I’ve been packing and organizing and purging — the more I do now, the less I have to do when I actually begin escrow on a place. I had 2 entire boxes of unsorted planner/notebook stuff. Now fortunately, I know B. will want some of it, particularly the wedding themed scrapbooking bits. But a lot of these planners are dated to the year, so they can’t be useful anymore. As I skim through them to find the pages you actually filled in, I’m always amazed at how you can take something so mundane and bring it to joyful life with your creativity. And reading these entries certainly makes me remember just how lovingly devoted you were to me, and I to you.
Yet there is such sadness and regret in these pages. Because so many of them… SO, so many of them… are empty. The searing irony — these are “Life Planners”, after all. And your life, cut short, likewise leaves so many unfilled pages of potential. Such volumes of unwritten, un-lived words of unspeakable love and laughter, pain and pleasure, happiness and heartache, tears and triumphs. If only I had known. Had come back to you in time to rush you to the ER or to call 911 before it was too late. But it was. It is. Gut-wrenchingly late.
Occasional other reminders jump out as well. Adult coloring books with merely a few pages partway done. A random quote or journal blurb. Dozens of shanghai score-pad pages with stars and hearts over the winner’s initials. Haphazard bundles of coloring pens and markers. Thankfully some of this stuff can be donated and go to a good second home, while other bits can even go to one of our nieces for her artistic pursuits.
When I posted a particularly poignant bit about you not having a baby, J. called you her superhero. That made my heart warm again. Yet cold in quick succession, reminding me that you, and perhaps by some extension, I, will never have that chance. I still say that raising kids in this pandemically-induced-quasi-apocalyptic society would be chaos, and that in a very small and somewhat selfish way, I’m glad that we didn’t, but my heart aches for you that you didn’t. If that makes any sense at all.
I wish things made sense. They still don’t. I loved you. Goodnight sweet angel.
The start of the new decade is brought to you by Steven King, Dean Koontz, and that episode of Supernatural where the globe was plagued by a virus starting with ‘C’ and a post-apocalyptic Chuck told past-future-Dean to hoard toilet paper like it was gold.
No, dear reader, I’m not joking. Look it up. Kinda freaky.
But let’s go back a bit. Winter started with more snowboarding. January was a fairly successful season, as was early February. I took the guys to the slopes. Chuck had a hell of a time learning, while Rex picked it up again after many years away. We decided to make the podcast seasonal, so we topped off season 1 and started making preparations for season 2. The new website is live, along with a fledgling YouTube channel.
Making friends with worship and sound crew at church led to something I never would have expected in the past ten years. But somehow, I think because of your exceedingly musical spirit, it makes perfect sense. One morning, as I arrived just a bit late to practice, F. was already at the board, and he just said “hey Nate, grab that mic.” And the rest of the team encouraged me — “egged me on”, if you will. So I did. And I stood up there and looked at the songs and the words. And I just sang along with them as they practiced. They started telling me how good things sounded with a low male voice in the mix — Rex is of course a low-mid tenor and the ladies are, while not particularly high (in fact, P. is quite low), still distinctly feminine. So I believed their encouraging words. And I kept singing. And that’s how I became part of the worship team.
As the winter got warmer and the snow started to melt, it was pretty clear the ski-season was going to be cut short. I used up almost all my prepaid tickets, thankfully, and got a few more middling-average days in. I screwed up my right shoulder though — doc says it’s probably the rotator cuff tendon. Super. At least nothing was broken though. I do have a gnarly new scar from the fall, just above my right eyebrow. If it were at all jagged you could call me Harry Potter.. but it’s basically just a straight 3/4-inch vertical line, with an ever-so-slight arc. You might find it sexy.. or you might have made me treat it with anti-scar ointment and prevented it in the first place. God I miss your doting.
Oh, and then. Get this. Kobe Bryant died. In a freak helicopter crash. With his young daughter. It shocked the world, for sure. And of course you, being the empath, would have no doubt been in sharp mourning as well. I mean sure, he was accused of rape.. Who knows if that woman was telling the truth or just after money and infamy. But he played some of the damned finest basketball in history. And just like that, GONE. Plastered all over magazine covers and newspapers and headlines, but gone. Legends never die, they say. Tell that to his widow and other children.
But all that pales in comparison to March 2020. The world has become engulfed in the throes of the worst viral disease outbreak it has seen in modern memory. It began, as many things do, in China. Not a xenophobic statement, just a fact — they are the most populous and most industrious country in the world, and if something is going to start, it simply, statistically, will likely be there. Coronavirus, COVID-19, took hold and spread like wildfire. At first is was isolated to Asia. But tourism and trade soon brought it across the globe, to our very shores, even to our own neighborhood. And of course our incompetent imp of a president failed so spectacularly to respond, to prepare and arm the public with concrete factual information, that we’re charted along with some of the worst-handled outbreak scenarios of the 1st-world nations — Italy, Mexico, Spain. “Tremendous” is a word he keeps throwing around, as if it means anything other than the magnitude of his own failure as a leader and a public servant.
Obviously most of this belongs in my memoirs, not in this journal to you. Yet I find it helpful to write to you as if I’m telling you stories of the world that you’re missing while you bask in paradise. It’s unthinkable that there could be any other eventuality.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of change and breaking news. Counties issue “lock-down orders” only to rescind them the next day. The state and federal governments change their guidelines for “social distancing” — a new colloquialism that will surely go down in history as a defining moment of this decade and the generations living through it — as well as self isolation, quarantine protocols, and limitations on gatherings, almost every other day. People panic-buy bread and toilet paper en-masse as grocery stores and warehouses struggle to keep shelves stocked. Schools close. Businesses start to follow suit. The economy, having started the year quite strong, stronger than most would give the current administration credit for, is now in utterly unprecedented free-fall.
Finally, on March 20th, today as I write this, California joins New York and a couple others in declaring a state-wide “shelter in place” order. Meaning, citizens are to stay in their homes except for emergent or urgent needs, or beyond that, to stay close to home and forgo all forms of travel, barring critical events and life-or-death situations. Which means, obviously, that most non-critical industry is on some level of partial or non-operation for the next several weeks. My employer, thank God, has a sensible and morally upright CEO, who has kept communications up during this time and has enacted payroll protections and measures to ensure employees do not panic about their immediate future. What things will look like, how things will change, if the governments continue to enforce lock-down policies, is a another matter entirely.
All this means, of course, that many people suddenly find themselves having to work from home. As I and many other tech workers have done for the past several years. Teachers, for example — God love them for their creativity and their get-shit-done attitudes — have had to literally re-architect educational processes overnight. And successfully, by all accounts, which is nothing short of a miracle.
Imagine if we’d had had children. I mean, they’d only be toddlers, right now, but still. What a world to be raising them in. Is it wrong that I almost wouldn’t wish that? That I’m almost relieved that that is not our reality? I can’t discard all of my cynicism, after all. Your optimism and light-full spirit did wedge its way through my cold heart, but a man does not change so irrevocably, completely, utterly, wholly and absolutely, in one lifetime.
Something I did accomplish today, that I’m slightly proud of, is that I did my usual 2 and 2/3rds mile run with an average pace of 8 minutes and 59 seconds per mile! YES, under 9 minutes per mile!! I never thought I’d see that happen, at least not this quickly. This comes after a recent doctor appointment informed me that I weighed in at 155 pounds. Unfortunately, my cholesterol was still a bit high, but only slightly. So, anyway, yay!
I’m writing all this because I realized how long-winded and philosophical I’d been in some recent text or email exchanges, which of course means that my brain needed to get its thoughts out onto the page. I can’t really explain why this happens. Is it still your spark? Is it me, just growing my own spark? Do we nurture this fledgling seed together from opposite sides of some metaphysical veil? Such questions are not productive.
I loved you. Pray for this world. Pray for our families and friends. I’ve said it at your passing, and I say it now in unison with millions of others: Things will never be the same.
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.
I cracked the laptop screen on vacation. The one that we got for you special, the Macbook Pro with all the upgrades. I was so disappointed with myself. It happened near the end, too. It’s a hairline fracture. Noticeable, but not productivity-hampering. Just enough to really irk me that I let it happen.
We finally gave away the rest of your clothes. I mean, all of the stuff that was worth saving but not brand-new/like-new-that-might-be-sellable-LuLaRoe stuff. Most of it went to J & M up in Oregon. They absolutely loved it, it was like early Christmas for them. There were some things that didn’t fit their style or size, so I returned home with a small bag of clothes to donate to wherever. I left it sitting in the closet, not on the floor but near floor-level.
Keira, while I was gone recording the podcast (@RARCpodcast | iTunes | Google), got into this bag of your clothes and pulled out a shirt. She didn’t chew or bit or otherwise maim it, she just pulled it out of the bag and left it there on the floor nearby. As if she’d smelled your scent, faint though it must have been, for a brief moment, investigated, and found that you were not there.
If only I could tell her how many times I’ve done that. Not literally, of course, but figuratively, metaphorically. Spiritually even.
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.
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.