Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Remarrying after the death of my wife, Part I: The impact on my daughter

In the months following Aimee's death, my daughter told me that she hoped to have a new mom someday.

Well, she has a new mom.

Some parts of that process have been good. Others, well, not bad, but difficult.

I am one of those people who likes to try and determine the worst-case scenario, and then prepare for it. If something better than that happens, great. If the worst happens, then I was ready for it. And so, our situation is not unexpected.
Life is harder if you're not silly sometimes

In our case, things are not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's, well, normal. Sarah loves my daughter, and my daughter loves Sarah. But despite my daughter being completely on board about Sarah and I getting married, there's now this tension as she adjusts to not being the only other person getting my attention and affection. Plus, she's doing what children do - testing limits and figuring out her own dynamic with Sarah.

Sarah, for her part, had to jump into the deep end of the pool. As an employee of a school district, she has summers off. That means that when we got married in June of 2015, she went from being a single woman with her own condo to being a full-time stay-at-home mom (for a few months). The bonding time for the two of them was invaluable. But it also meant that neither got much of a break from the other, which I think would have helpful when making a major transition like this.

Things have been bumpy at times. My daughter went  into counseling for a bit. Then Sarah and I did. Then we all did some more. Daughter has recently started seeing a new therapist better suited to her current feelings. Sarah and I did another round.

No, it hasn't always been easy.

Now that we're more than two and a half years in, the situation has evolved. Our daughter (yes, I often say 'our daughter' now) is still somewhat jealous of the attention I give to Sarah, but it's better. The two of them are developing a nice relationship that continues to grow. And we all continue to grow together - sometimes with laughter and sometimes with tears, but always with love.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Breaking news, and it's not good

About a year and a half ago, I announced on this blog that the two owners of the Key Largo Scuba Shack - Christopher Jones and Alison Gracey - had finally been arrested on the island of St. Maarten. Of course, the wheels of justice turn very slowly, so additional news had been hard to come by. However, there HAS now been news, and it's not good. Well, actually there was some good news, then bad.

First, the good news. The US petitioned for extradition of Jones and Gracey so they could face charges related to Aimee's death (for those who don't recall, these two are British nationals, not US citizens). The Dutch court in St. Maarten arrested them, seized their passports, and released them on bond based on their lawyer's assurance that they were not a flight risk. Then this past September, the courts finally got around to ruling on extradition, and denied Jones' and Gracey's appeal to block extradition. This, in turn, cleared the way for them to be arrested and returned to the US. Great news, right?

As it turns out, Jones and Gracey, whose passports had been seized, actually WERE a flight risk. Since the Dutch had taken their passports, they simply applied to Britain for new ones. The Brits granted them, and by the time the Dutch authorities came to arrest them to extradite them back to the US, Jones and Gracey had fled St. Maarten. According to the Attorney General's office in Florida, they appear to have moved to France.

Now we will need to start over, petitioning France to extradite them and waiting for that process to run its course all over again.

I accepted a long time ago that these two may never see justice in this lifetime. In order to move on in my own life and build a new life that had joy, I let go of the need to see these two punished for what happened. But don't think for a second that I still wouldn't love for the two of them to see a courtroom someday. And if they do, I'll be there, as will Aimee's mother, brother, and others who loved her.

That possibility, however, now seems a lot more remote.

Friday, June 12, 2015

An arrest has been made. Now what?

So on Monday I found out that those MOST responsible for Aimee's tragic death were arrested on the island of St. Maarten. After the initial euphoria wore off, I started to consider the next logical question: now what?
Scales of Justice: Image courtesy of http://cliparts.co/

First off, I never expected this day to come. As British citizens who were outside the U.S. at the time of the incident, and who were in a member of the British Commonwealth (Bahamas), there was little to no chance of them being arrested or extradited. I had accepted this reality, and decided that I needed to move on with my life with the likelihood that we would never see justice done to these people.

But now that they've been arrested, here's what I surmise what happens next, using my best educated guess:

  1. The U.S. Attorney in Florida will seek extradition of Chris Jones and Alison Gracey to the U.S.
  2. Given that they're no longer in a British Commonwealth country (St. Maarten is Dutch), my hunch is that extradition will be granted, and Jones and Gracey will be turned over to U.S. authorities.
  3. I think formal charges have already been filed, so I think the next step would be the beginning of the standard judicial process: arraignment, bail hearings, etc.
    (My hope is that they are not granted bail. First, they'd been living in the Caribbean for the last few years on the run, so I feel like they've used up their 'hall pass' so to speak. Two, I believe them to be a flight risk. And while they may not easily leave the U.S. without their passports, it's a big country to hide in, and people do manage to sneak out of the country from time to time.)
  4. Then we'll either have a trial, or they may plea bargain to avoid a trial. 
  5. If there's any justice at all, they'll do time in prison.
I can guarantee you this: if there's a trial, I'm going. Another guarantee I can make? No matter how much time they do, it won't be enough to make up for Aimee's loss. But I don't plan to dwell on that. While I do hope for justice, that is part of their life's path, not mine. Whether or not they go to jail impacts them, not me. 

As developments continue, I'll keep everyone posted.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Aimee's killers arrested!

If you're new to this tragic story, here's a very brief recap (a fuller narrative can be found in the paragraph above, just below the "Missing Aimee" title): My first wife (and mother to my daughter) Aimee was killed in December 2011 when the scuba dive boat she was on capsized and sank, trapping her inside. In a post from December 2013, I describe all the parties responsible for her death, including the primary owners of Key Largo Scuba Shack, Chris Jones and Alison Gracey. In that post, I mention that those two were British citizens, that they were out of the U.S.l at the time of the incident, and that they'd basically gone into hiding.

They are hiding no more!!!

According to a news report, forwarded to me by my attorney in Florida, Interpol arrested these two scumbags this past Friday, June 5 on the island of St. Maarten. The US Attorney's office in Florida is now seeking extradition.

Here's a link to the article, though it doesn't actually contain a lot of information.

As anyone who has suffered loss at the hands of someone else will probably tell you: nothing brings back the loved one, but justice for those responsible helps bring closure. This is an incredibly important step toward that justice being served.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My marriage advice to women (and men)

Are you contemplating getting married? If so, please let me offer you some marriage advice.

So now I'm giving out marriage advice? Maybe that seems like a bit of a stretch for a blog about my experience and grief after losing my wife, doesn't it?

Trust me, this is related. And it's important.

There was something Aimee used to say to me when we were married, something that meant so much to me: "I know that if anything ever happens to me, you're going to be a great father to our daughter." When she said it, I took it as a wife and mother just being sweet to her husband. But after Aimee's sudden death, I leaned a lot on that one sentence for encouragement. Aimee had faith in me - warranted or not - and I needed to step up and show her that she wasn't wrong. It was important to me, but it was critical to our daughter that I did so.

I think men and women approach marriage differently. I can't speak for women, being a man, but I just assumed Aimee would be a great mom because of who she was as a a person. I never once considered how she'd do if something happened to me. The fact is, she would've been a rock star, just like she was before she died. When Aimee loved you, she did so with a fierce devotion and dedication to your happiness. There was nothing in the world like being loved by Aimee. That went doubly so for our daughter.

So when Aimee looked at me and said she was confident in my ability to raise our daughter alone, that spoke volumes to me about her faith in me. Either that, or she knew I'd take that as a challenge to meet her expectations.

Aimee and I on our wedding day
Regardless of exactly why she said it, it worked. Since Aimee's death, I have been almost fanatical about my parenting abilities, taking my responsibility to my daughter even more seriously than I did before. And while I of course fall short sometimes, I see the evidence that I'm doing a good job all the time - my daughter is happy, smart, funny, and most importantly, emotionally healthy and stable. Her counselors have said a number of times that I've done as great a job with her as anyone could have ever expected. It's my hope that when Aimee and I meet in heaven some day, she'll say the same thing.

So ladies (and men, too), here's my advice to you:

  • When you're considering whether the apple of your eye is marriage material, think hard about your possible future children, and think about what kind of parent you think they'd be without you there. It is very important that you're honest with yourself about this.
  • Just as importantly, or maybe more so, think about what kind of decisions they'd be likely to make about new relationships. Would he/she be careful about keeping their dating life and parenting life separate for a while, until there was some certainty the relationship would last? Will he/she protect your children's feelings? Will they continue to put your children and the child's needs ahead of their own, and ahead of this new relationship, at least for a good, long time?
  • Can you even handle the thought of him/her in another relationship if something happened to you? If not, I respectfully ask you to read this post.
  • Also critical (especially for women choosing a husband). are they a person who's in touch with their emotions, and knows who to handle them? Grief is a terrible thing, and many people (ahem, guys) don't always handle it well. This is bad for the person grieving, but can be especially harmful on their children. 
  • Most important of all, do they have a solid foundation that they've built their life on? For me, that foundation is my faith in God, as it is for many others too. Other people may have a different foundation for theirs. In any event, there should be something they can hold onto when the world seems to have been turned completely upside down.

It's so easy and understandable to get caught up in the excitement and joy of a relationship. I know, because I've been there. And of course, considering what kind of spouse and parent they'll be is extremely important. But please don't neglect to give serious thought to how they'd do if suddenly left to lead and care for your family on their own.

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)
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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.