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Monday, November 23, 2015

'Tis the Season

I know the last post I wrote (a month ago) I said I was going to write about our wedding day.  And I will.  But that's not what I'm going to write about in this post.

And it's not all doom and gloom.  But there's some gloom.  I don't know why I haven't written lately.  It's starting to get jumbled in my mind...the things I've written and the things I want to write.  Sometimes I'll catch myself writing things in my head and think..."I should write this"...and later it's hazy to me whether I wrote it, or just thought it. 

Anyway, there's been so much already written (by me) about grieving and processing and life without Leslie that I don't want to play like a broken record.  But this is it.  This is THE time of year I've been dreading.  The holidays are upon us.

First...Status Report:  We're doing well.  I'm looking at private placement for Lily next year (she graduates to fourth grade and will have to transition out of her current school situation anyway).  She remains more or less unchanged by all this still.

Emma just finished a play at school.  She played Juliet in "Romeo to Go".  It was fun to watch.  Funny.  These 'drama kids' have become her clan and support network.  She's doing well in school.  Sad at times, but overall seems okay.  She and I have been going to the "Caring Place" since late September.  They have ten sessions of "group support" spaced every other week.  We're going again tonight.  Halfway through.

I am doing well too.  I consider, as I always have, nearly every day a good day, though many days have sadness in them, there is more joy than pain.  I'm slowly...very slowly...getting the house back into shape.  Clearing out messes in Leslie's (now Emma's) office, and the dining room, collecting old computer equipment to put out for the garbage, cleaning the basement "weight room/dobby's room" and steam cleaning the carpets (fucking cat).  I get lonely at times, but I've been reaching out to friends more than I ever did before.  And I've been trying to go out eat or to see a band (next week)...just getting some adult time. 

There is this feeling of...being on hold.  Like somehow grief and grieving needs to run its course before I can continue to live my life.  It still seems like most of what I'm doing in some way is based on a reaction to Leslie's passing...and not necessarily on my life.  I have to really think about that.  On the one hand it feels right.  I still have a lot to process and work out before I'm just me.  Before I'm just living my life and not reacting to Leslie's death.  On the other hand it feels wrong.  Thoughts and feelings about and for Leslie will never NOT be a part of my life (though I'm sure they'll change and develop), so I need to just accept that as part of "me" and move forward with it.  Like I said, I don't know.

In the meantime, I'm doing little things for me.  Things that aren't separating me from Leslie, but that somehow draw a distinction.  Leslie liked my hair shorter, and certainly my beard MUCH shorter.  She would never have said no to anything I really wanted to do, but I liked keeping my hair and beard the way she liked it.  So I'm trying something a bit new with both.  I started using Trunk Club for clothes to just update my wardrobe a bit.  It's probably not going to last super long...because it appears to be expensive as fuck, but it helps me with ideas, and if I pick up a few high quality basics and build on it with other stuff, then it's worth it.  I haven't spent money on clothes (that weren't on my birthday or Christmas) in ...decades.  Seriously I was going through my closet and could pick out clothes that I knew I'd bought 15 years ago.  These little selfishnesses seem minor enough that they don't hurt to contemplate or implement.

I find I'm talking to Leslie less.  This hurts.  I compartmentalize a lot, and maybe that's part of it.  But sometimes I forget about the little butterfly monument and makeshift shrine/time capsule that the kids and I planted under the corkscrew willow.  The beauty of recognizing a thing you're doing (or not doing) and being hurt by you can change it.  

Anyway...back to our story...

First, I want to say that I love the holidays.  Well...not Thanksgiving.  Fuck thanksgiving.  So many reasons that Thanksgiving irritates me, but I looooooooove Christmas.  And loving Christmas is unchanged without Leslie, though certainly her absence is a shitty contrast to "joy to the world".

So I had been thinking about Christmas...really I've been thinking about it since Leslie died.  There are so many things that I "thought ahead to"...things like Mother's Day and her Birthday and ...Christmas, happy/fun events where her absence will make them less happy/fun and more bittersweet.  And Christmas is sort of the grandaddy of them all.

Thinking about Christmas, I started planning for Christmas.  And the first pragmatic conclusion I reached was that unlike Christmases past...I wouldn't have that extra set of adult hands needed to either:  help decorate, help direct, organize tasks, or wrangle Lily.  So I decided to start decorating a week earlier than we used to.  Adapted tradition.  Every year we tried to decorate the day after Thanksgiving.  This year, Halloween damn near didn't go up (decorated the day before).  Christmas is just too special to our family for me to let that happen.  So I started dragging out the decorations yesterday.

Emma, noticing I was really beat the night before, tucked me into bed at about 10:15 that night.  The result was that I woke with a ton of energy and was able to get laundry and decorating started.

My folks offered to watch Lily and then have us over for dinner last night, but then switched gears when it became apparent that I was stressing out over being able to get as much done at home as I wanted if we went to dinner and just took Lily for a play date instead.

And I thought...okay...this is going to be okay.  And my sister took Emma to church so I started lugging all the decorations out from the basement behind the stairs to surprise her when she got home.

Having carted the Christmas tree box upstairs, I started moving the furniture to accommodate the tree.  The love seat is really heavy, but also sort of...flimsy?  The furniture twists a bit when you try to move it.  I think it's the result of having the ability to recline.  But it's shitty to move.  And I literally was thinking...I wish I had you here to help me, Leslie.  Like that was in my head.  You should be here helping me now.  And I budged the loveseat with my shoulder and it slid a bit against the carpet and uncovered a bunch of m&m's and some popcorn and paperclips...and...this picture:

And if you've read past posts you know that Leslie's friend Jen is a bit of a butterfly fanatic when it comes to lost loved ones, and I find myself much more conscious of it myself as a result.  To the point where it's become an important symbol of Leslie...and transformation...and ascendance of the soul, and of her watching us and helping us.  And so this stupid card that the school sent home with Lily one year to help her work on vocabulary (we told them she loves flipping through the pictures and labeling them, and we work with her on describing them) is revealed beneath the loveseat as I shoved it aside, my thoughts on Leslie and her help...and I kinda fucking lost it.  A little.  In my fashion.  I sort of gave that half sob sound thing and my eyes welled up and I held the picture in my hands and rubbed the wing with my thumb and felt a little sorry for myself before I smiled, chuckled a bit and thought..."yeah, I know you're here to help me when I need you, baby...but I meant lifting the couch, not emotionally, ass."  Leslie would have laughed at that too. 

So I think I was probably already a little emotional when I opened the storage bin of stocking holders and stockings.  There, put away inside the box in which we first bought it, sandwiched between foam, was the jeweled Christmas tree with "Leslie" engraved underneath for hanging her stocking.  Digging further, the faux fur stocking she had glitter-written "Leslie" across.  What the fuck was I going to do with that?  Even my stocking had her mark on it.  When we'd first started dating we bought matching stockings and wrote our names on them.  Mine came out horribly.  Looked like a 5 year-old had done it.  We kept them like that for years, maybe even until Lily was born, and when we couldn't find a fourth stocking that matched the other last we bought all new stockings and I made her write my name so it would come out legibly. 

The gut punch of the stockings came as these things always seem to:  unexpectedly.  I really SHOULD have known this was going to prove harder than it started emotionally, and maybe that's why the butterfly 'proactively' flapped its colorful wings in my strong, be ready, I'm here to help.  If you believe in that sort of thing...

I wasn't really sure what to do with them.  Throw them away?  I had no sooner thought of it than I had discarded it.  Put them up?  That seemed somehow worse.  In the end I waited for Emma to come home and talked to her.  I nudged her in the direction of "storing them for next year."  Sort of a planned familial compartmentalization until we were better equipped to deal with it.

In the end we finished perhaps 90% of the decorating before Lily got home.  Some things I just don't know how to do.  I don't remember how Leslie decorated the light over the kitchen table or the fixtures above the island...or the dining room in general.  I have boxes of decorations, but it's like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with no picture.  Except that I DO have pictures, I'm almost sure, and I need to go back through old pictures and see if I can piece it together. 

I had to push Emma to help more than in the past.  I don't blame her.  She's usually pretty eager to decorate the trees, but if she was somewhat less eager this year, I can't really fault her.

We're going to be fine.  Christmas will still be great.  But it will be great without Leslie, and so that will make it less great than it could have been.  But we'll manage, together.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Hour

One of the things Leslie told me I needed to do while we were in the hospital together, knowing the end was coming, was, "make friends."  I rarely went out even before Leslie was sick.  I preferred time with the family to time away.  I still do.  But now I feel like I need to be social with people.  Let them in.  Back then I didn't need friends.  I had Leslie.  She was always enough socialization for me. Now...

I went to a Happy Hour with work people a month or more ago.  First time I've done it in years.  Literally years.  At some point during the happy hour a girl, new to the company, was talking to me.  We had been talking about her husband and their dogs.  She pointed across the table to my ring and said, "I see you're married."  Asked me about it. 

I had known it was coming.  Had pictured that moment in my mind.  I didn't know it would be that night.  I thought about what I'd say.  How do you tell someone who has no idea that your wife recently died?  How do you do it in a way that doesn't make them feel like a total asshole?  I didn't let myself come up with an answer though, mentally changed the subject until just then, that night, and she popped that cherry and I found myself completely unprepared.

Everything now seems so pregnant with meaning.  I'm no longer officially married, but I wear a ring.  When do you take off your wedding ring?  Everyone tells me, "When it feels right."  It doesn't feel right.  But I can't help thinking about it.  When will it feel "right"?  That answer seems too simple.  It will never feel right, because the minute I think it feels right I will also feel like I'm betraying her.  Betraying us.  Facebook rolled out this new profile video thing, and I was like..."oooh, cool!" and before I could think about it, I took this stupid little 10 second video and it replaced my profile picture.  And a minute later I was like..."Shit!  That just changed it from the picture of Leslie and I!"  I used to change my profile picture relatively frequently.  Now I can't do it without second-guessing what messages people will glean from it. 

I took my ring off a couple nights ago and massaged my ring finger like she used to, and it made me think about this.  Then I slid it back on.  Maybe it will feel right someday.  Maybe everyone is right.  Whether they are or aren' is not that day.  But maybe I'll know when it is.

"Uhhh," I said, unhelpfully, looking down at my ring, twisting it nervously, "It's sort of weird situation."  It was a horrible non-answer.  I wanted to deflect the question, make it disappear, but my answer just invited curiosity.  She guessed wrong and congratulated me for getting out of a bad relationship.  I let out a long breath and said, more or less, "It's not that.  My wife passed away a few months ago."  And into the shocked inhalation and near comical gesture, her hand going to her mouth, immediate apology on her lips, mortification evident, I quickly said, "You had no way of knowing.  It's weird.  I have this ring, and it's obvious from the ring that I'm married, anyone would think it, and it's just that I'm not ready to take it off yet." Words tumbled out quickly, I tried my best to make her feel better.  It wasn't her fault.

Next to me was a woman who had lost her husband perhaps a decade before.  She pointed to her right hand and said, "I still wear mine.  I just moved it to my other hand." More apologies followed.  The night was ending anyway.  I'd had my beer.  Had my second.  Paid the tab.  I was leaving anyway...but what a way to end it.

So...I'm making friends.  Sort of.  

I miss just rolling out of bed and having a friend to talk to.  Not just anyone, obviously, I mean, I miss Leslie in particular.  But I mean, when you get married, assuming you get along as well as Leslie and I did, you always have adult conversation.  You always have company.  I miss Leslie specifically , but I miss company in general, and conversation, even arguments.  I don't want to make it sound pathetic, because I think somehow it always sounds pathetic when people say it, but I get lonely at times.  Not cripplingly lonely, it's not a cry for help, or an open invitation to drop by (I don't love that), but just missing the mundane day-to-day feeling of being around people I enjoy.  The banter.  Even the small talk.  It's out there for me all the time via social media or whatever, but in person is so much harder. 

I've gone to a local microbrewery a couple times with a couple different friends.  I'm realizing that "making friends" or even maintaining existing friendships requires a bit of work.  I'd love to just "go out" to grab a beer or two and come home, but I have to schedule it, line up a babysitter, that kind of thing.  It's one thing to talk to a friend about "grabbing a beer" and then a whole new thing to actually execute that plan.

I went to meet some "internet friends" recently.  It was fun, but even that wasn't without its strangenesses, since most of my internet friends are female, and I worry what Emma will think.  When I say I'm going to meet a friend from out of town and use the "she" pronoun, I immediately worry what she'll think.  We went to dinner and had drinks, and the idea of getting Uber or a taxi or something exhausted me as I then tried to figure will I get my car back?  So I stopped drinking.  I got "lost" on the way home (phone gps wasn't updating as quickly as I needed it to) and ended getting home about 30 minutes late.  I ended up paying the sitter for 8 hours, and then thought...oh my god, has it really been eight hours??  But I left at 4:30 and I didn't get in until 12:30.  I paid her for an actual eight hour work day...  THAT shit will get expensive. 

And then I think...I had fun, I'd love to do it again, but a sitter...and then think, "I'll give it some time."  Anyway...I started writing this post weeks ago.  The day after the happy hour, actually, and then forgot I started it.  Then I wrote a post for Healthline (which was sweet because I actually got paid for it) here:, and one for Glade Run (which was sweet because I got etc etc) here:  But I think I'll write about the day we got married next. 

I can always go back in time and write about the stuff that we did before we were 'legit' another time, but we've been watching the video of our wedding a lot lately (Lily calls it "Mommy Video") and so it's pretty fresh in my mind.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Memories and Gentle Wind

I am lying in bed with Lily.  Her eyes are heavy-lidded, drooping.  Her face is turned away toward the wall but I can see her eyes, still open, dreamily gazing toward her nightlight between languid blinks.  I am holding her hand with one of mine.  With the other, I am tracing a slow gentle arc from her cheek, over, around and behind her ear, across her hair, sleek and smelling of flowers from her bath, four fingers smoothing it back from her face and sweeping it over her ear.  Slowly.  Over and over.  She is very still.  I look at the clock.  It is 8:45.

My mind wanders as I perform this nightly ritual.  It wanders back to the first time I ever did it, lying in bed with Leslie, as she told me how her grandmother used to run her fingers through her hair in just that same way to calm her.  To put her to sleep.  She shows me on my hair.  It feels nice.  It feels soft and gentle with the faintest hint of a tickle, but not an uncomfortable one.  Like a sort of faint electric thrill at the nerve endings.  It makes me want to purr like a cat.

Virtually every night for twenty years I smoothed Leslie's hair back over her ear.  She was always early-to-bed.  I was always a night owl.  Before I ran or read, watched TV, played video games, surfed the net or wrote into the wee hours of the morning, I first would put Leslie to sleep.  Through the years that slow gentle arc over her ear morphed into back scratches, foot rubs, calf rubs, head rubs, or finger massages, but they all started with that first slow gentle smoothing of the hair from her face.  We called it her rubby-rub.  In the morning she'd wake me up with the same.  A back rub or scratch, a head woke me up.  It put her to sleep.  We limited it to ten minutes each to save on muscle strain.  It was always over too soon for me, the waking one.  She rarely maintained consciousness long enough to feel me finish my ten minutes.

Sometimes she'd take my wedding ring off and rub the finger under the ring.  It felt so good.  Who knew how good a simple finger rub could feel.  She'd pull the ring off clumsily.  It wouldn't budge, tight against the knuckle.  She'd yank it until I'd yelp then she'd get frustrated and give up, so I'd pull it off for her, twisting it as I pulled.  

Sometimes I think about how it shouldn't be any different, me being downstairs alone with the kids while Leslie was upstairs resting in bed, or me being downstairs with the kids with Leslie passed on.  But it is.  Of course it is.  It's just the knowing.  Observing something changes it.  If I didn't know that Leslie was gone would I still be as sad?

Sometimes at work, my mind trips over the phone call.  The nightly call home.  "Hey honey, taking off now.  See you in about 45 minutes."  The habit is there.  I never actually start to make the call, but the urge to reach for the phone and call her still exist, deeply ingrained after years of repetition.  Sometimes I briefly imagine she's there.  If I don't call her, I never feel the gut punch confirmation of someone else answering the phone.  It will never be her again.  But I can toy with the idea of her being there, and me just not calling.  Observing something changes it.

I once wrote a fictional short story around the premise of Schrodinger's Cat.  The idea that you cannot know whether the cat is alive or dead until you open the box to observe it.  It lives as a probability, no matter how minute, until it is observed to have died.  It wasn't about Leslie.  When I wrote it in 2011, Leslie was "cured".  In remission.  Our worries were behind us.  Instead, it was inspired by true events, earlier that week Leslie had gotten an email that a coworker's mother had died, followed by another email that she was not dead, followed by another that she was. Apparently there were three sons, and they had sent word of the woman's passing before the third son knew about it. . . attempted to retract it until he could be told. . . then sent it again once he was notified. She'd died, they just didn't want him to learn in QUITE such a shitty way. In my story, the "hero" gets a phone call that his girlfriend has died only to find out that it's a false alarm.  It is implied in the story that the girl dies shortly after the first call.  Certainly she is expected to, and when the phone rings a second time, the man doesn't answer it.  He packs all his belongings and leaves, taking only her picture with him.  If the box isn't opened, you can never be certain the cat died.  Its life continues as a probability.  So he leaves, loses himself in another city, another country, another culture.  Never calls never writes, never learns whether she dies and allows himself to believe that if there is a probability that she is alive, then she will always be alive.  At least for him.  He saves her life by never observing her death.  I loved the idea of it.  It seemed sweet and haunting but it wasn't great the way I wrote it out then.  It would probably be better now that death has touched me and grief and I are better acquainted. Write about what you know...right?

Anyway, I think of that sometimes.  What's the difference?  When Leslie was alive and I didn't see her, I always knew she was upstairs.  She existed as a probability in that upstairs bedroom.  A strong probability.  We weren't talking.  I couldn't see her, but I always knew I could visit her at any moment.  I always knew I could run upstairs, give her a kiss and an update on the kids, then run back downstairs before Lily grabbed something fragile.  But she wasn't with us.  She wasn't being 'observed'.  I wish I could make my peace with the idea of this unobserved 'better' place beyond where Leslie is...and that place is really no different than when she lay upstairs in bed...a different plane, a higher existence, but still at the heart of it...just "upstairs".  Just like always.  And nothing is different about the scenarios.  But everything is different.  Uncertainty is a sort of questionable deathlessness.  But observing something changes it.  And this isn't an invitation to anyone to tell me, "But Jim it IS just like Leslie is upstairs, you can still talk to her, you can still see her if you close your eyes and think about her" or whatever.  I know.  I know. 

When we told Lily that Leslie was dying, we told her that she was going to live in heaven but that she'd always be with her in her heart, and that if she needed to see her, she just had to close her eyes and remember and Leslie would be there.  That's an immortality of sorts.  Not a Shrodinger's cat kind.  Not a probability.  But a handprint left on the soul of someone who loved her.  Who loves her still. A spark of recollection.  An image of a face.  A remembrance of soft words whispered nightly by a mother who loves you.

And nobody ever is really gone even if you are sitting with her holding her hand as her breath stills and her pulse fades, as it was with Leslie, so near imperceptible that I didn't even feel it go until I questioned it.  Felt for the pulse.  Watched her breathing.  It was slow and peaceful, subtle and silent.  Observed.  Changed.  But everything she touched and everything she observed remained behind, changed by HER observing.  Like the wind.  You don't see it, but you observe it bend branches, and watch the leaves it stirs on the ground.  You can't see it, but it's real.  It is alive.  It exists.  Leslie is still with us.  The gentle wind. 

With Emma, I always tell her to listen to her mother's voice.  It's still there.  We know what Leslie would say.  We know her council.  We listened to it for years.  I can play it out in my mind...that's Leslie.  That's what she would say.  We know whether she'd approve or disapprove.  I can hear her voice saying the words.  Those memories, the way she changed me, the way she help shaped the kids, that's Leslie.  That is Leslie alive and walking.  A gentle wind bending the branches of our lives.

And so tonight in bed with Lily I'm thinking about these memories that keep Leslie alive and in our lives.  Not the funny stories.  Not the anecdotes.  But the things that she changed by observing them.  The things she shaped and developed.  The branches she bent and bends still.  The leaves she stirred and stirs still.  Our kids.  My parenting.  The presence of her moral compass.  And I'm thinking too about this life-preserving passing on of traditions, because here I lie in bed with my daughter, stroking her hair the way her great grandmother, a woman who died before I ever met Leslie, once stroked Leslie's hair.  And Leslie now gone too.  And yet I trace tiny arcs over Lily's ears.  And WHY do I do that?  Because a woman I never met once left an undying imprint on a little girl who grew to be the woman I married.  Who herself grew to be the mother Lily knew.  Who stroked her hair.  Who stroked my own.  Who imprinted me.  And I pass it to the girls.

I wonder who once stroked Leslie's grandmother's hair.  Where did it start?  I'm stroking Lily's hair and I'm thinking about how Leslie's grandmother is alive in this gesture.  I'm thinking about how Leslie is alive in this gesture.  And I see my daughter's eyes are closed.  And she is sleeping.  I look at the clock and it is 8:51.  Six minutes it took to put her to sleep.  It was the same with Leslie.