deeply. In his absence, I’m left feeling completely split, jagged and broken with the best parts of me gone. The person who I lovingly gazed upon, my eyes warm and full of love is not here. And those pretty eyes that gazed back, slyly winking when he thought nobody could see, they are not there either. The pride lingers, though the man does not.

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Remembrance

Wes and Katherine Candle

Last night I attended a beautiful service at my parents church dedicated to remembering the faithful departed who died in the past year or in years long past. It coincides beautifully with All Saints and All Souls Day following the spooky fun of Halloween and trick or treating. I have not been regularly going to church since Wesley passed away. I’m not mad or angry with God, but it is in some ways like we are on hiatus. To be candid, I just have a hard time finding the ability to be self reflective and thinking on God’s mercy of late. Plus getting to the 9:00 a.m. service, which is more child friendly, is a challenge too. We get up and get dressed but cannot seem to get out the door in time. During the week, after all of the chores and parenting responsibilities are done I’m not emotionally able to them reflect on my day. I can barely form a coherent sentence let alone contemplate my feelings.

But last night I did just that. I sat quietly with my thoughts in the large and beautiful sanctuary where I grew up. I looked at the front pews and remembered myself as a young girl sandwiched between my friends Brooke and Laura during Vespers singing “Pass it On” and “Seek Ye First” my tummy full of Pizza Hut pizza after choir practice. I glanced at the balcony and thought of the years and years I sat up there with my parents sometimes paying rapt attention to the sermons, sometimes playing surreptitious games of “Hangman”  on the church bulletin. But mostly I stared at the front, the beautiful organ pipes, the green carpeted steps and the two pulpits. I stood there on those very steps less than 9 years ago and married the man I thought I’d be with forever.

Through my tears I glanced to the left and imagined the candle Wesley and I lit signifying our lives joining together, from two become one. I remembered that in my nervousness at the  exchange of rings I accidentally put my wedding ring on his right finger which was much larger than mine so we spent part of the candle lighting re-exchanging our rings while trying not to laugh. I smiled to remember that after we recessed from the church, the strains of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March in our ears Wesley picked me up and said, “I’m so happy. I’m just so very happy, Katherine” with tears streaming down his face.  Those are memories that are beautiful and tender and lovely. And there are hundreds, millions of moments like that in our all too short time together but of late I have found myself looking at only the what might have beens instead of the beauty of what was. What and who lives on because of that love, beauty, laughter and all of the blinks of an eye in between.

In the post I wrote months ago for Life as a Widower I spoke about the need to listen to God’s gentle words instead of loudly beating the door of Heaven. In the past month or so I believe, without realizing it, I decided that if God was not answering my knock at the door in the timeframe and in the manner that I liked then I’m not bloodying my knuckles anymore. God knows my address, He can come a-calling when He is ready. I have “too much to do” to sit by the proverbial phone. I’ll show Him!  Because, yeah that makes sense, right? Except of course it doesn’t because I still feel bad, lost, lonely…and faithless. My faith which has been my core and the solace I have found in these and other trying times has been cast aside out of pride and hurt. I’m hurting, but like a wounded animal I want to lash out instead of taking the help offered if I would just open my ears and heart. I strive to be better.

In the quiet space and beautiful place I found myself last night I once again allowed myself to remember. Remember who I was, who we were and who I still am. I smiled as I remember that a year ago today we stayed up late making chocolate frosted cupcakes for our my nephew’s birthday, Wesley joking that I kept stealing the frosting while his own mouth was rather chocolaty; to mourn that we will celebrate our nephew’s birthday again tonight, but Wesley will not be there to laugh and enjoy pizza and cake. But last night I remembered to smile tearfully as the bell tolled his name as a dearly departed. Because he is so very, very dear. And I shall never forget that.

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