Monthly Archives: March 2014

Retrospective

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Tomorrow Wesley will have been gone for year. How I have navigated the days and weeks, living often in a fog, will always allude me. I look at pictures of parties and festivities I have attended since last March having no recollection of being there or what I said. I probably talked about Wesley, because that is what I talk about, what think about. I am comforted talking about him, keeping him alive through words and stories. It goes back to Julia’s belief that heartbeats are the way that those in Heaven speak to us because every pulse in my veins and every breath in my lungs tells the story of him, of us, of our beautiful family.

I have thought a great deal about March 30th as a bright line in the road of my life, the date that separates my life as it was and my life as it is now. I went from wife to widow; part of a strong parenting team to a single mother in an instant. But in looking back I can see illuminated not just the date that my life and world was torn apart but the way that date has cast a glow on dates before. I try to not focus on the frenzied and terrifying morning of March 30th because it causes my mind to fill with fear and my blood to turn to ice. Instead I think of March 25th and Wesley and I laughing and hugging in the kitchen, the smell of Wesley’s meatloaf cooking in the oven while Julia played around us. I think of Christmas 2009, in his hometown of Hampton, VA when a proud Wesley showed off his new baby girl. I think of days of laughing at my family beach house together or sitting in his family kitchen surrounded by loving family and children. I think of quiet moments of inconsequence, each second of memory precious to me. My life has been beautifully illuminated by Wesley and the warmth I find there makes my fears subside about my future.

In the past year I have been surrounded by such love. Men and women and children whose selflessness towards me and those that I love is awe inspiring. The way Julia’s friends and family offer support to her, their brand of playground love and acceptance, touches me deeply. My friends and family who have loved and cradled me in times of deepest despair and have not turned away in discomfort as I cried or talked about my raw feelings will always be close to my heart. I cannot repay the kindness I have experienced.

Often I am told how strong I am and how proud people are of me. I do not feel pride or strength, I feel like I am trying to survive a day with grace and love. Nothing more. I worry that I will not honor Wesley’s memory enough for Julia, that I will not show the love he had for others through my own words and actions. I want to make him proud of the woman I am and how I am raising the beautiful child we created.

Tonight I am at our family beach house. A place that feels very comfortable because of the happy times we had here with many summer evenings of laughing until late into the night on the front screened porch and days of sitting in the warm sand, our eyes squinted as we watched Julia splash in the frothy green gulf waters. It was where I needed to be tonight. I needed familiar and happy memories. I needed security and solace.

I lay beside Julia tonight, my constant companion who provides hugs and a constant litany of “I love you” along with armfuls of loveys when I feel sad. We are a team, a twosome who fight through our grief together. Her tiny hand grasped firmly in mine, braced by the love felt here on earth and in our hearts by our dearest Wesley. He holds her other hand, unseen.

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Pillow Talk

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Once the day is done and pajamas are on, Julia and I often cuddle in her bed as we wind down in the evening. Most nights book reading dissolves into imaginative stories and at long last she drifts off to sleep. Most nights she nods off before me, but not always! Something about her soft breathing and relaxed body makes my shoulder muscles ease and my own breathing becomes less frantic. In the daylight hours I find myself striving for order among what feels like emotional chaos. The mad dash from dinner to bath to bed is something I feel most parents experience with their young ones leaving us exhausted, frustrated at times and saying unreasonable things to our progeny like, “If you don’t fall asleep right now, I’ll never read you another bedtime story.” But the moment the house quiets and Julia is asleep, I find myself longing for her childish voice again because my home is too silent. I fill it with the sound of television many nights, lately watching “House of Cards” on Netflix over and over but honestly I relish drifting off to sleep with Julia in her bed because most nights my bed feels too spacious, too empty.

Julia wants stories about Wesley almost every night. My tales of the first time Daddy said that he loved Mommy; how we celebrated our cats first birthdays; the sweet Indian ladies at Dunkin Donuts on North Druid Hills Road who kept Daddy well stocked in donuts when he would drive around Atlanta trying to get an infant Julia to fall asleep in the middle of the night are met with gleaming eyes and anticipatory excitement as she raptly listens to stories that involve and pre-date her. Like most children I suppose she seems fascinated that there was a life before her, that Wesley and Katherine have a whole life of love and laughter that came before the little blonde pixie entered our lives. We always wished for and wanted children so our life was enriched so fruitfully on June 8, 2009, but we had years of just us and she seems to like to hear those where she is not a central character. But I find my favorite stories are those of simple times between Wesley and Julia. Not a holiday or special celebration, although those have their own happy memories, but the times we could just be seems precious. I think back to Wesley and I stacking the deck so Julia could win games of Go Fish by secretly signalling to each other to ask for cards we know she won’t have clenched in her chubby toddler fist makes me laugh. And her glee as she would tell us to “Go Fish…in the lake!” pointing out our window to the glittering lake that stands behind our home. It is not the moments that I thought were important that I cling to, but the moments of pure simplicity that I love. Because every day we embraced each other with spoken and unspoken love. The fibers that wove us together.

As I nod off to sleep lately I find myself gently shaken or tapped on the shoulder by Julia asking, “Are you asleep?” I’ll grumpily reply, “Yes…” and am met with her soft voice saying, “Oh sorry, Mommy” before she rolls over herself and goes to sleep. It was happening every night without fail and honestly I was getting increasingly more puzzled by the tiny taps on my shoulder each evening. So, I asked her why. Why, oh why, are you waking me up night after blessed night? Her answer surprised but did not shock me. She is afraid I’ll die. I’ll fall asleep and never wake up like Daddy did and when her little hands gently shake my shoulder she wants to know I’m still here. I told this to a friend recently and was met with a shocked look and a muttered “that is so terrible.” It is terrible. It is awful that a little girl knows that her parents are not invincible by the time she is 4, but I do not see it as a moment to pity. It is our life and it is our reality. I’m comfortable with her reaction to my falling asleep and passing away and our conversations about death and loss and that she misses her daddy. I miss Wesley terribly and know that I’m often confused and bewildered by our life; I cannot imagine it for Julia. It is important that I’m here to offer reassurance and understanding to her. To take her hands in mine and say I’m not going anywhere and that I’ll wake in the morning and we will eat oatmeal and argue about what she wants to wear. Which makes her crack a smile. I cannot make promises that everything will be OK because for both of us the veil of comfortable innocence has been torn asunder and I cannot greet Julia’s concern with anything but honesty and  compassion. Shying away or sweeping her feelings under the rug will not help either of us and I will greet her questions with my best efforts. I look into her questioning face and I offer her my arms; I squeeze her tightly before stroking her hair and say into her ear, “I’m right here” 

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Junior Museum

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Over the weekend Julia attended a birthday party of one of her best friends last year at school. A dear girl who was a rock to Julia after she returned to school and treated her with kindness and love. In fact she told Julia and others that her daddy could not come to Doughnuts for Dads, which occurred about a month after Wesley’s passing, despite the fact that she has a father who is not only living, but was planning to attend! She did not want Julia to feel like the odd kid out, the only 3 year old eating a doughnut without her daddy by her side. My father had planned to go to this cute little event and he did, but this sweet hearted little pal kept insisting that “Julia’s Papa will be my special date too” We have had play dates a few times in the past year but sadly for us she went to another school this year and our visits have been infrequent. But on Saturday we saw this sweet girl and watched her blow out the candles on her birthday cake at the Tallahassee Museum.

For any of us who grew up in Tallahassee, this museum of Florida nature and history will always be “The Junior Museum;” a place of elementary school field trips and seeing wild animals in natural habitats. I loved it as a child and it still fascinates me to see the antique caboose that you can explore, the grey foxes perched in trees looking at the passing families and historical houses that are a glimpse into how my great-grandparents might have grown up in their youth in the rural Panhandle of Florida.

As I walked with Julia looking for deer and skunks hidden among palmetto fronds I reflected on the last time I had attended a birthday party at the Junior Museum.

Two weeks after Wesley died we went the birthday party of a dear friend of mine’s little boy. He was turning two and although I was still reeling from my loss I was determined to go because my friend, his mother, has been a huge support for me. The party was Curious George themed and it was apropos for the cute little boy whose birth we were celebrating…a darling little monkey who will have the prefix of “baby” by Julia probably until he is in high school. I myself was in a fog; completely shattered having just lost Wesley and every young father I saw scooping up their children in their arms was like a knife in the gut. As they nuzzled their young ones I was faced over and over with the reality that I would never again see Wesley grab Julia and smother her in hugs as kisses as they both giggled with glee. I felt panicky and despite trying to smile and create a sense of normalcy and fun for Julia I was inwardly screaming at the top of my lungs. Thank God for my dear dear friend who understood when I rushed up to her, plate of cake in my hand and said, “I need to go home. Now.” Quickly choking back tears as I grabbed Julia and ran as fast as I could to the car before dissolving into shuddering sobs. It was in my mind a failed attempt at social interaction and at that moment I thought that perhaps living in a cloistered widows colony was not such a far fetched idea.

But I tell that hard and painful story of a year ago to contrast with last weekends experience. Same place, almost a year later and while I still cringe to see fathers and daughters, husbands and wives and the happy familial bonds, I can find comfort in what we had for many years instead of cursing the years we have lost. I did not run away this time from the party, we stayed and I thought of how much Wesley would have liked this family whose daughters birth we were celebrating. He would have loved the whole thing.

Julia and I had fun, actual fun, at the party last week. I chatted casually about extra curricular activities like tee ball and ballet, laughed over the similarity of 4 year old daughters who refuse to wear anything but dresses and answered the oft asked question of “How are you and Julia doing?” that merits a reply other than, “Fine.” I said, “Just putting one foot in front of the other…” which we are doing even when the bridge we cross seems shaky.

As we headed away from the party to tee ball practice I scooped Julia into my arms as we crossed the parking lot, her wispy blonde hair tickling my nose and whispered in her ear, “Daddy would have loved this day” and she smiled, her dark brown Wesley eyes merry with glee.

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Let it Go

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Last week as I drove to take Julia to ballet class I turned on my car radio full blast and proceeded to belt out the song pouring from my speakers complete with dramatic arm flourishes and impassioned facial expressions as I waited at a stop light. In mid-verse I casually glanced next to me to see a young man in a sporty red car staring with his mouth agape watching me as I performed full out “Car-aoke” in my SUV. But I was not rocking out to the late great Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” or even Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” I was performing my own interpretative dance to “Let it Go” from the smash Disney hit Frozen. Broadway icon Idina Menzel, who voices the frosty princess Elsa and I were locked in a passionate duet about breaking free from restraints; hers of the frosty self repressive kind and mine, I’m not quite sure. But as I belted out lyrics like , “Let it go, let it go; You’ll never see me cry…” I was reminded of a conversation I had with someone, a business connection who I would also be comfortable calling a friend, in May of last year.

During the dinner we had together I talked very openly about Wesley’s life and my feelings of his passing and the ways I’m coping with this new widowhood and single-motherhood. Two roles I could not have ever imagined for myself. I used very well rehearsed language and spoke with steady voice and confidence because in my work that is what I do. I speak with conviction and poise about fundraising needs for FSU. The business contact uttered the oft repeated comment of how strong I seemed but that he knew there were times I was not like that. I admitted that yes there are many times where I am struggling for breath and have cried so much that my body cannot make tears quickly enough and I sob without fresh tears coursing down my face. He said, “But you will never let most people see that” and I quickly replied , “No, I won’t” I was even at the time surprised that my reply was that of instant stoicism. “You’ll never see me cry…”

I find myself often caught in that conundrum. I never thought I’d be someone who fell apart at a moments notice but I am finding myself less stoic of late. The ice that I have used to try and frost my heart in an effort to keep the deep freeze of sadness at bay is starting to thaw. I cling to the familiar routines of how life was when Wesley was alive, desperate to have something feel the same but nothing is the same now.

I have written before about how there is this desire among other people that I get back to myself pre-March 30, 2013, but that girl is gone. There are glimmers of my former self like snow crystals that catch the light, but that is all there is; a quick flash and then it is just snowy whiteness again. I realize that I am comfortable talking about Wesley because if I talk about him, he is still alive to me. If Julia talks about him, he is alive to her and that is of paramount importance to me. But I cling to normalcy of work, house cleaning and other activities. I have come to the realization that the person who was most waiting for Katherine to get “back to normal” was me.

In clinging to the familiar I have thought that if I just push hard enough and keep everything the same then magically I’ll  be the same girl eventually and then maybe this past year will not have happened. Wesley will be here hiding Easter eggs with Julia and the jagged hole in my heart will be gone.  The half written book of our life together will still be told with new tales of love and laughter. But that is not real. Holding on to the thought that I can will our lives to be different  is the ice castle that I build, frozen water that will melt with too much sun. I have to let it go. I do not mean let Wesley go, as that is not possible, but let the expectation of myself to change the unchangeable melt away. I’ll never be the same, Julia will never be the same and I’m ready to build a warmer home for us. Warmed by the fire of Wesley’s memory and the love we have, just the three of us. Wesley is the warmth I feel in my heart as the ice melts and I’m ready for Spring.

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