Monthly Archives: December 2013

Shepherds and Angels

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Julia, the little angel and Wesley, her shepherding father

Last Christmas Eve, Santa came to visit Julia. We had just finished doing our Advent Wreath and all of a sudden looked up to see the man himself standing at our sliding glass door, his white gloved hand waving through the glass, his beard of white and jolly tummy shaking like a bowl full of jelly. Julia stared big mouthed as he waved goodbye and ran off to get her footie pajamas on. Curiously, Wesley came in the front door about 10 minutes later, just missing the man in the red suit. But Julia has talked non-stop about Santa visiting her, although she tells the story that he came to her bed while she slept. Maybe Wesley did that too. I wish I could ask him.

Wesley loved Christmas. I mean started buying stocking stuffers in October, owned his own Santa suit and pondered for months on how he could hang garland from our wood beams that are a feature on our 14 foot tall ceilings. He loved watching people open presents on Christmas Day and the looks of surprise and joy on their faces. I used to tease that he never opened his own gifts until the end of the Christmas present melee because he wanted all the attention on him, but really he would just be so content in watching others that his own festive gifts would sit on his lap, wrapped and ribbons tied. Wesley loved talking to Julia about Jesus coming and all of the animals in the stable, Wesley loved doing crazy things to my poor Fontatini nativity set like putting Darth Vadder in place of Joseph and just reveling in the happy and fun season of Advent.

Our house was cheery and bright, elves peering from tops of bookshelves and the energy as Christmas neared feeling electric. It was the most magical time of the year and we loved the way we felt in these hustle bustle days of December.

This year I feel like the Grinch. You know, the green fuzzy Suessian anti-hero who after a bit of breaking and entering in Whoville on Christmas Eve finds that “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.” His tiny heart grows three sizes and he glides back to return the gifts he has pilfered the night before. But I don’t quite feel I am having the epiphany that Mr. Grinch had. I feel like my heart is two sizes too small, not because I’m greedy or hateful but because it is broken. The remaining shards are held together with bits of Scotch tape like a poorly wrapped Christmas present. Truth be told, a little like the way Wesley wrapped gifts for others. He did not believe so much in the use of scissors so the wrapping paper was invariably wadded and secured at the ends of the boxes he had wrapped. It was his own signature look. I have memories flooding my home with every box I open, with every ornament I hang.

Last year, inspired by Pinterest, I decided we would wrap 24 books and Julia could open a new book each night as a reward for good behavior during the Advent Wreath lighting each night. As a three year old, she needed a treat for not catching herself or the tablecloth on fire after we read sometimes lengthy religious texts. So, one night Wesley and I wrapped books we had purchased for her and we laughed and chatted while we sat on the floor wrapping book after book surrounded by tape and ribbons. But as often happens the days got busy last year so we abandoned the lofty pursuit and packed up many of the wrapped books in our Christmas decorations as 2012 moved into 2013. When I opened the Christmas boxes a few weeks ago, it was those books that greeted me. The wadded wrapping paper at the ends, books bought and wrapped for Julia by her father who is no longer here to see her open them. It is crushing to think of him painstakingly choosing books for her that she would absolutely adore. Strawberry Shortcake, Angelina Ballerina, My Little Pony…each of these have been lovingly opened these past few days and I think, a smile on my face, “I did not buy that book for her.” I tell Julia that her Daddy bought those neat books for her last year and how happy it would make him to see her opening them and reading them to me or her babies. I can almost see him sitting on our blue floral couch, slyly looking at me and winking as she opens the books and squeals with delight. Wesley is not here with us in person, I cannot see his sweet quiet eyes but he is still with us. His kindness, his thoughtfulness lives on in the most unexpected and beautiful ways. He is shepherding us through this terrible time like he did in life, quietly and without fanfare.

I would be lying if I painted a picture of happy days and holly jolly singing of Frosty the Snowman. It is not true. It is terrifically hard. I have cried more in the past few weeks than I have since the first few days after Wesley’s death, I have vacillated between wanting to happily hang ornaments and wanting to rip the head off the the Elf on the Shelf, I have sat numbly looking at my Christmas tree and thinking how much has changed in my life in such a short time. How much Wesley would have loved seeing Julia as Angel #4 in her Nativity Play today and we would have made a funny joke about how we “did not know there was more than one lobster present at the birth of Christ,” a funny reference to the movie Love Actually. I yearn for my life a year ago. I yearn for the innocence and infallibility I had then. But they are gone and in their place I often have sadness and loss.

But if I can settle myself and listen to my heart, I let other memories flood my mind. I can cling to happier days of busily wrapping presents together in our tiny apartment in Atlanta; watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and us both crying EVERY YEAR when Linus tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about; hours spent driving in cars to and from visiting family, excitedly talking and looking at Christmas lights in the middle of the night as we drove. I feel sad to imagine memories that could yet have been made. But I’m blessed that one of my sweetest memories now at Christmas is that of a father who once had the opportunity to be Santa to his little girl and see her eyes wide with wonder as she gazed upon him waving through the window. He is right outside our window, just now harder to see, watching over us.

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Thirteen Years

January 2001; Winchester, Virginia

January 2001; Winchester, Virginia

Thirteen years ago this week, I first met Wesley. He had flown to Jacksonville where I was attending the wedding of a close family friend and we had agreed if we did not end up liking each other when we met in person after talking for months and months on the phone that he could just stay in Jacksonville and fly home. No harm, no foul. But, from the moment I saw him sitting nervously smoothing his hands on his front of khakis in the lobby of the Baymont Inn in Jacksonville, FL I knew that at least for my part, I liked this young man.

Wesley was a co-worker of a long time college best friend, Stephanie. She was a year ahead of me in school and had started her career at a newspaper in Virginia. Stephanie and her journalism colleagues worked in the evenings so after my classes in typical unprofessional 22-year old fashion I used to call Stephanie while she worked and talk to her. In time she would have to run and do actual WORK so I’d be passed off to her friends because I could talk the paint off of a wall. One night, my friend Stephanie handed the phone to her nice, but a bit nerdy, co-worker Wesley. He was shy, quiet, thoughtful and a sharp contrast to the boys I had dated in college. Wesley knew about books and was a kind soul to others, so I liked him. I liked his mind and wit. And I liked that he liked me too.  

But I worried. Wesley lived so far away and I did not want to get too close so I kept encouraging him to “wait and see” when he would suggest that he come visit me in person. I think in part I feared that the mind and the man would not match in my estimation although I knew what he looked like and I found him handsome. Month after month I kept him at bay as we read books like The Cider House Rules and Angela’s Ashes and conducted our own impromptu book club discussing the meaning of Frank McCourt’s tragic childhood and Homer Wells rite of passage from orphan to adult. He would ask again and again to come visit as the months passed and I kept invoking my reply, “Let’s wait and see” 

Finally I was won over and relented with the escape plan of leaving him in Jacksonville if we decided that we did not like each other. In looking back I’m not sure how I ever could have dreamed I would not like him, because in fact I think I was already in love with him. I think in my heart, deep down I knew that I would be with him forever. Even if forever was not as long as we dreamed. So, we met; we had dinner; I bit the head off of the server at Chili’s who kept hovering because I was wanted to talk to this soft spoken young man with the curly dark hair across the booth from me. We spent days together in Tallahassee looking at my parent’s Christmas tree; petting their cat Dickens and realizing that we were deeply in love. He went back home to Virginia and I cried and cried to watch him drive away. We saw each other every few months, spending a fortune on flights for the next 18 months before we both decided to move to Atlanta because if we were going to eventually get married we should live in the same place, right?

In 13 years together we moved 7 times, got married, changed careers, had a baby girl, bought a home and finally moved to Tallahassee where in some ways it all started. We sat on the same couch opening Christmas presents with our baby Julia in 2009, watched as our nephews and Julia collected Easter Eggs throughout the living room and where I sat on March 30th as Julia wandered through the room quietly having lost her father and I clutched a Kleenex to my face having lost my husband only hours before.  So much had changed in such a short time, but how much love, how much life was shared in those months and years. I regret that I urged patience in those early days because now each day, each moment is precious. I wish for 5 more minutes. I wish for 50 more years.

As I rode in the car yesterday I thought of our life. The small moments of happiness and small kindnesses that were taken for granted. The way that he put his hand on my neck when I drove the car, the way he played “I Spy” with Julia and always saying he spied the color red, the way he loved Christmas and reveled in the joy others felt in the happy holidays. What if I had said, “Wait and see” a little longer? What joy, what happiness would have been missed? I rejoice in that day that walked into the hotel lobby and saw his beautiful brown eyes looking over his glasses, a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany in his hands. I daily see those same eyes staring at me from Julia’s sweet face. In all of the moments, large and small, over the almost 13 years we were together she is the legacy of our love. My heart aches for the short time we had together but finds happiness in the life we created together which was vibrant, funny and brimming over with adoration. 

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