Monday, January 12, 2015

On one of life's biggest clichés

What are you doing today?

We all know the clichés, "Life is short", and "Live each day like it's your last", or a hundred others like it. Most of us recognize the truth in these statements, but almost none of us ever does anything with that knowledge.

Why not?

If we got news from our doctor tomorrow that we had a week or a month to live, I'd venture a guess that most of us would spend that time dramatically different than all the days leading up to now. If we got news tomorrow that one of our loved ones was in that situation, I'd bet that once again, our behavior would change significantly as we sought to maximize what time we had left with them.

But here's the rub. We often don't get to know when that last day is coming, for us or for those we love. Many times it comes out of the blue, unexpected, unwelcome, and finding us unprepared. The regrets many of us might feel in the aftermath can stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Why is that? Didn't we all read the "life is short" clichés and take them to heart? Don't we already know that any given day could be the last for us or someone we love?

Of course we know. But we can't go through our lives living in the constant state of fear for our well-being and that of those we love. So we settle into our day-to-day routines, working our jobs, cleaning our houses, running our errands. We begin to take our family and friends for granted, because they've been there, and in all likelihood they'll continue to be there.

Until they're not, that is.

I have been alive for 16,253 days. For the vast majority of those, I've had a lot of control over how I wanted to live those days. What have I done with them? How many of those days would I look back at and think, "I spent that time well"? Probably not nearly as many as I'd like, if I'm honest. And here's the thing: I probably fewer days left than what I've already used. How many? Who knows - maybe zero. I could die in an accident on the way home from work today. Or I could live to be 100 years old. Only God knows.

No matter how many days I do have left here on earth, I do spend a lot more time wondering how I can balance maintaining my responsibilities while maximizing the opportunity that each day of life offers us. Because like others who've suddenly and tragically lost a loved one or nearly died themselves, that tragic loss has changed how I view life, death, and how I spend my remaining days.

So, with a different frame of mind I ask you again, what are you doing today?

My advice? Make it good.

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Photo credit: 
Author: Hamed Saber Author 
URL: https://www.flickr.com/people/hamed/ 
Title: Tehran Sunset Year: 2006 
Source: Flickr 
Source URL: https://www.flickr.com 
License: Creative Commons Attribution License 
License Url: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ 
License Shorthand: CC-BY

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Three years, and Rowan's new grief

I vividly recall how three years ago today, December 18, 2011, Rowan wanted to sleep with me that night. It was only a few short hours after learning of Aimee's death, and although I normally had a policy of not allowing Rowan to sleep with us - I mean me - I didn't hesitate to let that slide on that terrible night.
Our Christmas tree

In the days and weeks following, I noticed that Rowan showed very few moments visible grief. There were triggers sometimes, but for the most part, she seemed OK. However, I knew this was due to her developmental stage, and not that she was unaffected by Aimee's sudden and tragic death. 

During my own counseling and Rowan's I spoke with them about how Rowan's grief would evolve as she grew older. How as she grew in the ways she saw the world and related to people around her, her view of her mother's death would also change. Her grief would change, return, take on new forms. In some cases, she would process parts of her mom's death possibly even decades from now, parts that I processed in the months immediately after.

Well, a new phase has arrived this year. As adults, we frequently associate significant events to the time of year in which they happen. In fact, it had been happening to Aimee in the months leading up to her death, as she remembered the passing of her father the year before. For me, the Christmas season, always one of my greatest joys in life, will be associated with Aimee's death.

And now it is for Rowan, too.

Up to this point she'd never made the connection, for which I was grateful. I took great pains to make Christmas as joyous a season for her as I could, and I hoped (and still hope) that she will grow to love Christmas as much as I do.

But over the last several days, she's been moody, sad, and very clear that right now she's missing her mommy. And as her father, it's hard for me to see her in pain, especially as it amplifies my own on-the-surface-this-time-of-year pain. Additionally, Rowan seems to be distancing herself from Sarah, although I truly believe this is temporary and simply part of how Rowan is coping with her grief.

So here's the bottom line in all this: Although the events of December 2011 are pretty much behind us, the lawsuits all settled or dismissed, a new wife and mother is in our lives, as is a new house and an overall concerted effort to move on, Rowan will be processing this grief for many, many years. Aimee's death has left a scar on her that will never go away, never fully heal, and that will affect so many (as of yet unknown) things about her life.

All for a few lousy dollars to fix a damn boat properly. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The baseball bat of grief

I'm sure you've heard the expression, "(such and such) hit me like a baseball bat"? Well that happened to me today.

At work.

I was plugging away at my job, blissfully listening to my iPod while churning out the stuff I needed to get done. Then it hit me, you guessed it, like a baseball bat: Grief. Hit me and hit me hard.

I love music, and I've been lucky that music hasn't been a big grief trigger for me since Aimee's death. But there's one song that always gets to me, "Dancing in the Minefields", which Aimee always loved. Turns out, that song came on my iPod, and I was so focused on my work that my conscious brain didn't notice. But my subconscious brain did, and eventually it came crashing through to my consciousness and I began to feel a huge wave of grief start to hit me, to the point that I felt tears coming.

I work in an open office, meaning there are no walls between any of us, so I quickly got up and went to one of the private meeting areas to let the moment wash over me and, eventually, pass.

Aimee's death was a little less than three years ago. I'm recently remarried, and quite happy in how my life is going right now. But I know that when it comes to grief, it never fully goes away.

If you lose an arm, you'll eventually learn how to live a happy, normal life without it. But there will still be days when you really miss that arm.

With someone you loved like I loved Aimee, it's much, much worse than an arm.

Sometimes, I really miss her. There are moments when the pain of her death hits me as if it was just days ago and not years. And I know that will probably always be the case, that there will be these moments where the baseball bat of grief comes along and hits me upside the head.

(If you're curious about the song, here's a link to it on YouTube: http://youtu.be/_Gs3fg_WsEg)
_____________________________________
Photo credit information:Author: Jeff RuaneAuthor URL: https://www.flickr.com/people/eioua/
Title: hung up, pt. II
Year: 2008
Source: Flickr
Source URL: https://www.flickr.com
License: Creative Commons Attribution License
License Url: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
License Shorthand: CC-BY


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The hardest wedding vow to say: "Til death do us part"

The basic, traditional wedding vows go along
these lines:

"I [name] take [name]
To be my husband/wife
To have and to hold
For better or worse
For richer or poorer
In sickness and in health
To love and to cherish
From this day forward
'Til death do us part"

'Til death do us part

Wow, do I ever know the full impact of those words.

With my and Sarah's wedding days away, I have thought about those words, and the last time I said them, and how they came back to haunt me after Aimee's death.

'Til death do us part.

We always think that'll be in some far-off future, after kids are raised, and retirement, and a long life full of all the other stuff we say in those vows, such as richer and sickness and so on. We think death comes to us at some point when we'll be more ready for it, or when we sort of expect it (if there is ever such a time for either). In other words, we think we'll have a lifetime together.

Not five and a half short years.

'Til death do us part.

One of the characteristics I approached my first marriage with will be a mainstay of my second one as well: no regrets. I will live life as fully as I can while meeting my responsibilities. I will tell my family I love them, and get over myself enough to share how I'm feeling. I will laugh, I will love, I will live. I will kiss Sarah good-bye and I will kiss her goodnight. I will do the same with Rowan.

And I will do these things...
'Til death do us part.



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Letting go of being mommy

I was daddy. Opposite me was mommy. We did this together.

Then mommy died. I was utterly lost. I knew how to be daddy, but I didn't know how to be mommy too.

And I had a three year old girl who wanted a mommy. Her mommy.

I couldn't give her her mommy.

So I tried to learn to be both mommy and daddy.

I did hair (badly). I bought clothes (better). I listened. I empathized. I held her.

I learned.

And I also still played tackle with her, tickled her, and threw her up in the air and caught her.

And the Mother's Days came and went and the Father's Days came and they went and I celebrated them both with my daughter.

Because I WAS both.

I'm reminded of a time, a bedtime, when Rowan was particularly sad. I tried to comfort her, but wasn't getting very far. Then I remembered how Aimee used to comfort Rowan, and so I asked Rowan, "would you like me to rock you in the rocking chair?" Her face lit up as she crawled into my lap. She rested her head on my chest, and relaxed into me as I gently stroked her hair, kissing her gently on the top of her head. When I placed her back into her bed a few minutes later, she was already asleep.

I pulled the covers up, and kissed her one last time on her head. Although asleep, she smiled a big smile of a child who's loved and secure.

I knew I was mom to her in that moment.

And then...

A new woman came into our lives. Shyly at first. Slowly to be sure.

But now there is love for her and love from her, and soon she will be a formal part of our family.

She will become... mommy. Rowan has already begun to start seeing her as such.

But...

A part of me is sad to let go of being mommy. I took such intense pride in doing both and doing them well. On picture days when my daughter looked amazing, I felt like a good 'mom'. When advising her on managing relationships with her friends, I felt like a good 'mom'. And when bringing baked goods for her class events or fundraisers, I felt like a good 'mom' (and a bad cook).

Consoling her late at night while she cried big tears, missing her mommy, I felt inadequate. But we can't ever win them all.

I have been daddy and mommy. But if my daughter is to have a MOMMY mommy again, I have to let this new part of our family BE mommy.

I have to let go of being mommy.

It's not easy. I want to hold on to keep close to all I have taken on. I proved I could do it, and now I don't want to stop.

But I must. For my daughter. For her new mommy. I have to let go. Well, maybe mostly let go.

I have to let go of being mommy.

I will be daddy. Opposite me will be a mommy again. We'll do this together.


PS. To be clear, the stuff I described as 'mom' stuff can and often is just as much within a dad's role. Dads can cuddle and soothe and bake, and they should do those things. It just happened in my and Aimee's life that we each took on fairly stereotypical gender roles, so the stuff I mentioned as 'mom' stuff had been the types of things Aimee had done for and with Rowan prior to her death. We have definitely made efforts to raise Rowan with the notion that most activities don't 'belong' to a specific gender.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My daughter's landmines

Today I got a call from Rowan's school. That is, to put it mildly, NOT normal.

Apparently, they were preparing to begin work on their annual Mothers Day project, an occasion that has, in the past, caused no difficulty for Rowan. The last two Mothers Days, she's simply made the present and given it to me instead. But this morning was different.

When her teacher called me, she recounted that as she was talking to the class about this year's project, Rowan began to get upset, and was crying by the end. When Mrs. Adams pulled her aside to ask her what was wrong, Rowan stated that she really wanted to give her present to her mommy (Aimee).

Her teacher handled it beautifully, as always. She let Rowan express her feelings, gave Rowan some options to consider, and helped her feel better. Then she called me to let me know.

Rowan will decide if she wants to give the present to me like the last couple of years, or to give it to Sarah since we'll be getting married soon. Or she might give it to her grandma Donna (Aimee's mother). Or she might keep it herself as another reminder of her mommy, and her love for her.

Personally, I don't any preference at all for which one she chooses. I trust she'll do what feels most comforting to her in this moment. And I'm grateful for the people that Rowan has around her to help her through these moments.

These landmines.

You see, I KNOW there will be more of these. As she grows and matures and develops, things that never bothered her before will begin to. Thoughts about her mother's death that never occurred to her before will. Some of them will make her sad. Some will make her angry.

And many of them will be unexpected.

Landmines.

This is the life Rowan faces, thanks to those who were responsible for her mother's death. A life of landmine events and holidays and conversations. The sudden longings for her mother at major life events.

No matter what I wish, there's no way to fix that. It's just part of her life and what she'll go through.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dear Aimee, Happy Anniversary. I'm getting married again.

Dear Aimee,
Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart. Today would have been our eighth, and I have no doubt that the last two and a half years would have been as wonderful as the first five and half were.

If only we could have had the chance to find out.

Rowan is amazing, by the way. I mean, wow. The kid just turned SIX. Can you believe that? But what blows me away is how smart, funny, compassionate, and sweet she is. You know, just like you were. If I was going to have to be a single dad of a child, you could not possibly have left me with a better one. :)

But I guess I'm stalling here. Let me get to the real reason I wrote this letter to you.

I'm getting remarried.

I suppose if you really can see us down here from the glorious heaven above (and I hope for all of our sake that you can't), you already knew that. Sarah and I have been engaged for more than six months now, and the wedding planning began almost as long ago. But with the wedding being now less than two months away, and with today being your and my anniversary, I thought it fitting to tell you now.

I know this is what you wanted. I remember you and I talking about this once, and you making it clear you would want me to get remarried. Maybe you knew Rowan would really want a mom (she does). Maybe you you were aware of how much more work it is to run a household and raise a child on your own. Or maybe you were realistic about how long I'd really be able to last on my own as a single parent. :)  Either way, I recall you being very firm in your belief that if anything ever happened to you, that you wanted me to remarry.

Well, now that time is upon us. And Aimee, I really hope you would have approved of her, especially as she is going to have a huge influence on your daughter.

I think I've done well, choosing Sarah to join our family. First and foremost, she really loves both Rowan and me. And she has in common with you a strong faith in God, a deep desire to care for those she loves, and a healthy dose of patience (which anyone around me needs). Also like you, she is a strong woman, not easily bowled over by life's trials or my Type A episodes.

I'd like to think that the two of you would have truly liked each other, had you had the chance to know each other in this life. And so it is my sincere hope that if you are watching, if you can see us, that you know that Rowan and I both simultaneously miss you every day, but are also happy. And I hope that we would have your blessing on the upcoming marriage and life together. Because since the day you died, I have lived a great deal of my life by the standard of wanting you to be proud of what I've done and the decisions I've made, especially the ones that affect Rowan.

May this decision fall among the ones you would have approved of.

With deepest love and affection on our anniversary,
-Patrick

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The year of huge changes

It's been a huge year.

Around this time last year, I went to Florida for a deposition in the civil case around Aimee's death. By now, that case is closed.

Sarah and I were dating, but had been together for less than six months. As of today, we closed on a house we're buying together, and our wedding is a little more than nine weeks away.

Speaking of houses, my house looks very different. New driveway and walkways and a new exterior paint job have completely changed the appearance of the house, and a new fence and deck are being planned. By this summer, I hope to have the house run by a property management company who'll rent it out for me.

It's the house that Aimee and I bought together, and Rowan and I won't be living there anymore.
Keys - to a house, to a marriage,
to a life

Speaking of Rowan, she's coming up on the end of her Kindergarten year. She's lost a bunch of teeth, all of them within the last year. And she's gone through and processed a lot of life's upcoming changes in her own amazing way (possibly a topic for another blog post).

But not everything has changed. Aimee's mother Donna has been an absolute rock star. She's gone above and beyond to help me with Rowan. She has embraced my relationship with Sarah, despite how difficult it is for her to see me with someone other than her daughter. And she has continued to help Rowan learn a little more about her mommy each time they see each other, which is pretty frequent.

Yes, a lot has changed in the last year, and more changes are coming soon.

But some things have not changed. Some things will never change.

I miss Aimee. I feel it more strongly at some times than at others, but it's always there. Time hasn't changed it. Falling in love with Sarah hasn't changed it. I doubt anything will change it.

And the process of planning a wedding and more importantly, a marriage, have me reflecting a great deal on doing this exact same thing a mere eight years ago.

It seems like so much longer ago, a lifetime in fact. It was a life in which I'd never been married before. A life in which I didn't have any children to worry about. A life which didn't know what it was like to have someone walk through the front door and tell you your wife just suddenly, tragically died, while your three year old daughter gripped the back of your leg.

A completely different life from the one I have now. I'm living a much different life than the one I was leading eight years ago. And I am a much different person in many ways than I was eight years ago.

I am happy, for the most part. Rowan is doing so well, it's just amazing. Sarah and I are working very hard at creating a foundation for a wonderful marriage. But always in the background (and sometimes right in front), is Aimee and her death, and the undeniable impact that has on our lives.

Yes, it's been a huge year with a great many changes. But it feels like I've been through huge changes before, yes?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Does everything happen for a reason?

Romans 8:28: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (NKJV)

I remember as a preteen having a conversation with my mom about religion, and she brought up this verse. I don't recall the context, but I remember being struck by the hope it seemed to offer.

All things work together for good.

This became my "life verse", a phrase known to many within the Christian faith - a particular verse by which people live their lives, or find their hope, or which somehow plays a significant role. For me, a child with an abusive, alcoholic father, this verse offered me the promise that things would work out for good.

And they did work out for good, for the most part. I managed to grow up to be a mostly emotionally healthy human being, free of most of my father's nasty baggage. I found success where he swore I never would, graduated from college, and made a great life for myself. I did not do this on my own, by any stretch of the imagination, for I had many people on my side and supporting me. But I'm sure they were all part of God's plan to make sure things worked out for good.

Then Aimee died.

This image came off the Facebook
page for The Breast Cancer Site,
literally during the same time I
was writing this post
In the aftermath, I grabbed onto the same hope I always had, that somehow, some way, possibly in a place and time I would never see in this life, this would work out for good.

Now I know not everyone believes as I do. But even many of those who do not subscribe to a particular faith still seem to have a need for this hope. For those who do not consider themselves religious, they might reference this hope by another phrase:

"Everything happens for a reason."

In either case, these words offer us a hope that when something horrible happens to us or a loved one, that there will be a redemption of some sort. That even if wrongs are not made right in this life, or if justice is not truly served here on earth, that somehow whatever happened will work towards some type of positive outcome.

But is that really true? Does everything actually happen for a reason? Does everything work together for good?

I met someone fantastic almost a year after Aimee died, and we're getting married in a few months. But just because things are going well isn't the same as 'all things working out for good'. The fact that I'm marrying a great woman is wonderful, but it doesn't take away my or Rowan's pain from Aimee's death. We will deal with this loss for the rest of our lives. So while you can say we're making the best of our lives - and I'm sure as hell trying to do just that - I'm not sure at this point I can say that it's all worked out for good. Or at least not for more good than what we had before, that's for certain.

Of course, we don't know what might have been if Aimee hadn't died. We don't know what the other road would have looked like. It may be that in fact, her dying on that boat was 'for the good'. It may be that the alternative, maybe cancer, maybe something somehow worse, would have been much harder on all of us, including Aimee.

I guess that's where faith comes in. Whether that faith is in God or karma or whatever, I think we all need that hope that when bad things happen, especially senseless bad things, that somehow the end result is going to be a good one.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hearing Aimee's voice the other night

So, Justin (Aimee's brother) saved a series of voice mails from Aimee from the last month or so before she died, and finally recorded them all into one recording and sent them to Donna, who forwarded them on to me. After sitting on that email for a few days, I listened to them a few nights ago. Rowan heard I had a recording of mommy's voice, and asked to listen to them and so we sat and did so together.

It was so weird to hear her voice so normal and, well, HER. Rowan commented that hearing them made her feel like Aimee wasn't dead, but actually was just somewhere else, like at the store or something. I knew what she meant, because that's kind of how I felt too, like Aimee was just away from the house running a few errands.


The voice mails were bittersweet in another way as well. It's sometimes easy for me to forget in the shock and horror of Aimee's death that her family was still very much grieving her father's death the year before. Aimee was especially struggling with grief as the one year anniversary of his death approached (for those who weren't aware, that's actually why we were in Florida in the first place). In the very last voice mail she left Justin, just two days before we left for Florida, she talks about how she'd been slow to call him back because she'd been in am "emotional hole", and hadn't wanted to drag him down.

I'm so glad that the last six days we all had together were filled with so much fun and laughter. Since Aimee had been so sad, it's somewhat of a relief to think that during her last week alive, she was filled with the happiness of being surrounded by those she loved and who loved her. And when I want to hear that, I can watch the video footage we took that week and see and hear how she looked and sounded then.

Talk about bittersweet.

PS: There was bonus material in the recording Justin sent out: In one of the calls Aimee gets Rowan to talk to Justin, and it was really cool and sweet to hear Rowan's 3 year-old voice again. It was right before Halloween, and they were getting ready to carve pumpkins, and Rowan was very excited. So precious and cute. She still is precious and cute, but it's amazing how much kids change so quickly in these early years.