Letter to the Checkout Lady

TJ

Dear Checkout Lady at Trader Joes,

Thank you for not staring too long as I cried while you checked me out this afternoon. It was nothing you said or did; it was not spontaneous emotion brought on by seeing my frozen Vegetable Panang Curry being lovingly placed in the TJ’s brown paper bag. It was that family two aisles away. You may not have noticed the father in the gray hoodie with the yellow rain jacketed little girl. He was teasing his daughter about what Santa might leave in her stocking and her high pitched laughter at his funny suggestions made my heart full with sorrow which leaked out onto the keypad of the credit card machine. I apologize, but thank you for ignoring my hurried attempts to wipe my tears away.

You see, Wesley, my husband and father to a sweet little girl died last year so this is our second Christmas without him and at all times,but at Christmas most of all, I have a hard time seeing young families. I don’t always feel like that though, lest you think I’m horrible. Like most things in grief there is no black or white so one day I might feel nothing but love and gratitude for sweet young couples with babies on their hips and another feel my heart shrivel in my chest and my breath fail me as I see a couple link fingers and hold hands. Because that was me; but is me no longer and that hurts sometimes. The strong fingers that linked with mine are gone and so seeing the easy love and comfortable rapport of others can be hard to bear witness to. I guess we all have our tipping point where the water goes over the dam. This was my moment and you bore witness to it. Thank you.

I promise I do not often cry in public. Despite having a blog where I talk at length about grieving, I am personally quite careful to not burst into tears in front of strangers or co-workers. I square my jaw, regulate my breathing and steel my voice leaving my sorrow at the door but today after running errands and rushing in the Christmas bustle of excitement I almost forgot that I’m widowed. That I’m a single mother who blessedly has amazing support and love from family and friends. But today I’m picking up stocking stuffers and frozen meals and more than anything I want to go home in the pouring rain to my husband and my family. I want to walk in soaked and have Wesley laugh at my sodden hair and comment on my ugly but very utilitarian rain boots; I want to find him sitting in the middle of our living room messily wrapping presents and I want to talk over dinner about what last minute; truly LAST minute things we need to get for our families. I want to see him dressed up in a Santa suit rapping a white gloved hand at the back door and winking as he departed, I want the life I thought I’d have. The life of those around me.

Thank you for your heartfelt “Merry Christmas” not said perfunctorily but with true meaning, your kind eyes catching my tear filled ones. Or at least I heard your words that way as I rushed away, avoiding the eyes of fellow customers and escaping the store which suddenly felt too small. I escaped to my SUV, curled into a ball and sobbed in gratitude for your kindness. For saying “Merry Christmas” and not making me explain my inexplicable tears. Because I’m not crying over something; I’m crying over everything. And you have other people to check out. But for me; thank you.

Sincerely,

The Woman in the Checkered Rain boots

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Mixed Tapes

20141103-085727.jpg Last week my mother was going through some cardboard boxes in their garage and discovered a red CD among the contents. A plain write-able CD in a clear, cheap case, nothing of incredible interest. But scrawled in red Sharpie marker it said “Moving Mix…Love you, Wes”–the writing unique in its blend of cursive and print, like much of Wesley’s writing; he  could not decide from word to word what his hand would write so it vacillated between swirling and neat with loops and slashes across the plastic disc. Wesley burned this set of 12 songs when Julia and I tearfully moved to Tallahassee in September of 2010 without him as he remained in Atlanta another 6 months while searching for a job to reunite our little family. The songs chosen have a common theme of love and the sadness of distance and being apart. The songs now hauntingly play through the speakers of my car; the distance taking another meaning than upon first hearing 4 years ago. In our relationship I was given many “mixed tapes” by Wesley and was exposed to bands, songs and genres I had never known; obscure Irish bands like The Corrs, soulful Alison Krauss and to be honest, surprising smatterings of Celine Dion, Shakira and Spice Girls! Wesley’s musical interests were nothing if not diverse. He was always so much more conscientious about sending tapes and sweet packages to me than the other way around when we were dating long distance. I would get care packages from Strasburg, VA in the early days of our dating and I’d tear into the plain manila envelope spilling cards, tapes and other little trinkets on my childhood bed at my parent’s house where I had landed after college graduation. I would listen to the tapes non-stop in my blue 1997 Toyota Camry as I drove back and forth from my first adult job at the Florida House of Representatives, often jamming along at red lights and sometimes crying as my heart hurt from missing Wesley so much across the miles. My adult life was beginning and these songs formed the soundtrack of my life and of our life that was just beginning.

I fondly remember the first song on the first tape that he sent to me in late 2000 when Wesley Cline was still just a voice on the other end of the phone, merely my friend Stephanie’s co-worker pal. Wesley sent to me, among other tunes, “When You Say Nothing at All”  It was so beautiful to me and apropos for Wesley who was very quiet when we first met and started talking but who, in his quietness could provide silent and steady reassurance and love. Wesley still provides that steadiness, that stalwart constancy even though he is seen no longer, he quietly whispers to me that all is well and to breathe in, to breathe out and not to lose hope and faith.

I have discovered with some fervor that I endeavor (another Wesley word, by the way) to find those mixed tapes from early 2001 and 2002. I search the house for them like my own personal grail and hope to stumble upon one to hear the songs so lovingly chosen by Wesley and specifically the one where Wesley is speaking to me on the B-side of his musical medley, saying nothing of real consequence but just chatting to me about his day and how much he cannot wait to see me soon. I fear that as our music was digitized, and our cars ceased to have tape decks in favor of CD players and USB ports I got rid of them because I had the false assurance that I’d never need to have a tape to hear Wesley’s voice, and he would always be beside me. Now I search the boxes that we moved from house to house, city to city, hoping to find a cassette with Wesley’s musical selections or soft voice. In looking for these elusive plastic rectangles I discover other beautiful treasures and often sort through boxes of cards Wesley wrote to me, pictures of me that he took with flowers in my hair my 25 year old self looking so young and so carefree.

Often I find that songs have very different meanings to me since losing Wesley. It is like I have heard lyrics and melodies with the cotton of ignorance in my ears and heard the words of loss and joy without truly listening. I find inexplicable comfort in the lyrics of Mumford and Son’s, “I Will Wait” of the hope we find beyond the days we know here on earth or crushing sadness in Vanessa Carlton song, “A Thousand Miles” the lyrics ringing with loss now that stretches beyond an absence of days or weeks but a separation I live with of years and decades.

The words of songs help me through my grief journey as I find happiness at hearing a new song now and think, “Wesley, you should hear this new Taylor Swift song…it is so dumb, but SO catchy!” or hear a song like Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me” that once wistfully played from our car radio as we drove through the night from Atlanta to Tallahassee as we headed to see my parents, our hands finding each other across the darkness as our fingers intertwined strong and sure. We were sure of each other then, we are sure of each other now. The melody and lyrics of hundreds of songs link us across the gulf of grief, the other side of it I cannot see but the songs I can hear. The music drifts over the distance and we are connected.

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How to Build a Boat

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School is in full swing for Julia and each week brings new exciting adventures and lessons learned. Recently Julia had to build a boat for a Kindergarten sailboat regatta at school. No store bought watercraft that could merely be painted in hues of pink and purple but actually required the use of creativity and enguiniety to create a boat that can float and sail. As soon as I saw this project on the syllabus I felt a sad tug at my heart because this is exactly the type of school project that Wesley Cline would have absolutely reveled in. He would have studied canoe vs. sailboat designs, he would have tinkered and played with different materials showing up one night after work with different thicknesses of wood from Lowes loaded in the back of his white ford F-150 to just try to find the perfect way to craft their boat. I can see him with his jig saw cutting and imagining his maritime vision with Julia beside him in our garage. It feels like such a father and child activity that felt inadequate and clumsy as I fumbled with ideas of taped together water bottles and yellow sponges with a little cardboard sail. It felt lame  in comparison with what could have been if life was changed from what it is in reality. I often struggle with the duality of seeing life as it could have been in glorious Technicolor, bright and beautiful filled with sunny days of mirth juxtaposed with my day in and day out life and find our reality to be sepia toned and feel that I’m looking through the grimy window of life; an outsider in my own reality.

But that depressing outlook takes the joy away from the bright moments and dulls them, shrouding them in sadness and stealing the bloom from the rosy times I have with Julia and family and friends. The times that laughter tinkles merrily from my throat often surprising me with the high pitched and lilting sound. The levity in my chest feels strange and foreign and I quickly catch myself and moderate my mirth. I’m my own anchor and willingly cast that heavy weight into the water; its iron claws digging into the firmament.

The idea of building a boat made me think beyond the elementary school project to a larger meaning of building a vessel and forging a path where the water is often murky and the waves are choppy.  Julia wanted her boat to be her own creation and from concept to plastic bottle completion it was her initiative. Brightly colored and be-stickered paper sail attached to a Popsicle stick with a plastic Elsa doll inside–Julia took such pride in building her own vessel without my help. As much as I tried to suggest duct tape versus scotch tape and different building materials I was met with staunch opposition. Julia’s dark eyes looked at me and repeated patiently, “This is MY project…just let me do it MY way” She wanted to own it, to craft her vision into a plastic boat and I could not build her boat for her.

I want badly to send Julia off in a steel reinforced frigate on water still as glass but she must build her own craft to sail through the waters of her life. I watch carefully for signs that she is in waters that are turbulent and rough and I try to weather the storms with her and calm her when it feels like our emotions are going to capsize us. But ultimately I have to let her be free enough to design her own ship in which she feels buoyed and safe. I may provide her the tools and the warm space in which to create but much like her narrative after losing her father young in life she has to find her own words and I cannot write them for her. My verbs and adjectives do not fit her 5 year old experience and I cannot reflect my grief upon her in an effort to keep Wesley’s memory alive for her and for us.

When Wesley died I became unmoored, completely torn from the safety of the harbor that I knew and cast into rough waters. The safe and secure boat that I sailed through life upon turned upside down and splintered against the rocks of sadness and loss. I have tried to take the jagged wood and rough splinters and put them together with sealing wax but the water seeps in and the boat sinks lower and lower. The materials from which my old life was constructed are water logged and cannot be jig-sawed together so I stare at the broken bits of my old life as I am at a loss how to create a life that seems to feel not my own.

I’m marking time with little vision of the future and that creates a sense of helplessness. I do not trust in making plans; in looking through my spyglass to see the future because I know it is not the certainty I took faith in. But, I must craft a new ship built lovingly with parts of my life with Wesley and the blessings we felt welded with my new life as a single mother and grieving widow. I have to because I cannot tread water forever and my arms are getting tired. Julia needs a mother whose watercraft is impervious to the crashing waves and who can help her steer her own small ship.

I cannot calm the seas but do pray that Julia and my hearts are not battered and tossed in the storms of grief and that our small boats hold as we sail through our days and years guided by Wesley’s heavenly hands.

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Dreamscapes

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The days since my cathartic emotional outburst last week have been busy and I have logged many Delta SkyMiles, seen dear friends and had many work meetings. It has been days filled with being “on” and placing industry at the forefront as Julia was in the care of my parents in Tallahassee. But nights…the nights are filled with dreams vivid and intense. All of the sorrows and heartfelt hopes locked in the secret room of retrospect animate my slumber and fill it with the deepest desires that I have. Those thoughts that I cannot bring myself to voice in the daylight are brought to life behind fluttering eyelashes and they comfort and console me.

What is it about dreams? They allow us to see things we can view no longer and hear the voices that are sadly quiet. In the past few days I wrestled angels reminiscent of Jacob wresting the Angel in the Book of Genesis; I have time traveled and in traveling to the past I knew how to change the course of what happened in our life. In my dream we were a carefree young family and has blissful ignorance of the fragility of life. As I woke in my hotel room and realized that indeed it was 2014 and not the circa-2012 that I had dreamed about I looked out the window to view the most beautiful heavenly sunrise, soft pink and orange through rippling white clouds. It looked so celestial that I could feel my heart swelling inside of me. I felt as though I was glimpsing Heaven in a way I do not often see. The light was breathtaking to behold from my 10th Floor window and though I could not change where I was waking up, I was content.

Last night I spoke with Wesley in my dreams. Those are the dreams I most ardently wish for; to see Wesley and feel him near me. He called my cell phone and upon my answering Wesley said, “Hello, love.” It was his voice, deep and lilting and I heard it. Heard the cadence and rhythm. We talked of how much we loved each other and I fervently said how much I missed him. I asked Wesley how long he could talk to me and he spoke no more. I looked as the seconds on the phone increased as the phone line appeared active but I could hear him no longer. I helplessly looked at the phone pleading for him to answer, but he could not. Just like in life, he cannot speak to me every time I call his name but the line is open; he can hear me. I have to listen in a different way, and there he will be.

In dreams I’m calm and at peace for the most part. The anxiety that is so a part of my daily life is gone and I’m calm. I’m buoyant in my naivety and even though it is merely in the wee small hours of the morning, I’m centered. I’m reminded of the lilting voice of Cinderella surrounded by helpful avian and rodent companions that “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes When You’re Fast Asleep…” I feel that melody and lyrics are especially apropos as she sings about a grieving heart and the virtue of believing that wishes come true. I think they do. I wish hope against hope for impossible things. I want Wesley to come back through my front door at the end of the work day, I want to see him walking up the sidewalk with his brown corduroy jacket over him arm, briefcase in hand before it rests on the bench in our foyer. I can see it in my minds-eye clearly but it will not happen and in my rational mind I know it. But my heart yearns to find a way to make it so. In dreams Wesley is as real as he ever was and so I look forward and pray for dreams to connect us again, if only for one night.

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Serpentine Subterfuge

Today I’m wanting to write about something that I feel is often a dark secret of grief, kept buried deep and not often talked about. Or at least in my case, which my grief. I’m angry and am doubting . Like a dark snake coiled and tense around my hurt heart my resentment and feeling of injustice hisses and strikes at the familiar feelings of hope and joy. Moments of affirmation and gratitude are swatted down by the serpents long tail as it sibilates craftily, “This is unfair, you know? You are not enough for Julia. Do not hear the soft call of calm and grace, because those…those are illusions” I have descended into a relationship with the doubt that permeates too many aspects of my life. In my professional work I force myself to focus and be brave. I smile and say how well Julia and I are doing to colleagues and laugh about Julia’s ambitious Science Fair project plans. All truths and blessings said with a cheerful face. A brave and composed determination well honed over the past year and a half and I’m genuinely content. I’m hungry and aggressive and my mind is in the game professionally and it feels almost normal. But as I drive home I start cracking; the eggshell facade crumbling and when I’m home I’m less than I want to be. I find stress in normalcy and find obligation in folly. I look at little with joy and am snappish and ill tempered. I cry or I yell or I frantically do chores finding busy hands a momentary calm to an internal storm. I fall restless into bed and begin the day again.

Last night I questioned if God is listening to my calls for help. Loudly and tearfully I literally screamed my bilious and ragged uncertainty. In that moment I felt utterly alone and like all I place my faith in was crumbling around me. Like The Wise Builder in the Book of Matthew I have always felt that my faith was built on solid ground and I was wise with foundation firm and deep. To question that my belief in God’s love and care is so unsteadily crafted and that in the times of the winds howling and the rain pelting the windows of my soul, I do not feel his comfort is troubling to me. I have thought of it most of today because my faith is paramount to me and provides much of the comfort I find in my days and years. To know Wesley is at peace and watchful in Heaven is balm to my heart but as I said, my heart currently is occupied by doubting.

Mine is too often a life with all the physical signs of living; breath and pulse, but not a life being lived. And in my existing in half-life, the shadowlands of grief too often place Julia in shade. A girl whose childhood is in peril of losing her father to death and I fear losing the fullness of her mother as well to sorrow. Too long I have let my heart be ruled by sadness and my fear that finding joy is a disservice to the memory of Wesley. I staunchly stand and will the world to not turn, angrily resent the passage of time that relentlessly elapses and fight realities that are hard to face. But the energy I expend in anger and the force it takes to stay stock still is not focused on my daughter. It is not focused on making the existence I have a life. It is not honoring Wesley and that is unacceptable to me. I do not like where I am standing because the sand is too shifting to stand my ground.

Tonight Julia and I are at home. We ordered Papa John’s pizza and are watching “The Magic School Bus” videos on Netflix. We are just being together and enjoying life. Enjoying today. Because today there is joy and life and love. Today Wesley lives through the blonde child with the long lean legs and curious mind. Today the snake around my heart is quiet and still. I pray one day he may be gone forever. For now I take solace in the serpent’s slumber.

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Children’s Garden

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Throughout the summer I have sat across from mothers fretting and fearing the start of their children’s start to school this coming Monday. The internal turmoil of “Are they ready?” or possibly as importantly “Am I ready?” has been the subject of conversations among my dearest friends. We have talked each other through decisions to hold our little ones back another year in pre-school or send them to big school and the melee of the public, private, charter school world. Many texts, tears and nighttime Facebook chats were exchanged over the spring and summer and for those of us in Tallahassee our little ones have started their chosen path or will be starting, as Julia is, on Monday. All summer long I have emphatically said, “Yes, Julia is ready to go to ‘big girl school’ so let’s get started!” I’ve happily bought her school supplies and excitedly unwrapped new purple unicorn backpacks and lunch bags delivered to my doorstep by Pottery Barn Kids. I rushed to Julia’s elementary school last Wednesday to happily discover that her teacher is a woman I’ve known since my high school days and Julia’s little buddy who I had hoped would be in her class is indeed seated next to her! We have her smocked dress picked out and her rubber bands fastened to the pink plastic clothes hanger ready for our first day of school. But I find as the days and hours creep closer to her first day of Kindergarten I’m feeling anxiety creeping into the edges. Black and insidious the brittle shards of discontent and the refrain of, “This is not how it should be” ringing in my ears.

Historically Kindergarten was seen as a place where young children’s minds were tilled with rigorous education methods and the seeds of reading and arithmetic were planted to grow and blossom in the minds of young children. The “garden of children” which I think is a lovely image of the ways in which education, especially in little ones like Julia, can sprout and grow. The flowers of addition and subtraction further germinating the buds of algebra and geometry. The love of letters blossoming to words carried by the bees of Beverly Cleary and Jane Austen as the joy of literature, God willing, grows within her. As the progeny of two English majors Wesley and I always took for granted that she too would be an child with her nose in a book voraciously rerading everything she could place in her eager hands. Wesley would have relished these frenzied days and the days to come as the doors of learning unlock to the secret garden of knowledge for Julia. He would have eagerly pumped her for information at the dinner table, secretly scouting the book fair fliers and researching “kindergarten science fair projects” they could do together because he would have wanted every single piece of this experience to be fully embraced. Wesley would be have lived this fully. The gardener of this little plot of land. 

This afternoon we were packing Julia’s lunch for tomorrow in her new purple unicorn lunchbox she asked the I put one of “Daddy’s notes” in her lunch for tomorrow. I bit the inside of my lip, fighting back tears and got the large Ziploc full of seemingly unimportant crumpled napkins from the pantry shelves. When Wesley and I first moved to Atlanta I had a job in Midtown and as I headed out to my “big important job” each morning Wesley would hand me my lovingly packed brown paper lunch with the admonition to “not look inside until lunch, ok?” Because the lunch was always a surprise of PB&J, turkey and cheese or on special days…leftover pizza. Each day I would open my lunch to the surprise food and the carefully decorated napkin illustrations. Sometimes a message of love, sometimes cartoons of our two cats and their daily shenanigans while we were at work and sometimes just a beautiful picture. These ink drawings on white Dixie napkins, which somehow we had the forethought to keep, are so precious to me and there have been many times Julia and I have pulled them out and looked them over. Her father’s handwriting and humor and the artistic skill that is quite good and the snapshot of who we were as young 20-somethings with our first apartment and the adult lives we were just starting. There is one that particularly tears me up…” 5 years from now…I will be married to you and loving it!”  We were and he did love it. I love it. Those napkins were a small kindness that Wesley gave to me; he still gives to me and to us. Julia chose the “Meezer (our name for our cat) makes supper” with an ink drawing of a cat with a measuring cup and whisk in its hand for her lunch box tomorrow. I think it is absolutely perfect way to have Wesley there. I know he would have made her a little drawing of her own to ease her “scared and excited” mind.   

I’m so excited for Julia’s new adventure; new challenges and friendships. I mourn that she will have an empty hand that should be filled by her father as she walks to her classroom but as always she saw it a different way. I was crying yesterday about the fact that Wesley would not see her go to Kindergarten. That here was one more milestone in her life her father could not accompany her through. She looked at me a feeling of astonishment at my ignorance and said, cocking her blonde pigtailed head, “Duh, of course he can see me mommy…why do you always forget that?”  Not her most respectful reply but why do I forget indeed? Perhaps I need to tend my own garden that is choked with weeds of bitterness and woe as looking upon Julia’s, it is verdant and green; lush and lovely. 

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Learn To Live Without

On this quiet Saturday evening as I wait for the coffee pot to descale and Julia has finally drifted off to sleep in my bed I find that I’m pensive. And that my weekend nights are very unexciting these days. I’ve been marinating on writing something for a few days but honestly as I began to put words to my thoughts I found it too exhausting so the computer was set aside, the silver lid firmly shut with a decisive click. But tonight I’m ready to talk.

A few months ago a friend sent me this video:

In many ways I have not stopped hearing this song in my mind since it was sent to me because it seems to echo the thoughts that I have in my mind, the aches in my heart. I’m not sure if idina Menzel is singing of her characters divorce or a death she encounters in the musical from which it originates, If/Then but to me it is the song of my heart and where my mind goes in the quiet evenings when Julia has at last fallen asleep, her lips in a determined line and our home is still. I turn on Netflix and watch episodes of Arrested Development or House of Cards episodes that I watch, but not fully. Dialogue that I tune in and out of because I cannot fully think; I cannot fully commit to anything. I’m restless and find myself flitting from task to task with little determination or motivation propelling me forward toward completion. I find satisfaction in a job well done and seeing all the dishes put away; the scarf finally knitted; the last page of a book read and its cover closed. But I lose steam midway through and the quiet of the house overcomes me like an unwelcome shadow. Too heavy and still are the hours and minutes between nightfall and when I can close my eyes to sleep. 

But back to Idina and her haunting lyrics that play on a loop in my mental soundtrack. I’m struck by what I’ve learned since losing Wesley–16 months that seem a lifetime long and the feeling of living without what I thought was a certainty. To know what you are missing as a fulfilled prophecy of Tennyson’s words of loving and loss is harrowing and makes the time I spent with Wesley bittersweet because of the time I now spend alone. I feel gratitude, unending thanks for the time and life I had with Wesley but it is a life that is now lived in many ways without; I’ve learned to cope and to just close my eyes; breathe and move but that is not like the living I did before. Before I knew the loss of love and how to hold myself together with shaking hands I had a life that was unfolding and felt solid and sure, now the uncertainty permeates my waking moments. So I think on what I’ve learned. 

I’ve learned to cry without sound, to mask shuddering shoulders and ragged breath. I’ve learned that the garbage man comes early on Monday mornings and the garbage cans are heavy and cumbersome. I’ve learned that the mac and cheese must still be made even when I just want to pull the covers over my head because Julia needs dinner and normalcy. I’ve learned that I’m terrible at accepting help preferring to just brave on to keep the facade of holding it all together intact; I’ve learned that looking at baby clothes is painful because it reminds me of the children I’ll not have but the children borne by friends and family bring incalculable joy. I learn to speak so calmly when my heart would like to scream and shout. I learn to live without. 

I’ve learned the beauty of empathy. I’ve learned that Julia has sensitivity that floors me to be a part of and bear witness to. I’ve learned to count the blessings ceaselessly to drown out the petty plaintive cry of “Why me?” I’ve learned that my sorrow can have purpose and the feeling of helping others makes my own sadness easier to bear. I’ve learned that when I tell Julia that I’m crying because “I miss Daddy” it does not begin to encompass my loss but she usually dashes away to bring me the panda bear that belonged to Wesley as a child before I can explain any further. I’ve learned that the passage of time is at times hard to witness, the gulf growing wider between my life with Wesley and my life without. 

A friend told me years ago that there are times in your life when you will be the best of yourself and have it all together and other times when you will put one foot in front of another and the act of walking forward, feet heavy and burden laden, takes in entirety the effort you can muster. I have pondered that advice because I feel that I’m in the time of my life of slow plodding motion. I try to remind myself that it is facile to think my life could be different if I just tried to put it out of my mind or hardened my heart. That with enough effort I could again be who I was 16 months ago, but I’m not. In many ways that woman seems frivolous and self-absorbed to me now. She cannot be recreated because the clay from which she was made is not the same consistency. It is harder, more dense and unrecognizable through my new eyes. It cannot be shaped again in the same way. And I’m grateful because I’ve grown strong, I have no other choice. I’m without another option. 

But I’m committed to honesty and sensitivity as I strive to find a life for Julia and myself. To find a way to breathe and smile and find the joy in the loss and absence. I learn to live without–but not alone. 

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