Wednesday, January 25, 2012

From Justin: Collecting Stories

Aimee was an unforgettable person.  Her love, compassion, and dedication to service was unrivaled by any person I've ever known.  For me, remembering Aimee won't be difficult since I've got 32 years of memories with her.  Aimee's impact on my life was and is profound and ineffable, and while I know that there's no sense to be made of her death, that does not diminish the significance of Aimee's life.

Now my goal is to preserve Aimee's impact and legacy for my niece Rowan.  Certainly we've got pictures and family heirlooms that will pass to Rowan to teach and remind her of the kind of mother that Aimee was.  I have even recorded Aimee's voice mail messages off my cell phone so that Rowan can hear the love, the sincerity, the kindness that Aimee exuded even when simply leaving a message to call her back.  But I want to give Rowan more since her loss was the greatest.  I've created an email account to send Rowan letters and stories about Aimee so that she may not have to wonder who her mother is.  The address is simply:

I welcome your stories, scanned pictures, and memories of my beloved sister.  By compiling these resources into one area, Pat and I will be able to print these items out and create a memory book to share with Rowan when she's at an age to understand.  Whether you're an older friend from the Milan years or a newer friend from Aimee's Seattle adventures, your memories of Aimee are important to share with Rowan.  Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts and feelings as I know that will not only be a great comfort now for our family, but will serve to teach Rowan about her mother for years to come.  Thank you.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Single parenting - I didn't sign up for this

Let me start this entry with a refrain well known to almost any normal parent: I love my daughter, BUT...
Aimee and Rowan at the
Key West Aquarium

Seriously, I do love Rowan, more than anything else in the world. And it is my greatest honor to be her daddy. When Aimee and I had her, we talked about how I didn't want to be one of those fathers that was so focused on my work and how I provided financially that I didn't really build a bond with my daughter. (That is not a criticism, just a statement about my choice.) And we lived that out over Rowan's first three and a half years. I took time just for Rowan regularly. We did daddy-daughter dates. I took her for ice cream, had 'tea parties' with her, and so on. We played together a lot. Rowan and I were great pals, even as I maintained my position as father in terms of guidance, discipline (that's been very rarely needed so far, thank God), and direction.

Once in a while, Aimee was almost a little jealous of how close we were, even as she loved me more for the effort I made to be as good a father as I could.

But things worked well because of how great a mother Aimee was. Each of us could cover household duties so the other could spend quality time with Rowan. We could interact with Rowan in different ways according to our different styles, and Rowan got a more well-rounded experience. Aimee told me how children NEEDED that, how good she felt that we were giving that to her.

That all changed December 18.

One of the first things I can recall thinking as I stood in shock of the news that night was how I couldn't possibly raise Rowan alone. I believed Aimee could have - she was amazing and could do just about anything, in my mind - but not me. Yes, I loved Rowan, and yes we had a great bond built already. But between working full time in Seattle (commuting four days a week from our home in Federal Way), and my fatal flaws as a human being (too little patience, too stubborn), I was not equipped to raise a child on my own, especially one so young.


Well, it's been a month now. Rowan's still alive. She's made it to school on time, eaten food regularly, never left the house in her underwear, etc. But covering these basics, while challenging to be sure, are not the measuring stick I use to determine if I'm a great parent. And that's what I want to be, great. Why? Because my little girl is amazing, and I think she deserves that. And that's what Aimee wanted. And that's really what this boils down to for me. Good, bad or indifferent, that's the thing.

I want Aimee to be proud of me as a father.

My biggest opportunity to date happened last night. Rowan decided, just as I was putting dinner on plates, that she didn't want what I'd made. In fact, she got pretty emphatic about it. I got emphatic that what I made was what we were having, like it or not (it was something she'd normally eat happily). As I felt the dialog turning into a confrontation, which I didn't want, and Rowan started to cry, which I also didn't want, I felt some part of my brain gently nudge me towards wondering how Aimee would have handled Rowan: redirection, compromise, choices. Our goal was always to get Rowan's cooperation without having to make it a battle of wills, and to do so without bribery or settling for less than what we expected from her. So how was I going to get out of this one?

Turns out, Rowan did it for me.

Just as my patience was running out (I'm sure Rowan could see it), she forced a big goofy smile (CLEARLY forced, through her tears), and said, voice still breaking but with every effort to sound sincere, "I'm just being silly, daddy. I'm just kidding." She was the one redirecting. She was the one who realized that a confrontation wasn't what SHE wanted and changed the tone. As she stood there with tears treaming down her face but that silly toothy grin plastered on anyway, I couldn't help but laugh and scoop her up and hold her close. "You're just teasing me?" I asked her. She nodded, this time with a real smile. I hugged her some more, kissed her tears, and set her down to finish getting dinner on the table.

We had a nice meal, and she ate pretty well. It was such an incredible moment, and I've never been more proud of Rowan or felt more inadequate as a parent.

I did not sign up to be a single parent. Aimee was the smart one, the patient one, the creative one. Aimee was the parent that knew how to negotiate these things. Not just because she majored in early childhood development in college but because she saw people through a lens of love and that gave her insight on how to deal with them. I don't have that, at ALL. I'm much more flawed than she was.

But I'm it. It's on me, and I have to figure this out. Maybe not 100% on my own, but let's face it, no one else is her daddy. And, well, now her mommy too, as best as I can be when it's needed.

Good thing I have such a wonderful little girl as my child. With God's help and more self-discipline, I'll be OK. I HAVE to. There's just too much at stake.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My last photo of Aimee

Aimee and Rowan feeding tarpon. It's
the last photo I took of Aimee.
Those who know me know I used to really be into photography (still am, when I have time). I combined my love of travel with photography and had a fantastic time. Much of that changed when I got married and we had Rowan.

I thought on this trip I'd have the chance to take a lot of pictures, but it didn't work out that way. Partly because we spent a lot of time staying around the vacation house (mostly at the pool), which is what you're supposed to do on vacation, right? But also because I just wasn't that motivated to take pictures. It was more important to me to just BE there with Aimee and Rowan.

Hence, the last photo I took of Aimee was two days before her accident. We (Aimee, Rowan and I) had driven about 20 minutes south to a place where you could feed tarpon. Rowan was pretty interested in this until she saw how big tarpon are and how far out of the water they'll jump to get the food you have. Then she was far more inclined to let ME do the feeding!

After I'd gone though most of our bucket of fish, I invited Aimee to take a turn. And as she took her turn feeding the fish, I took one quick snapshot of her leaning out over the water, Rowan next to her, waiting for a tarpon to jump up and grab the fish out of her hand. Turns out Aimee was not all that keen on how high the tarpon jumped either. :)

After we were finished, we walked around outside, where there were a few stalls of crafts. Inside one, we found beautiful crosses made out of seashells. We bought one, talking about which wall in our bedroom we wanted to hang it on.

I still haven't hung it up.

Looking back, I wish I'd taken more pictures that week. It was the last week of Aimee's life, and I wish I'd captured more of it. I can't help but look at them now and think about how close to the end of her life she was, and she didn't even know it. None of us did. I see that same smile on her face and in her eyes and looking back now I almost wish I could say to her through time to those days, "Enjoy this! Soak this in! Keep these moments in your heart and hold on to them very tightly during these last hours of yours on earth!" And then I realize that maybe it's me that I want to scream those words to, because Aimee now has eternity to soak in the moments and I'm left grasping at memories that are already weaker than I want and tainted so much by the sadness of what happened just two days later.

It sounds so cliche, but it's true. You truly never know which day will be your last on earth. At the very least, tell those you love that you love them.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The unstoppable march to 'normal'

The old normal included date nights, like this
one in Key West a few days before she died
Last night, Justin and Caroline went back to the DC area where they live. This is actually pretty hard for me, really hard for Donna (they've been staying at her house), and as I found out yesterday, also pretty hard for Justin as well. For Donna, their presence has served to keep her occupied and distracted a lot of the time, plus it's been nice for her to have so much time with family after losing yet another member (for those that didn't know, her husband Terry - Aimee's father - died of cancer almost exactly a year before Aimee's accident). For Justin, being here kept at bay the return to 'normal' life for him.

But as I was saying, I'm going to miss them too. Justin, in particular. We've become a lot closer the past month, and we relate to each other in a lot of similar ways. But this is about more than that. It's the unstoppable march towards 'normal'. Not the normal I've known for the past several years. And certainly not the normal I'd like. But the NEW normal, the one without Aimee in it.

At least this march has been slow, staged. First, we came back from Florida. But it was the holidays, people were on vacation, and lots of people came and went from the house. Not much like normal at all. Plus, Justin and Caroline had come back with us to Washington instead of going home.

Then I went back to work, just part time at first. Rowan was in school again, but still just her normal hours with an extra day added on.

The next week, Rowan was in school full time, and I was back to work mostly full time.

Now Justin and Caroline are gone, and I've hired a sitter/nanny to help me with Rowan from when she gets out of school until I got home from work. In other words, the new normal is here now.

This is tough, because I don't WANT this new normal. Dammit, I want to old normal back. I know I can't have it, but that's what I want. And in lieu of that, I'd like Justin and Caroline to stay around just a bit longer, just because it's nice having them here. It's totally selfish, yes. I mean, they do have their own lives they have to get back to, their own 'new normal' to find. And it's not healthy for me or for Rowan to continue avoiding ours. But just like no one looks forward to pulling off the band-aid that's stuck to a wound, it still has to be done.

Like it or not, the new normal has arrived.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One month ago today, we lost...

One month ago today...
Rowan lost her mother.
Her playmate. Her comforter. Her teacher. Her mentor. Her corrector. Her friend. Her inspiration.

Donna lost her daughter.
Her friend. Her comforter. Her supporter. Her confidant. Her sounding board. Her counselor. Her advisor.

Justin lost his sister.
His mentor. His example. His embodiment of kindness, love, service and tolerance. His example of a Christ-like life.

I lost my wife.
My friend. My lover. My partner. My fellow parent of Rowan. My verbal sparring buddy. My supporter. My advisor. My better half. My sounding board. My comforter.

Aimee's coworkers lost a valuable and loved colleague. Her clients lost a therapist that they knew really truly cared about them and worked hard to help them. Aimee's friends lost the same.
The world lost an angel. A light among the darkness.

Oh, what a great loss for this world, and what a huge hole left in so many lives.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Our last (family) supper

During a conversation with Caroline last night, I realized that Aimee's last meal was toast. And that was practically forced on her by me (see "Aimee's Last Day"). That seemed really sad, so I then recalled what we'd had for dinner the night before. That was a much better memory.

That Saturday night, we were trying to determine what to do for dinner. The big question was, do we go out and spend some money on a nice seafood dinner, or do we go to the store and buy some good seafood we can prepare at the house. After searching the local options, we decided on the latter choice - buying food and eating in. I volunteered to be our family ambassador to the store.

I scored us a nice deal - lobster tails at a pretty good price - and picked up some great accompaniments to go with them. Then between the various members of the family, we put together a really nice meal. We all sat down together, there in the vacation house, and had some great conversation with great food.

And as I sit here writing this, I just recalled what Aimee did during that dinner. After we started eating, she told us she wanted each one of us to say something that we admired about the person across from us. She and Justin had each other. Donna and I had each other. And Rowan and Caroline were paired up (so Aimee said something for Caroline).

It was a really nice, sweet moment, and exactly the type of thing Aimee did - create goodwill and harmony between those around her. She spread love in her own way wherever and whenever she could. We could have skipped that moment and had a really nice dinner, but her effort that night has a chance to make a difference if we'll just remember it and try to replicate it ourselves with others around us.

And to think, in the enormity of the tragedy of the next day, I almost lost that moment. Thank God I got it back.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The monster in my kitchen sink

When Aimee died, her body was taken to the Medical Examiner's office for an autopsy. They take possession of whatever is on her person at that time (clothes, jewelry, etc). All she had on was a wetsuit and her swimsuit underneath. No jewelry (including the still-missing wedding ring) or anything else. When they perform an autopsy, they cut off any clothing and it gets returned with any other personal effects. In this case, that meant that they sent Aimee's swimsuit and the wetsuit back to the funeral home here in Federal Way, and they turned them over to me. Since I got them last month, they've been wrapped in plastic and in a bag in the trunk of my car. I brought that bag into the house today, and set it in the kitchen sink.

Aimee's swimsuit & wetsuit are in this bag.
The paper to the left is an inventory
list from the 
ME's office,
(If you're wondering why I put it there, there's two reasons. First, I was bringing in groceries, so I was making trips to the kitchen. And although the suits are wrapped in plastic, I could tell by the weight that they're still wet.)

After putting groceries away, and with Rowan occupied in the living room, I gingerly began to open the bag. Part of me just wanted to to just throw the whole thing in the garbage, but there was something I had no know: Were there pockets in the wetsuit where she might have put her wedding ring? And besides, there's something about the fact that she was wearing those when she died that made it seem somehow wrong to just toss them into the garbage.

Problem is, other than opening the bag and just kind if pushing the wetsuit around for a second, I couldn't bring myself to look any further. It was as if the bag contained a monster, and I dare not proceed for fear of being devoured by it.

So it's still sitting in my kitchen sink. A monster is sitting in my kitchen sink.

At least it's no longer lurking in the trunk of my car. I mean, it was further away then, and less likely to hurt me from there, but the fact is I have to deal with it. Just like I have to deal with the rest of the monsters around here. Creating the memory box for Rowan. Packing up and storing Aimee's clothes (until I give them away). Taking her name off of the mortgage and bank account. Changing my will and life insurance policy. And filing a claim for her policy (I REALLY need to get that done, but still haven't). There are monsters all around me, and I need to deal with them.

Before they devour me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The miracle of love

I struggled with what to name this post. There really isn't a silver lining to Aimee's death. No 'upside', if you will. It just sucks, period. But that doesn't mean there haven't been some really good things that have happened over the past four weeks.

First of all, people came from everywhere to be a support to us. When we (me, Rowan, and Aimee's family) all got back from Florida, we were in shock and an incredible amount of pain. And there was so much to do and take care of (for me, at least, there still is). But we were not without help. God no. I got home at about 2:15am Tuesday night, and by 10am the first visitors arrived at my house. And with the exception of Christmas night, I wasn't at home alone (not counting Rowan) for the first two weeks. People brought food. People brought gifts. People watched Rowan, ran errands, cleaned up my house. There were people everywhere, and even more who wanted to help but couldn't because they were too far away or there was nothing left for them to do. I tear up just thinking about how well we were loved (and still are, I know).

Then donations started coming in. We asked people to contribute to one of two causes in lieu of flowers (see here for what the options were), and people responded with generosity that would have made Aimee proud. I know I was and am deeply touched by peoples' response. But it hasn't just come from our friends and family. The story of what has happened to our family, and the type of person Aimee was, has touched people who never even knew any of us. The result? To date, $2400 has been donated to World Vision and nearly $5000 contributed to Rowan's college fund. And as I indicated, some of those contributions have come from people we've never even met. Amazing.

Some of the stories are truly wonderful. Like when I opened an envelope I received from some folks in Florida who heard about the incident through local sources and send a card and a check. Or an organization I had worked with years ago but had no contact with since who heard about it and sent a check, plus a book for me to read to Rowan about a child who loses a parent and wants to know what heaven is like so they'll know that their parent is ok. Or the company that my mom works for, who also made a donation in Aimee's honor. Today I picked up a quilt from my church's office that one of the women in the church made for her.

Then there are poeple like Sarah, an old babysitter of Rowan's who watched her (for free) so many days those first two weeks so I could gets things done, even though she had her own grief to deal with (she was good friends with Aimee, plus had a number of other tragic losses in her life recently). Or our friends Nancy and Buck. They watched Rowan a couple of times, plus Nancy was really there for Donna on anumber of really key situations, such as when she went in to view Aimee's body the day after the memorial. And then of course my family, who practically moved into my house in shifts the first week and helped me with, well, everything.

Then there are my colleagues at work. Right off the bat my boss told me, "Don't worry about anything. Your work is covered. Your pay is covered. Take care of yourself and let us know how we can help." My work is getting done and I'm still collecting a paycheck while I try and put my life back together? Hell, I don't need ANY more than that. They gave more anyway. The entire organization chipped in to start paying a cleaning serice to help me out for a bit. Um, yeah, I do like where I work, thank you very much.

Finally, there was Rowan's preschool (St. Nicholas Montessori), who knew I'd need more childcare and was losing nearly half of the family income. So they offered to take Rowan up to full time (she was going three days a week) plus as much before care and after care as I needed, at NO COST. (I thought it was at no ADDITIONAL cost, but when I made my payment this month I heard about it later - they don't want me to pay.)

I could go on and on. So many people rallying around us in so many ways. I've mentioned some here, but there've been many more (Debbie, Pat & Nikki, the folks at Three Trees Yoga Studio, staff and members of Calvary Chapel South and St. Luke's Lutheran, etc, etc, etc).

I would never, ever wish for something like this to happen, but it did - I can't change that. But at least I had just a huge amount of support coming from all directions. I am humbled at the amount of love I've received. I am EXTREMELY grateful to so many people, I've accrued debts I can never repay but which I promise to try and pay forward if I can.

On behalf of Rowan and myself, and all of Aimee's family, I humbly thank each and every one of you. May God richly bless you all.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The First Sign of Hope (a post from Justin)

This post is from Aimee's brother, Justin.

Rowan on a hike this past summer
I've been meaning to write a post for Pat's blog for a few weeks but haven't yet found the courage to share what I feel.  Frankly, the loss of my sister has so greatly dimmed the luster of the world for me that I didn't have anything positive to say.  As Pat told me yesterday, Aimee was the glue that held us together, and the grease to keep all the parts working.  The thought of going through the rest of my life without my sister is numbing, and it's a travesty to Rowan and to my future children that they won't have Aimee to smile and hug and love them.

But last night I glimpsed the first sign of hope since Aimee was killed.  Pat let Rowan have a "slumber party" over at my mother's house.  They spread out a blanket in front of the fireplace and roasted marshmellows.  They watched some Disney cartoons and played make believe games.  I got to watch Rowan smile and laugh, and it made me genuinely smile again and think that just maybe things will someday be alright. 

Rowan was the apple of my father's eye.  Though my father struggled with colon cancer for two and a half years, his time on this earth was greatly lengthened by the hope and the love he had for Rowan.  Aimee went over and beyond any "reasonable" effort to travel to Indiana.  She traveled back to Indiana often so that Dad could spend time with his granddaughter.  Aimee just knew these things; her intuition about people was more precise than anyone I've ever known.  I still miss her terribly, but in Rowan's eye, I can finally see a spark that inspires hope in me again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Misery loves company

"Misery loves company."

To me, that quote always meant that those who are miserable want those around them to be miserable as well. Kind of a "if I'm unhappy then you better be unhappy too" mindset. But over the past week I've applied a new meaning to this phrase.

People who are in misery want others around them to keep them company so they are a little less miserable.

At least that's what I've been going through. I'm naturally more introverted than extroverted. I want and need human contact, but only so much of it, thank you. Then I need alone time, and plenty of it. I could work in my office for hours at a time without talking to a soul, and be perfectly happy.

Not anymore. Now if I'm in my office for more than an hour without a conversation with someone, I get antsy. I've been bringing my lunch (both to save money and to use some of the amazing food people have been bringing us), but increasingly I'd rather go out and eat lunch with others.

I'm not sure how to navigate this yet, especially at home. At work I can talk to colleagues or meet other people for lunch/coffee. But at night, after Rowan goes to bed, that's the hard part sometimes. That's when Aimee and I would cuddle up on the couch and watch TV or talk or play games, and just be. Now I watch TV by myself, or surf the web, or, if I'm really ambitious, try to get some work done around the house like dishes or laundry. And I've been staying up ridiculously late so that when I do go to bed I crash within minutes. But the result is that most nights I get little more than four hours of sleep.

Like I said, I'm not sure how to navigate this yet, but I guess I have plenty of time to figure it out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things I miss

I miss Aimee. Specifically, there are some things I really miss.

I miss the way Aimee and I talked about our lives together.
I miss the way she used to scrunch up her face and look up at me and call me a toad.
I miss our inside jokes.
I miss that I will never get to take her to Paris like I promised.
I miss watching reruns of Scrubs together after Rowan had gone to bed.
I miss, ahem, "cuddle time".
I miss watching her play with and love on Rowan.
I miss family hugs, when she and Rowan and I would all hug together.
I miss how she teased me about being old, and I teased her about being short.
Or how I teased her about being a Discovery Channel geek and she teased me about attending professional events just to meet cute girls.
I miss how she almost never beat me at Scrabble, but she kept trying.
I miss how she always reassured me, supported me, respected me, and most of all loved me.
I miss Aimee.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Aimee's obituary, extended

This is a longer version of the obituary we ran for Aimee in this week's Sunday papers.

Aimee Mildred (Richmond) Rhoads passed away on Dec. 18, 2011. She was born on April 11, 1975 to Terrance and Donna Richmond of Milan, Indiana. An artistic and bright child, Aimee excelled both in her studies and in ballet, which she pursued in her mother’s ballet school. Aimee graduated Milan High School in 1993 and attended Vanderbilt University. Majoring in childhood development, Aimee began her preparations to be a family therapist and counselor. After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1997, Aimee moved to Tacoma, Washington to attend the University of Puget Sound for a Master’s program in Pastoral Counseling. Once graduating and becoming a licensed therapist, Aimee has helped hundreds of families and individuals work through their difficulties to find meaning and peace in their lives.
In 2003, Aimee met the love of her life, Patrick Rhoads. Pat and Aimee were married in 2006 and two years later, welcomed their daughter Rowan Rhoads into their family. While Aimee found success in academia and professional life, few would argue that Aimee’s greatest calling came as a loving mother to Rowan. Aimee’s patient kindness, love, and ceaseless attention to her daughter’s growth and development is rivaled only by her care for her father Terry Richmond while he battled colon cancer for two and a half years. Though Aimee’s life was cut tragically short, she joins Terry in heaven.

Aimee is survived by her loving husband, Pat Rhoads, and her 3 year-old daughter, Rowan of Federal Way. Aimee also leaves behind her mother Donna Richmond, also of Federal Way, and her brother Justin Richmond of Potomac, MD. More information on the tragedy that took Aimee’s life and how to help can be found at

Saturday, January 7, 2012

More on the wedding ring

So, as you know, I'm trying to find Aimee's wedding ring. Short story: it doesn't look good.

Aimee and I on our wedding night
Initially Caroline thought her clothes (and thus her ring) might be in the purse/backpack she had that day. I'm not sure where it had been kept during the dive excursion, but it had made it back to the house in Florida and I'd brought it home. So this morning I located it and practically tore it apart looking for the ring. No luck. And the clothes she'd been wearing weren't in it either.

I then called the Coast Guard investigator in Key West. Didn't reach him but left a message, letting him know what I was looking for. He called me back later (I missed the call), and he left a message stating that they had not recovered those clothes and did not have her ring. Last place for me to check was with Jacobs Aquatic Center (JAC), which is where the group had done their training (in the pool) before they'd gone out on the boat. I had hoped that Aimee might have put her clothes (and ring) in a locker there. However, I'd been in those locker rooms, and the lockers didn't come with locks, and Aimee wouldn't have had one, so I doubted she'd left her clothes there.

I call JAC and spoke to someone in the concessions stand. She told me that any lost valuables that were turned in (like a ring) would have been taken to the manager's office. He wasn't in, but she'd said she'd have him call me. She was also VERY sad about what happened, telling me multiple times how sorry she was for my loss (JAC does not appear to have played any role whatsoever in this incident).

I don't know if the manager will call me or not, but I'm nearly certain the ring isn't there. That leaves only a few other possibilities:
1. One of the other law enforcement agencies that were on scene (shore) somehow took possession of the clothes (seems far fetched, as they would likely have been out at sea where the boat went down, and to my knowledge the Coast Guard was the only one present when the boat was brought up).
2. Aimee left it somewhere at the vacation house and I never saw it, and thus it got left there. Since the owner never called to say an item was found, it either WASN'T found, or someone found it and kept it (second one seems unlikely, there's not even a diamond in it).
3. Aimee put it somewhere in our luggage before she left, and I haven't stumbled on it yet. However, I pretty much unpacked everything, and no ring.
4. It's sitting on the bottom of the ocean a few miles off the coast of Key Largo.

And I'm afraid number 4 is the most likely option.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The ring is missing

"Man, this ring feels weird on my finger."

That was the thought going through my head as I tried to fall asleep on my and Aimee's wedding night. It was the end of a VERY long (but fun!) day, and I was exhausted. Aimee crashed pretty quickly after we went to bed, but I lay awake as I tried to get used to how the wedding ring felt on my hand. It was as is I couldn't get my fingers to fit next to each other correctly anymore, and the odd sensation kept me awake.

For some reason, this memory came to me today. It's probably because I can't find Aimee's wedding ring, and I'd like to have it.

my wedding ring, in a rare moment off my finger
I'd forgotten all about it until last night. I'm not used to thinking about her ring - I've got my own to keep track of. But suddenly last night I realized that I didn't have it, and didn't know where it was. I spoke to someone at the funeral home that handled Aimee's cremation, but they indicated the only personal items released to them from the funeral home in Florida was her swimsuit and the wetsuit she'd been wearing. They called the funeral home in Florida that had taken possession of her remains from the Medical Examiner's Office, and they indicated that the clothes were all they'd received. They also indicated that the ME would have turned over all possessions, so that meant that Aimee didn't have the ring on when she was brought in.

I recalled that the last moment I saw Aimee - shortly before she got on the boat - she'd been wearing shorts and a shirt. That meant she'd changed out of her clothes and into her swimsuit at some point. My guess is that wherever her clothes are, her ring is also, probably in the pocket of those shorts. And those clothes are likely one of two places:

1. In a locker at Jacobs Aquatic Center in Key Largo, or
2. In the bags of items the Coast Guard collected off the boat and out of the water at the beginning of their investigation.

Number 2 is more likely, and I plan to call the Coast Guard tomorrow to see if in fact they have Aimee's clothes and if the ring is there. If they do, but the ring isn't there, there's only one more place it could likely be.

At the bottom of the ocean off of Key Largo, Florida.

I sincerely hope that isn't the case. I'd really like to have that ring back. I know it's a small thing. I mean, it's just a band of white gold (she'd asked for silver, but I told her that she should at least let me get her one that was white gold, since she'd already let me off the hook for a diamond). :) Engraved on the inside is our wedding date, 4-29-06, and the word "ONE", indicating what she and I had become once the marriage was final. Mine has the same engravings inside of it. Nothing big at all, but it is important.

And like I said, I'd really like to have it back.

Christmas without Aimee

The holidays are now past, but last night I was reflecting on what this last Christmas was like without Aimee in it.

Rowan opening presents
In the days leading up to Christmas, things were a blur. Aimee and I had done a little bit of shopping for Rowan before we left for Florida, but left most of it for the four days between our return and Christmas itself. With her death, that left it up to me to get Christmas ready while also planning the memorial.

I spoke with Donna, Justin and Caroline a few days before Christmas, and I candidly told them this: "I'd really like to have you there on Christmas morning when Rowan opens her presents, but only if we can keep the focus on her and the fun of the Christmas morning experience. If there's going to be a lot of tears about Aimee not being here, than please don't come over. I know we don't want to hide our grief, but for just a few hours I want Rowan to just have fun and not have such strong reminders about her mommy not being there. This is the second Christmas in a row in her young life that we mourn the loss of a family member, and I want to do everything I can to keep Christmas from becoming associated with grief and loss for her." I was relieved when all three of them agreed with me on this.

Sure enough, Christmas morning came and all three of them came to my house to watch Rowan open her presents. And as I hoped, Rowan had fun, very few tears were shed during that window, and in fact I think we all got some joy from Rowan's excitement. It helped that Rowan LOVED so many of her presents, especially the new scooter Justin and Caroline got her and the huge dollhouse Donna got her. Rowan's joy was worth the effort it took to maintain composure.

We all sat down and watched a movie after the presents, and then Aimee's family went back to Donna's house, leaving Rowan and I alone. Soon after, Rowan noticed a stocking still hanging by the fireplace that no one had pulled down.

It was Aimee's.

I had asked a good friend of hers to pick up a few things for Aimee's stocking, really for Rowan's benefit (I guess I was afraid that if Aimee's stocking stayed empty, that might upset Rowan, but she didn't even notice it until this moment). Anyway, Aimee's friend Nancy bought a few things that were actually related to things Aimee and Rowan did together (such as beads, which they used to make stuff with), plus a stuffed dragon, who I had put into the stocking so that his head was poking out of the top. She and I quietly opened up mommy's stocking together, and I explained that Santa left these small gifts as if they were FROM mommy to Rowan.

Christmas was really hard without Aimee, but I felt like everyone stepped up and gave Rowan the best Christmas possible under the circumstances. Aimee's family is taking this pretty hard, obviously, but they're handling it with incredible grace and strength. Christmas morning was a great example of that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Two videos from Aimee's memorial

For those who were not able to attend, I am going to try to put as much of it in video form on this blog as possible.

The first two pieces I have are the two songs that were performed. The first one was Aimee's favorite hymn, "Come Thou Fount". Justin (Aimee's brother) mentioned during the memorial that when their father was dying of cancer the previous year, Aimee would sit in his room with him, hold his head and sing this song to him. She loved it, and it's no surprise she used it as a way to try and bring comfort to her father (who she's now reunited with). This is being performed by Joe Monto, the youth pastor at the church Aimee and I attend and an accomplished performer.

The second song is the one that my best friend Bart and I wrote and performed. As I mention in the video, it was finished at 11pm the night before the service, and I only had the chance to rehearse it three times in its final form. Hence, it's not the cleanest performance in the world. But I still feel like it honors Aimee and what she meant to me and how I feel now.

I do also have a copy of the tribute video of Aimee's life that was shown, but the file is way too large at this point. Once I find a way to shrink it I'll post it here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

One last date night

On December 14, the whole clan drove down to Key West from our vacation house just outside Key Largo. The weather was gorgeous and the drive went pretty smoothly. We took two cars (neither rental would fit all six of us), which later would turn out to be advantageous to Aimee and I.

After arriving and eating lunch, we split into two groups. Donna, Justin and Caroline went to the Hemingway House, while Aimee and I took Rowan to a little museum about the history of the wrecking industry on Key West and then to the Aquarium. Both places offered a cool experience.

The museum used actors to share information about the historical significance of wrecking and salvage of ships near the Keys. Above the museum was a tower than went quite a ways up, offering great views of the town and the water. Rowan had fun ringing a bell up there, and the really strong breeze up there only slightly dampened all of our enthusiasm.

Aimee & Rowan outside
Key West Aquarium Dec. 14
The aquarium stop started with an employee standing outside with a large turtle that Rowan could touch, and I took Rowan's and Aimee's picture with it. Inside we were part of a tour that included everyone getting to pet the tail of a shark, feed some of the fish, and a simulated tide pool with real sea creatures that you could pick up and hold. These includes conchs, starfish, and others. Rowan had a blast.

We finished our tour with a stop at an ice cream shop, while the other group grabbed some key lime pie, and then we rendezvoused. It was as we walked back to the cars that I had an idea...

Aimee & I on a date night in Key West, Dec 14
"Hey Rowan," I asked. "Do you want to ride back with mommy and I, or with uncle Justin and aunt Caroline?" To my delight, she chose Justin and Caroline. They agreed to look after Rowan until we got home so Aimee and I could stay and have some time alone. So everyone else went back in one car, and we stayed behind for an impromptu date night.

We went to a seafood place for drinks and appetizers. We followed that with souvenir shopping (and buying a bunch of delicious fudge to take back to everyone else). Finally, we walked along the water and our gazes alternated between the street performers and the sunset. In other words, it was the kind of carefree fun that came so easily to Aimee and I when we were out together. It was a perfect date night.

It was our last one.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Remembering Aimee's memorial

This was the photo used at
Aimee's memorial
As I sit here at home on the evening of New Year's Day, I have a lot to reflect about. This year, when people say "Happy New Year", it's honestly hard to feel like it will be, at least for some time. It was two weeks ago today that she died, and it's only now starting to really sink in.

Three days ago we held a memorial service for Aimee. Frankly, it was a beautiful tribute to a woman who gave so much of herself to others throughout her life. The senior pastor from our church, Kevin Day, did a fantastic opening and closing to the service. Three of her friends came up and read poetry or scripture reflecting their relationship with Aimee or things they knew to be important to her. The youth pastor from our church, Joe Monto, sang an amazing rendition of one of Aimee's favorite hymns, "Come Thou Fount". Aimee's mother Donna spoke very eloquently and sweetly about Aimee ("I am honored to be known as Aimee's mother"). Justin also very well about how Aimee impacted his life. And my speech about being married to Aimee was preceded by my best friend Bart and I performing "Aimee's Song", which we started writing (via email, since he lives in Phoenix and didn't arrive here until Tuesday night) on Christmas night and didn't finally finish tweaking until 11pm the night before the memorial. The service was capped by a beautiful video tribute to Aimee's life. Through everyone's words and the two songs, I truly feel like Aimee was honored, as was her faith in God and the assurance that she's now there in heaven with her earthly father and her Heavenly Father as well.

Up until I arrived at the church Thursday evening, planning the memorial hadn't really gotten to me. All of the looking at photos for the video, writing the song, making arrangements for speakers, video, etc, hadn't really hit me about WHY I was doing all of this. But when I got to the church and walked into the sanctuary, and there was a photo of Aimee's beautiful, smiling face on an easel with flowers, that was one of the times it really hit me why I was there and what I had really been planning.

We were there to pay tribute to my now deceased wife.

My God I love her, and I miss her. And so does Rowan.

As soon as I have video of any part of the service, I'll share it here. Until then, here are the words to "Aimee's Song":

Aimee’s Song 

Our life it was like a dream come true
Because it was fulfilled by you
But one day it went awry in such a flash
Now I’m seeing life through shards of broken glass 

It didn’t have to happen on the sea
The accident that claimed you needlessly
Now the hole within is far larger than life
I can’t get along without my wife

But we’ll meet again in the sunny place
And we’ll laugh, dance in an endless embrace
The wounds of loss healed and the joy returned
All memory lost of how my heart yearned
And we’ll meet again in the sunny place
Laugh and sing and gaze into space
The sorrow dissolves when I see you again
And we’ll be together with no end

Taken up to heaven and left me behind
I know someday I’ll be again by your side
Now I have our daughter and in her eyes I see
The magic and the love that you held for me

So now to honor what you meant to me
More like you is what I need to be
I’ll make you proud, I’ll make you smile
Until you meet me at that final mile

Then we’ll meet again in the sunny place
And we’ll laugh, dance in an endless embrace
The wounds of loss healed and the joy returned
All memory lost of how my heart yearned
And we’ll meet again in the sunny place
Laugh and sing and gaze into space
The sorrow dissolves when I see you again
And we’ll be together with no end

When I see you - When I see you again (It’ll be forever)
When I hear you - When I hear you again (It’ll be forever)
When I hold you - When I hold you again (It’ll be forever)
And I’ll never let go, I’ll never let go, I’ll never let go, I’ll never let go

When I see you again (It’ll be forever)
When I see you again (It’ll be forever)
When I see you again (It’ll be forever)