Sunday, December 25, 2011

Aimee's memorial, and ways to contribute

  If you've been following me on Facebook (or Aimee, who's page I've been updating), you probably know all of this info by now. But if not, here's some info on the memorial and ways you can contribute in leiu of flowers, if you so wish.

  We'll be holding a memorial service for Aimee at 7pm this Thursday, December 29 at Saint Luke's Luthera Church here in Federal Way, WA (515 S 312th St). Aimee had an office there as part of her work as a counselor with Lutheran Counseling Network, and she had a good relationship with the staff there.

  Between myself, Donna and Justin, we are asking that people who would like to do something in Aimee's honor consider one of the following two options in leiu of sending flowers:

  • World Vision's Fund to help Sexually Exploited Children (link below). This is a cause Aimee cared a lot about, and we'd talked about supporting this cause recently. Many thanks to friends at World Vision for setting this up, Jane Henry in particular.
  • If you'd prefer instead to honor Aimee's love for Rowan by contributing to a college fund for Rowan, an account has been set up at Wells Fargo. Checks can be made out to "Rowan Rhoads College Fund" and mailed to Pat Rhoads, 2653 SW 333rd Place, Federal Way, WA 98023. Thanks to Aimee's brother Justin Richmond for setting this up.
  I know it's the holidays, and this is also pretty short notice for those who might consider travelling. I and the rest of Aimee's family are grateful to those who have expressed their support and love, whether or not circumstances allow them to attend the memorial in person. We have been told more times than we can count that we're being prayed for, and trust me, we can feel it. And we're grateful, truly. Thank all of you so, so much.

  Have a Merry and Blessed Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Daddy Look! Mommy's home!"

I arrived home from Florida Tuesday night (actually 2:15 Wednesday morning), and things have been a whirlwind since then, so I haven't had a chance to write. But it's been good, no, great having so many friends and loved ones here in person and in spirit. But now, late on Friday, I have a little time to take a deep breath and share one of the hardest moments since we arrived home. And it was within the first minute.

Aimee's car
Before our trip, whenever I'd have Rowan in my car, we'd look for Aimee's car in the driveway as we pulled in. So if I was bringing Rowan home from school or the store, if Aimee's car was in the driveway I'd say "Rowan, look!" And she'd see the car and say, "Mommy's home!"

Before I go on, I need to tell you that lately, when Rowan says something incorrect or wrong, she stops herself and says, "Oh, I'm just being silly" or "I'm just kidding." I think it's her way of not being wrong, playing it off as intentional silliness.

So back to coming home. When I was pulling into the driveway late Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, I saw Aimee's car in the driveway (we'd taken mine to the airport). Of course, I didn't say anything about it to Rowan. But when I got her out of her car seat and started carrying her towards the house, she turned her head and saw Aimee's car. "Daddy, look! Mommy's home!" As she turned back to me I saw the almost immediate correction cross her face as she realized that of course Mommy wasn't home. Before I even had a chance to respond, she said, initially with just a small smile, "Oh, I'm just being si-" The 'silly' was cut off as she suddenly burst into sobs, dropping her head onto my shoulder. It was the hardest she'd cried since when I first told her about Aimee's death by the pool of the vacation house in Florida.

We stood there in the dark, cold driveway for a few minutes, both of us crying next to Aimee's car. I whispered to her that it was ok, that I missed Mommy too. I acknowledged her being sad, and told her I was sad tjust like she was. And after a minute she gathered herself together, looked at me with the same look she'd given me after I told her about Aimee's death initially, and we went inside.

Has it been hard to be at home?
I've had a few people ask me if it's been hard being back in the house. There are pictures of Aimee everywhere. Her clothes and other personal effects cover the house. We bought the house together, painted it together, made it a home together. Has it been hard to be here?

Strangely, no. I don't know why, but seeing all of her things hasn't had an impact on me. I can look at photos of her and not break down into tears. I unpacked the suitcases from the trip today and washed her clothes with mine, and it felt no different than washing clothes two weeks ago. I don't know why this is, though I think part of it is that I'm still somewhat in a state of shock. But in any event, being here in the house is not difficult, at least not yet. And I'm relieved by that. Because this is Rowan's home too, and I want her life to be as normal as possible to the best I can make it that way. Same schedule, same routines, etc. The biggest thing in her life has changed - her mommy is gone - so I want as much else in her life to be stable. That includes her home.

Now, we'll see what happens after the shock wears off.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Aimee's last day

I spent the flight from Miami to Los Angeles writing this post. It may or may not flow in one long account, but it was written in pieces, often broken by me having to stop and collect myself as emotions of what I was recalling overwhelmed me.

This is the account of Aimee's last day, written from my point of view. At some other point, I may also share what happened on the boat, but I only have others' limited accounts at this point, and I'm not quite ready to share what I do know. But it will be soon, I promise.

Aimee’s last day, Part I: Snuggles and breakfast

Aimee was scheduled to go on her first-ever scuba diving trip on Sunday (12/18). She was supposed to be at Jacobs Aquatic Center in Key Largo at 8:30 for skills classes, done in a pool, so they could learn the basics. (Jacobs Aquatic Center has three pools – all outdoor – a kiddie pool, swimming pool, and lap pool.) After that, they would go on a “Discovery Dive” at Molasses Reef. We had thought she’d be up and out before Rowan woke up, but as luck would have it, Rowan woke up around 7:30, while Aimee and I were still in bed (we shared a room with Rowan at the vacation house – she slept in a bunk near us).

Since Rowan was awake and Aimee didn’t have to leave quite yet, we all three snuggled in bed for a few minutes before Aimee got up to get ready. It was really a nice moment for the three of us. But already Aimee was nervous about her dive, as she had been every time she talked about it.

Aimee just wanted to drink some ‘green sludge’, as she called it (some vegetarian drink that made her stomach feel better when she had “tummy trouble”), for breakfast but I made her take some toast with her. I told her, “You’re going to exert yourself in the pool, and then have TWO dives. You’re going to burn a lot of calories. You won’t be home until WELL after lunch, and you’ll be starving. You’re diving, you need the energy. TAKE THE TOAST.” She gave me that look that loved ones give each other when the other one tells us something we know is right and for our own good because they love us, and she took the toast.

She left shortly afterwards, with Justin and Caroline taking her and dropping her off at the pool. She was still nervous.

After Rowan and I had eaten and Justin and Caroline returned, I took Rowan to Key Largo Community Center. There’s a playground there, athletic fields, and also, as it turns out, Jacobs Aquatic Center. The plan I had was for us to play in the kiddie pool, but for us to play on the playground for a bit first, because I was hoping we WOULDN’T run into Aimee. I was afraid if Rowan saw her, Rowan would cry that Aimee couldn’t play with us or when she had to leave on her dive. I figured we’d wait a bit, and then I’d take Rowan to the kiddie pool after Aimee had finished her classes and gone.

My timing was close, but not quite close enough.

Aimee’s last day, Part II: a goodbye kiss through a chain link fence

When I took Rowan to the kiddie pool at Jacob’s Aquatic Center (after playing at the playground for a while), the divers taking their class were nowhere to be seen in the adjacent adult pool, so I figured we’d timed it right. Rowan and I started playing in the kiddie pool.

After we’d been there for a bit, I spotted a group of people in wet suits walking towards the neighboring parking lot. Trailing just a bit behind was a familiar figure – Aimee. Figuring I’d take my chances with Rowan being sad, I said to her, “Look Rowie (one of my nicknames for her), there’s mommy! Want to say hi?” Rowan did, so I called out to Aimee, picked up Rowan, and walked over to the chain link fence separating the pools from the sidewalk.

Fence at Jacobs Aquatic Center
When we met at the fence, I asked Aimee how the class went and how she felt. She said it was fine, but she was even more nervous than before. I reassured her (for at least the tenth time), that she’d be just fine, and I told her to have fun. I also made sure to say I’d see her soon, as a way of reassuring her that everything would be ok. I knew she was nervous, and I felt by telling her that I’d see her soon that she’d hold on to that to feel better. Then I kissed her goodbye through the fence.

It was our final kiss goodbye.

I did see her one last time, a moment later and a short ways away. She’d changed out of her wet suit and into shorts and a t-shirt as they headed for the boat to go out. I waved, and she waved back. That is the last time I ever saw her.

Aimee’s last day, Part III:  What’s taking so long?

When Rowan and I got home, Justin was there with Donna. Caroline had driven over to the dock to meet Aimee and go on the dives with her to maker her feel more comfortable and ease her anxiety. (Justin and Caroline had been diving for more than a year, so Aimee felt reassured by having Caroline along. In fact, I don’t think she was going to go unless Caroline did go with her.) As the afternoon wore on, Justin and I both became more concerned.

Finally, Justin received a call (I don’t know from whom). He sounded panicked, and asked me for the keys to my rental car (Caroline had his), saying as he ran for the door, “I need your car, there’s been a problem with the boat!” It felt odd, because a ‘problem with the boat’ to me means a stall, or grounded on a reef, or something else that’s not serious. But his tone was on the verge of hysteria.

I waited.

And waited.

And got more and more worried.

I walked out on our deck and watched the darkening skies over the water with foreboding. I felt like I was maybe being a bit dramatic, but Aimee’s nervousness all day was catching up to me, and combing with the dark skies and her brother’s panicked voice, I was getting a pit in my stomach. I kept trying to reassure myself.

Donna and I wondered what was taking so long, so finally I sent Justin a text, “What’s the word?” Calm enough to belie the fear I was starting to feel. No response.

A while later, I tried to call Justin. No answer. I left a message, but he never called back.

Aimee’s last day, Part IV: Terrible news

After an eternity (I have no idea how long it really was), the door flew open and Justin burst in, wide-eyed and on the verge of tears saying, “There’s been an accident, Pat. I’m sorry. She’s gone, she’s gone. Aimee’s gone” As he said this he was rushing towards me and I stood up from the couch where I’d been playing with Rowan. The first split second I was filled with disbelief but a second after Justin came in he was followed by local police officers, a grief counselor, and a pastor. And I knew this was no mistake, no joke. Justin grabbed me and held me and sobbed into my neck, crying out “I’m so sorry!” over and over After a moment I became aware of Rowan clutching the back of my leg and Donna’s shocked, grief-stricken face. Someone went to her, and I disengaged from Justin and he went to Donna as well. I picked up Rowan and headed for the front door, looking for a second to escape and grasp the reality of the news. The police had stayed there by the door, as had the counselor. I stood there a moment and then asked the counselor if she could take Rowan down by the pool for a few minutes while I collected myself and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. She readily agreed.

The next 10-20 minutes were a blur, but Justin gave me the most basic of info: the boat capsized, and Aimee had been trapped underneath. No one had been able to get her out in time.

The whole time I kept thinking, “This can’t be right. If Rowan is to be raised by only one parent, it was to be Aimee, it can’t be me. I’m not the right one for her to be left with. This can’t be right. This can’t be right” It wasn’t exactly denial of her death, but of my sense of order of the world, that Rowan would be best served being raised by both parents, but in lieu of that, Aimee being the one to do it. I can’t. I’m not strong enough, good enough, patient enough, whatever. Aimee has to be in her life for her entire childhood at least. It simply has to be this way. Hell, Aimee was my role model, for crying out loud. How could I be expected to do this without her?

But eventually, I ‘came to’ and realized that this was real, I was going to raise Rowan, and Aimee was in fact gone. I then noticed that I hadn’t seen Caroline come in. I asked someone where she was, if she was ok, and was told she was still in the car, and she was fine. That, at least, was a relief.

The next realization was that I was going to have to have a talk with Rowan, a talk that no parent EVER wants to have to have with their child, especially when that child is only 3 years old. Her mommy is gone.

Aimee’s last day, Part V: Telling Rowan

I told someone near me that I probably needed to go tell my daughter, and that I didn’t know how to say it. One of the officers gently said to me, “She heard what’s going on, she’s aware”. It was meant as a reassurance that Rowan had an idea, but I would still need to explain things to her.
The pool at the vacation house - lots of fun, but near
where I told Rowan her mommy was gone
I said a prayer to God for strength, wisdom and courage, and I went downstairs to the bench by the pool.

Rowan was sitting there with the grief counselor (her name was Carol), and they were playing or talking or something, just sitting on the bench. I told the Carol that I needed to talk to Rowan. She nodded and left.

I sat down and picked Rowan up and set her on my lap. She looked calm, but unsettled. I explained as best as I could that there had been a bad accident while mommy was on the boat, and that she had drowned. I told her that mommy was not coming home, that now she was in heaven with grandpa (we used this same language with her a lot the previous year when Aimee’s dad had died from cancer). It only took a second for me to know if she understood.

She started crying, heartbreaking sobs of a little child who loves her mommy more than anything else in the world. The mommy she cried out to when she woke in the night, and the mommy who held her and comforted her when she was sick.

I cried with her.

We cried together and I held her and we sat there on the bench next to the pool where we’d all had so much fun all week and we cried some more.

After a few moments I saw her look at me with a small degree of curiosity (she’s never seen me cry before), and somehow seeing me cry seemed to make her feel a bit better, as if seeing that daddy was also sad made this somehow less tragic for her, because she wasn’t alone in her sadness. Maybe I’m reading her look wrong, but at any event she stopped crying then, and I got myself under control and I just held her for a few minutes more before I headed back upstairs.

Aimee’s last day, Part VI: Rowan sleeps with daddy, and daddy doesn’t sleep

Much later that night, Rowan and I went to bed. Our room had a queen bed and a set of bunk beds, and Rowan told me she wanted to sleep on the top bunk. I was surprised – I thought she’d want to sleep with me – but I told her she could sleep there since it had a railing.

We read stories, brushed teeth, and said the Lord’s Prayer, as we do every night. “Night, night, Rowie” I said to her.

That’s when something seemed to dawn on her.

“Can I sleep with you tonight?”

“Yes, honey, of course you can.”

“I’m gonna sleep on momma’s side, cuz I’m missing her.”

“OK, sweetheart.”

And we snuggled in the bed together. Rowan slept pretty fitfully, and I slept almost not at all.

I spent the night trying to focus on tangibles, tasks, arrangements. Because when I didn’t, I pictured my beloved wife trying to gasp for air trapped under a boat, struggling to break free, and I couldn’t bear those images.

Aimee’s last day, Part VII: a word about faith
As I think everyone who’s reading this knows, I am a Christian. If you didn’t know that, hopefully it’s only because you don’t know me. My faith should be obvious, and if it’s not, I need to do a better job expressing that faith in how I live my life.
So how do I match my Christian faith up against what happened? For me, that part is easy.
I don’t know why this happened, but I don’t have to know to have faith that all things will work to the best for those that love God. I can’t see how that will be now, but I’ve seen it often enough previously in my life to know it will be so again in this.
I hate what I’m going through and will go through. I hate more, by a factor of thousands, that Rowan has been deprived of her mommy, and that the mother she’s now missing was as amazing a mother and human being as God ever saw fit to put on this planet. And for those who think I’m just building her up posthumously, you’ve never seen my Facebook posts or heard me talk about her. I’ve always know she was something special, and that I was incredibly lucky to have been so loved by her. But despite that, I know that in the greater workings of the world, somehow good will come of this, and it will be greater than the loss suffered. Of that I am confident.
Am I mad at God? Not yet, but I may get there at some point. This loss is huge to me, to Rowan, to the rest of her family, friends and coworkers. Can he handle my being mad at him? Of course. Will He help me through this? Oh yes, and He already is. The sheer amount of people crawling out of the woodwork to help me is amazing, and as we are all called to be God’s hands and feet to each other, so many of my friends from church, former coworkers from World Vision, and many others (not all of them Christians) are coming forward with offers of help. God is surrounding me with tangible love and support in this time of my need.
God loves me. I love God, Aimee loved God. God loves Aimee. Aimee is with God, and so will I also be someday.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Before I leave, a moment at the pool

Tomorrow we'll be heading back to Seattle. Well, all of us except Aimee. She has to stay a few more days for autopsy and then transfer to a funeral home. That gives me a day or two to figure out what arangements I need to make. But I have to admit, I absolutely hate leaving here without her. There's a part of me that doesn't feel right going home without her.

I've done most of my packing, and I'll finish in the morning. But a short while ago I took a break a walked out by the pool behind the house. We had spent a lot of time there during our vacation, and Saturday (the day before the accident) was especially fun. Aimee had bought Rowan an inflatable dolphin she could ride in the water. For whatever reason, her brother Justin thought he'd give it a try. The results of his spectacular failure were hilarious. Determined to show him up, Aimee climbed on and actually stayed on pretty well. Well, until I came along and knocked her off. The whole week was filled with that joyous laughter and fun.

Until today. No one played at the pool today. No laughter. Just silence.

But the good time won't be forgotten. You see, Aimee and I took turns videotaping some of them on Saturday. And I will hold on to those video clips until some day I have the strength to watch them, and show them to Rowan.

Oh, I guess, I do have one other thing. I'm anxious to leave this place, but at the same time I am apprehensive about going home. Filled with so many memories, photos, smells, clothes, personal effects, I am sure that I am going to break down when I walk in the door. But at least it'll be late at night, where I can go in, put Rowan down, and crash.

Rowan tries to understand

So far, Rowan has said two things that show me she is trying to understand the loss of her mommy.

Last night Caroline made spaghetti for dinner, which no one hardly touched (except Rowan, who hadn't eaten a thing all day). Rowan's been really into counting, and she counted the bowls of spaghetti on the table. After counting the five bowls that were there, she sais, "We're missing one for mommy." She didn't say it in a tone that meant we needed to add one, just that she noted the absence. All I could manage to say to her was "That's right honey. We don't have one for mommy."

The second one came this morning. She was talking to her "Ducky", a beloved stuffed animal of hers. Out of the blue she said to Ducky, "Mommy was in a boat and she drowned in the coean, and she won't be coming home." When I asked her about it (I don't recall what I said), she simply replied, "Yeah, I was just telling Ducky." It was said with an odd air of acceptance, not truly grief, but not flippant either.

Both instances were very hard for me. But I can't imagine what it must be like to be a 3 year old who just lost her mommy. Rowan and I are very very close, but nothing replaces the love of a mommy.

Missing Aimee

Today is December 19, 2011. It's the one year anniversary of my father-in-law Terry's passing after a three year battle with cancer. But now it's something even more. It's the day after my wife died in a tragic accident.

Aimee, our daughter Rowan (3 1/2 years old), Aimee's mom Donna, her brother Justin and his wife Caroline and I all came down to the Florida Keys to have a celebration in honor of Terry's life. Part of what Aimee hoped to do was go scuba diving, something she's always wanted to do. Since Justin and Caroline had been diving for several months, they encouraged her to go, and yesterday Aimee took her beginning skills class. After she was finished, Caroline joined her and some other people and they went out for two ocean dives.

I don't know exactly what happened yet, but at some point after a dive, Aimee was back on the boat when it began to take on water and capsized. Aimee was trapped under the boat, and they were unable to rescue her in time.

Thankfully, Caroline was not hurt.

I don't know exacly what I'm going to do with this blog yet, but I was thinking that when I get filled up with emotion and anger and sadness and whatever, I'll post some of it here. I also want to ask others to post their thoughts and experiences here if they moved to do so. Blogger doesn't seem to easily let people log in our create profiles, but if you'll just sign your names to your comments, I'd love to hear from you.