I’m not bitter. Let’s just get that straight. I was blessed for 10 years. More than blessed. And now I’m trying to make peace with the fact that I may never be that loved again.
K. was the best Valentine’s Day giver in the world. Creative, adorable, spontaneous, funny, and always incredibly heartfelt. She made a WHOLE WEEK of it, one year. Actually more than once. Every day for seven days in a row, a little love note and a cute gift. And always the best, warmest, sweetest hugs and kisses. I’ll try to find the photo book she made one year and post pictures.
It was incredible. It was so much more than I deserved. She was so much more than I deserved. That is the realization I’ve had to come to. It is, perhaps, a bit of idolizing that many grievers do out of necessity — we put our deceased loved ones upon a pedestal and ignore their shortcomings and faults, focusing exclusively on their positive and endearing qualities, sometimes to the point of magnifying them beyond reality. But that is in our nature. We romanticize our lost loves because it’s far easier to do so, than to dwell on the imperfections and the errs of their humanity.
And yet. Yet. I will hold steadfast to this. That she was the most incredibly kindhearted, loving, creative, caring, romantic soul that I’ve yet had the privilege of being bonded with.
So what’s my point? To brag about what I had only to wallow in the misery that it was taken away, so suddenly and irrevocably? No. To remind you, my fair reader, that life is short, and we are not guaranteed tomorrow. So BASK in your lover’s arms, in your partner’s romantic gestures and demonstrations of devotion. MAKE time to express your love in nauseatingly adorable ways. Because I guarantee you, you will not regret one moment of your life spent in making your soulmate smile.
It is now 2020. The start of the first decade which you were meant to see, which we were meant to live through together, yet you did not, and we will not. Is this as momentous as it seems? Time is still so strange. I wake from a dream of you, feeling like you were just here with me yesterday. Yet I feel a thousand days pass by each night I don’t come home to you waiting in bed for me. There are people and moments that find you but a distant memory, while other people and more moments carry the raw, searing loss of immediate heartbreak. I suppose the truth is somewhere in between.
Life does go on. Our nieces keep growing, our dog keeps acting goofy. My job is steady, my friends are supportive. Our families are healthy, mostly. There will always be a missing piece, though, won’t there? Always a void, a space or a word or a thought or a smell, where YOU were supposed to be. Should be. Can’t be. Will never be again.
Sometimes we try to fill that void with something else, or someone else. Other times we weep. We scream at the universe and ask why. We stare blankly into the bleak long dark, hoping that somewhere along the way you found the light. Knowing that you did. That you now sparkle with the burning brightness of a million suns in the glory of Heaven. That you ask us not to weep, or to scream, or to stare. But you ask us to live, to love, to give of ourselves. To put forth into THIS world that little sliver of luminescence, that bit of spark, that flake of glitter, which your soul left behind in ours.
And that is difficult, to say the least. It’s hard to find the time, the energy, the motivation, the inspiration, to do that which you truly would ask of us. But we try.
Oh God, I try.
I loved you.
You are forever in our hearts. To the final dying beat.
The holiday season is generally difficult for ALL who are grieving the loss of a loved one. It is doubly so for those who grieve one who specifically genuinely loved and enjoyed Christmas. I didn’t even bother putting up decorations, neither last year nor this (being now the 2nd holiday without her). I was admittedly quite lazy and last-minute (or even late) with the gift-giving, and probably will be so again — though hopefully at least a little less lazy. So I was quite sure that this season, I would be just as Grinch-y.
Now, to fully appreciate this story, you need to understand how in LOVE my wife was with the music of Pentatonix, in particular their Christmas albums. The bowel-rumbling bass tones of Avi, specifically, would give her goose bumps. So just keep that in mind.
This week, as I walked into my grief counseling appointment — the last one, I had decided, at least for a long while — they had, as everyone does this time of year, some Christmas music mix playing in the background at the front desk. I pay my co-pay and sit. And then I hear it. The bouncing quasi-African-tribal-ish beats of PTX’s rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful. I can’t help but tap my feet to the rhythm. It stays with me as I work through the therapy session, confiding and venting and questioning, and all the things one normally does to their counselor. As we wrap up and say goodbye (for now), I wish her a Merry Christmas. The first time I’ve said it this year. I walk out the door and immediately pull up the Youtube video so I can listen to the whole song.
Hot on its heels comes Go Tell It On the Mountain, another unconventional rendition of a classic that hits all the right beats and all the good feels. And even the more traditional Little Drummer Boy makes an appearance. I defy you to listen to these songs and NOT feel a little warmer inside, a little spark of cheer.
And then it happened. I was “in the Christmas spirit”, as it were.
I was filled with the memories of our holidays together. They swept over me like a warm tide upon the cold stony shoreline. The happiness and excitement you exuded from every pore as we decorated our various apartments and trimmed our various trees. The warmth and aroma of your baking holiday treats for family and friends. The pure unbridled joy at seeing your loved ones happy as they opened your carefully selected and meaningful gifts. The cozy heart-healing cuddles in bed as we watched our traditionallineup of holidaymovies. And always, always your extra special, extra mushy, romantic, heartfelt, soul-stirring handwritten card to me. (Often penguin-themed.)
I was no longer weighed down by the grudges I held against all who were happier than I was because they had not lost a spouse so close to the season. Nor did I require the constant re-validation that my feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, and confusion, were all perfectly valid and reasonable. Because they were. And are. But so are happiness, joy, generosity, charity, peace, and love. And so much more important are these. So much more healing to the soul. So much more warming to the heart.
Because that is what you, of all people, would have impressed upon me, upon us, during the holidays. Peace. Joy. Love. Your smile, your laughter, your happiness, your sparkle, your very essence, is what lives on in us — if only we let it.
I saw you last night in my dreams. More clear and close than I have in over a year. I felt your hand squeeze mine, for the very briefest of moments. I tried to capture that moment, to hold on longer, to curl up into a ball of warm memories, a puddle of desperate longing. It almost worked.
I saw your eyes. Your big, beautiful, blue-green eyes. They were closed for a blink, but they opened up and looked back at me. For the very briefest of moments. I knew that moment was fleeting. Light and time were already beckoning me to wake. Just a little longer, I beg. But no.
I heard your voice. Your sweet, strong, comforting voice. We had an argument that passed just as quickly as the dream itself. Even in that, the pangs of familiarity pulled at my heart. And we reconciled, and became as one. And it was gone.
You were sitting across from me, listening to me talk about something that was about to happen, as if it already had. You had no words, only your loving and knowing eyes. Are you still with me? Do you keep vigil on these lonesome roads and dark nights? Do you still love me?
Today is.. would have been.. our 9th wedding anniversary. That day was a whirlwind! We didn’t spend the night apart like many couples do; we didn’t feel the need to. We forgot to bring our wedding favors — our customized M&M’s. But we distributed them later at a family gathering. Your mom burned her hand on a curling iron. You got so anxious you couldn’t eat. We trekked all over the University of Redlands for pictures. And you in your 5-inch zebra heels. We almost forgot to pay the photographer! I had to borrow a check from your aunt and pay them back later.
Nine years ago, you said ‘I do’ and made me the happiest man in the world. We planned, prepared, and set everything in place as best we could. We celebrated the beginning of a new life, together with our family and friends.
And almost one year ago, minus a week or so, you suddenly and inexplicably left this world. There was no warning, no preparation, no setting, and no goodbye. And we mourned the loss of your life, alone and apart.
Til death do us part.
When a bride and groom say those words, they don’t actually think that they’ll truly become reality. At least not before they grow old and frail. That’s way far off in the future, not something anybody should worry about anytime soon. Living will? Death folder? Life insurance? PAH! Nonsense. A problem for future selves.
Let alone the emotional, physical, and mental implications. When you do this right, your spouse becomes your WORLD. And don’t get me wrong, you can and should retain some of your independent interests and person-hood; but by and large, you become intertwined together as one new entity, as ‘US’. So then to suddenly lose that half (or at least, large part) of your life, your “new self” that was/is ‘US’, is quite literally devastating. It’s like violently tearing apart a zipper that’s been stuck together for years and years, happily rusted together at nearly every turn — it’s gonna hurt like hell, and you’re gonna lose some pieces.
Hold every memory.
We made so many memories in our relatively short time as US. Disneyland, beach days, Halloween parties, Christmas light tours, snow days, County fairs, occasional vacation trips, surprise Valentine scrapbooks, lazy stay-in-bed-all-days, steamy and wonderfully passionate nights… I will never forget any of them. Yet even as I say that, I know some of those memories are fading. Thank god, despite my protests and eye-rolls, you always insisted on taking plenty of pictures. I will always cherish them. And, as you know from my occasional zealous need to organize things, I will probably continue to find some excuse to sort and sift through them every so often.
Those scrapbooks, in particular, will continue to be some of my most beloved possessions. The time and thoughtfulness you dedicated to them was unparalleled. Your creativity was a marvel to me, unmatched in my eyes by anything but your love and devotion. I cannot thank you enough for these treasures, even as I mourn the loss of never seeing any more of them in my future.
I tried to do them justice when I constructed your memorial video and music playlist. I’m sure that I fell far short of potential. Yet who even thinks they’ll ever need to undertake such a task? Surely, again, not until you’re 80. And then it should have been our children’s job. Not mine, nor yours.
Here’s to Us.
As the song goes, from P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma album:
What about us? What about all the times you said you had the answer? What about us? What about all the broken happy-ever-afters? What about us? What about all the plans that ended in disaster? What about love? What about trust? What about us?
We thought we had the answers. We thought we had our happy-ever-after. We had plans. And indeed, it ended in disaster. You were taken from this world, from us, from your family, from me. And we don’t get to be ‘US’, anymore.
But when we were… Oh, it was beautiful. You gave me purpose, life, beauty, laughter, tears, joy, happiness, heartache, inspiration, passion, ecstasy, agony, purity, drive, desire, wholeness, openness, and most of all, love.
The greatest of these is Love.
Today, as I have every year since that first time I saw you in that perfect white dress, with your curled blond hair and your ruby lips and your ocean eyes, I say thank you. For all of it. Everything you did for me, everything you made me, everything you gave me. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Through hard times and happy times. As long as we both shall live lived.
And though you live no longer, in this world, know that you will always live on in my heart. I may or may not find love again; yet even if I do, it will never be the same. You were, are, and always will be, my soulmate. And I will see you again in Paradise.
Sometimes what you really need is to simply be among friends; to talk, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. For in these small moments — where your troubles and worries and woes fade away, even for the briefest of breaths, the most minuscule of milliseconds — life feels worth living again.
Yes, I just quoted myself. I made it up right here on the spot. You’re welcome. =P
I treat most of my journal as an open-ended letter to my dearly beloved K. I think of it as though I will someday reminisce with her in paradise over all the things that we’ve experienced while apart.
In other news, my new friends and I finally (it’d been months) had another game night! Well, we played Shanghai instead of DnD, but it was really what we all needed; and C. wasn’t finished with the DM setup anyway. The only one who’d played (Shanghai, that is) before was K., but everybody else knew general rummy rules and compared it, much like you did, to Phase 10. I brought Rubio’s fish tacos for everybody, which, since it was a Tuesday, was one helluva deal. Except W. who had to have a veggie burrito because he’s watching his weight and going to wrestler-training. Yeah, don’t ask. (Love ya buddy!) Also the huskies got along as usual, playing and exploring the new house.
It was a wonderful night. We drank beer and played cards and laughed hysterically at all kinds of nonsense and randomness – from metal band antics to spur-of-the-moment-made-up-songs. It was just as fun as the game-nights we had with cousin J. and her gang, for those few years while she was close by. For the first time in a long time, I felt genuinely happy again.
Am I allowed to?
You’re not with us. You would have brought perfect balance to the group, with your eclectic sense of humor, your way of saying or quoting off-the-wall things, and your proclivity for fumbling words in a way that was utterly and uniquely you. God how I miss that.
I say you would balance the group out perfectly, because: A. is the accountant, math and numbers expert; C. is the creative type, musician and storyteller; K. is the former-bad-girl-turned-super-sweet-pastor’s-wife and infant nurse; W. is the semi-boisterous intellectual and history buff; I of course, the tech geek and peacemaker; and finally, there would be, should be, you: the psychologist and the empath, the one who knows best how our minds work and how our emotions ebb and flow.
The fact that we all had to get up for work the next day didn’t matter, because we realized that this kind of quality time with friends is too valuable and too infrequent to waste. I mean yes, we still dispersed by 11, but that’s not the point! =) . Also, you would have insisted we get a freakin picture, because we don’t have a single solitary one to post anywhere. But you know, sometimes, that’s the way it should be.
And now, of course, I’m alone again. Sitting to write this journal entry and wondering when or what I might have to regale you with next. Are you even listening anymore? I wish I could tell. I wish I could see you, hold you, kiss you, cry to you, wash this all away in torrents of tears and a tidal wave of lost time. Perhaps you would forgive me. Perhaps I would forgive myself. Perhaps I should try.
It’s been far too long since I journaled. Reading or listening to other authors always seems to help, and lately I’ve been absolutely wrapt by The Phoenix Project (listening via Audible, since I’m not a great reader, and nowhere near as prolific a reader as K. was!) If you work in tech, or with/for/adjacent-to I.T. management, you really should check it out.
This is an incomplete segment of journaling, because there are parts that are only for me. But I share what I can, and I hope that it helps in whatever way it might.
Nearly 3 months have passed since I actually sat down to journal anything. I suppose you could count the couple blog posts, including the one about the dream, and another about how shopping for medicine reminded me of you. So much has happened. And yet, as I’ve come to realize, so little actual progress along this woeful and treacherous journey they call grief.
The simpler things. I helped your brother move into their new house. It’s huge, and new; you would love it and probably be jealous. The downside is that it’s in Yucaipa. It’s one of those “up and coming” areas that seems like they’re doing a lot of new development, but it’s still a far cry from metro-suburbia. I also helped C&A move. They’re my new friends from church, who I feel have become fairly close over the past several months. They have a precocious 2 year old daughter who I’m quite sure you’d adore, just as you did all children of those you loved and cared for. While I’m helping him reorganize his garage, I take a few furniture items off his hands for use here. Not sure what I’ll do with them yet, but it’s fun to imagine working with the solid wood end-tables and turning them into something unique.
I make an appointment with a therapist to start formally and officially dealing with my grief. With the loss of you. Your death. I haven’t said that word much, if at all, since it happened. It felt ugly to me. Yet it is, clinically and factually, the truth. Obviously the spiritual side of things is still very real to me, and I do know that in some ways you watch over me, and in other ways you are far beyond, infinitely blissful in the expanse of Heaven and the cosmos. But at the same time, you are very much absent from my physical life and my worldly happenings. Memories and triggers are all that remain, and pictures, and possessions with which we struggle to know what to do.
Feeling motivated, I make a vet appointment for the dogs to get them updated with their shots and to get them licensed, so that they’re “official” and can visit the amazing doggie-water-park I discovered in Murrieta. I can’t believe how close it was to where we used to live! We could have gone there, if we’d known. Riding the wave of productivity, I get some more debt consolidation work done and adjust some payment schedules. Work even feels more rewarding this week. As I’m writing this on Friday evening, I look back and am happy, for once, at what I accomplished.
There is an elephant in the room. An ugly one, at that. And it must be dealt with.
One bite at a time.
I hope you can forgive me and help me heal. Send me good thoughts and prayers for the therapy sessions, and try to make sure I stay as open as I claim to be. I love you.
Holy good gawd, has it really been 2 weeks? My apologies, dear reader. As the millennials say, “the struggle is real”. Thanks for bearing with me. 😉
Every day I think of you. Today was no different. I was shopping at Target, refilling some of the now empty OTC medicines that we used to go through by the pound — Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, Zantac, Melatonin, Gas-X. Obviously after October I still had quite a stock-full, but slowly & surely, as I realized that I still need to take care of myself the way you would have wanted me to, I did use them. Aches and pains, upset stomach, insomnia. Most of them help in the way they’re supposed to.
Anyway, this immediately flooded my head with memories. Whether it was with you on one of these hundreds of shopping trips, or bringing them home to you for some much needed relief, or just knowing that you were still looking over my shoulder, gently reminding me that “It’s okay to not be okay.”
I try to stay active, but it’s been hard. The heat wave is killer. Oh we’d be paying heavenly bills right now for A/C, there’s no doubt about that. I’d do it in a heartbeat for you. I’d move the polar ice caps to have you back home with me.
Motivation for work has been a struggle. It’s not that they’re treating me unfair or taking advantage of me, like the old job sometimes did. No, things are great here, still, after over 3 and a half years. Just like you and your mom said they would be. I just can’t seem to find the chutzpa to get up-and-at-it like I used to. Even as recently as a few months ago. Can you help me find it again?
Carry on… Give me all the strength I need, to carry on.
So let the light guide your way. Hold every memory as you go. And every road you take, Will always lead you home.
It’s been a long day, without you my friend. And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.
Since I forgot to prepare something for Friday, these are few random tidbits from my grief journal about little things that remind me of her, sometimes catching me off-guard. I hope that you may find some solace in knowing that they happen to every griever, in a million unexpected ways.
I found myself talking back to a movie like we used to do. It was Shooter, with your boyfriend Marky-Mark (Wahlberg). Such a fantastic movie. But as I was talking to it, I caught myself in a moment as if you were with me. Then it faded just as quickly. We won’t ever do that together again.
This sunburn spot below my neck is driving me insane. You would have reminded me to put on sunscreen for the snow. I miss your reminders. I love you.
After they leave, I gather my strength for one last clean sweep of the old apartment. I purge a little more, I stow the rest in the pickup, sweep and sweep, and finally say goodbye. There is no emotion nor attachment left to this place. You are gone from it; you are with me, but above me, like the subtle hint of rainbows spilling across the sky yet touching the ground somewhere undefined. I know that no matter how close I come to the source, I will not find it again.
As I’m sifting through our old gadgets, I reminisce about our early days. There was that infamous call from the peak of Mount Lassen when I went camping the summer of 2008, just after we’d started talking – the “smile ten-miles wide”. I can still recall that first ten-mile-wide smile on your warm inviting face, those deep steel-blue eyes, that sunny blond hair and sun-kissed California skin. Life began that day. And ended the day you passed away. Nothing in this world will ever be as beautiful as you.
This will likely be the final ‘official’ entry from my grief journal. The number seven has some special significance, so it seems a good place to put the final post. I will of course continue to journal privately, and to work on other forms of writing, such as stories and anecdotes. For those of you who have read this far, thank you. I hope that it has helped you in some small way. Love and light to you.
Family gathers at B’s house afterwards. I eat something, a relatively bland sandwich. I wish someone would have brilliantly thought to bring in La Costa, but I supposed that could be expensive. Still, it would have been nice to have some of their chips and salsa at least. Oh well. Someone from my mom’s side of the family snuck in Fireball whiskey. Yeesh.
The flowers are still so pretty; we all brought them over from the funeral. Your mom is going to make some kind of smaller arrangements and things with them, perhaps even something involving dried petals, so I overheard.
My side of the family decides to head out to a local bar, and makes sure that I know they want me to come along. So I stay with yours for a while at B’s, then head over to State Bar in Redlands. It proves a bit difficult to find, mostly due to the parking situation and the fact that today is Thursday, Farmer’s Market day, which I totally forgot. But I find them anyway with K’s help. They shove food and some alcohol at me when I get there. Which is probably a good thing, considering how little I’ve eaten recently. Although I do get pretty bloated later.
I drive myself & Z home. K decides we need more alcohol. So we run to the store to pick up that plus a few snacky things. Then we play Shanghai. I may have won. Time is so strange now. It seems like it should be hours later than it is, but the days get lost or skipped in my brain.
The remembrance cards are so pretty. I love that your mom did those all herself. With D’s help maybe? You were such a graphic designer, I’m sure you could put ours to shame. I know that you’d be highly disappointed with my slideshows just for the lack of collages and variety (and general picture quality, perhaps). What could we do? You were taken away from us without warning.
The Days After the Memorial
Now the days get worse. I ache, I feel unrested. Parents try to make a nice breakfast but I can’t eat too much. Still, I try.
Sleeping, actually doing better now. The dogs still wake us all up at 6 or 7, but at least I can go back to sleep without a second pill. The house gets warmer than I’d like but I still have to have your Unicorn blanket on me.
Saturday morning I decide to join the parents in their ritual of Starbucks and Great Harvest, with their dogs. We don’t take Keira because of how nervous and stressed she’s been. She stays at the house and just pines for me while I’m away, apparently. It’s okay, she’ll get used to things. The sandwiches are really good. You probably would have liked them. And this odd thing I tried from Starbucks, an “almond protein infused cold brew”. Which is actually blended like a frapp, just without whipped cream and stuff.
Then I head up to Corona after stopping by on the cats. Your dad seems to be hanging in there. We do have to talk about the whole living and moving situation sometime soon. He starts but he knows I have to get going.
My stomach is horribly bloated today, it seems. I just feel icky. Before I left the parents, I took Keira on a little jog through the maintenance road behind the houses. I think she did okay, but I was terribly out of shape. My lungs were the problem, I think, which is what K said; not my legs or feet. Even though I did just wear those Vans, since I don’t have actual exercise shoes. Do you think I should start exercising more? I guess so. You wanted to, a long time ago, before you just kept getting sicker and more hurt.
I’m so sorry my baby. I wish I could have helped you more.
Corona is all happy to see us. Keira does great today, even better than before, and everybody is pretty chill. I think running her beforehand helped.
Today is almost over. I still don’t feel good. My stomach is still knotty. Your mom gave me ranitidine and some other tummy pill. Hopefully it helps. But then I got so hungry again before bed that I had to have of their homemade coleslaw and pasta salad. And a tiny sliver of cheesecake. I probably shouldn’t have done the cheesecake. We both had this problem sometimes, didn’t we? Our eyes bigger than our stomachs. In your case almost literally.
I love you my angel. I know you don’t sleep anymore, that you don’t dream because Heaven is beyond even our best and most wonderful dreams. But please help us rest tonight and please help my tummy feel better.
The Week After the Service
Trying to spend more time with family. We play lots of cards. J&M come over one more time on Sunday and we play a large game of Spicy Farkle. It’s a bit of a loud dice game but it can be kinda entertaining. Keira is still doing well and I take her for a jog again, with K, and we both have trouble making our lungs work the last leg.
Dad helps arrange some trucks and help for “storage emptying day”, which is Monday. B comes with his truck and his fake leg, which he is more than happy to tell not one but three stories about taking it off and waving it at people for one reason or another. You would have loved that. We empty the storage unit in one trip and head back to the condo to stack it all in the living room. It’s a bit overwhelming but I’ll work on it slowly.
Finally, tonight, your dad comes over for dinner. I’m proud of him. Dad grills some really delicious ribeye steaks. I make Mom make the powdered instant potatoes the way you did for that extra fluffiness. Of course your dad talks about old times and the usual, but it’s good for him. I drive him home and then come back to hang out with the siblings for the last time, with another game of, obviously, Shanghai. Then I actually drive home for good, to try to sleep..
My first night back in our bed.
It’s difficult, to say the least.
Keira is obviously missing you too; she sleeps on your side of the bed all night. I wake up at least 3 times. But we get through it. Then your mom actually arrives early Tuesday morning to start cleaning the room and taking clothes home. We have a calm morning organizing things, and then I head out to meet Z for lunch before he goes home. I wanted to stay longer but Mom says she is feeling more connected with you by doing this stuff all day, so I leave her to it.
I was going to come back before dinner but the parents already have it planned, so I check with her before staying, and she’s happy. We play some Starcraft before dinner. Then we have one last card game. I drive home again to get an early bedtime, since I am going into work tomorrow.
The past few days, there’s been an almost overwhelming sense of moving on. Not that I ever will, but it feels that there’s this pressure. Not from people, specifically, but just the universe I guess. It’s hard to explain. I am starting to feel less discomfort and pain, and more of a willingness to get back to work and try to get back into some normal routines.
For the second day in a row, your mom’s cleanup work at home is absolutely stunning. Clothes are almost all gone; bedroom, bathroom, kitchen are all organized; even the dining table is clear! It’s so amazing of her to do this all. I don’t know how she’s doing it, honestly, but it’s either helping her cope or it’s pure adrenaline fumes.
Bed time again. I get Keira up on the bed with me, which I want to keep doing. She was finally able to eat something after I mixed in some beef broth and canned food with her kibble. Hopefully she can continue to get better. She misses you so much. I miss you.
I need you here with me. I keep watching our honeymoon videos on repeat. I need you with me on my upcoming road trip for the tech conference. I need you with me as I fall asleep, as I wake up and get ready for work. But mostly I need your laugh, your smile, your kiss, your embrace. I love you. I loved you.