Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Gauntlet, or, a Month of Hell

Next month is April, a month filled with landmines and almost certain heartache. I used to joke about April being a 'brutal' month, because it features (in order):
1. Aimee's birthday
2. Rowan's birthday
3. My and Aimee's anniversary (would be 6th this year)

Follow that in early May with Mother's Day.

So I used to laugh about all the dates I had to remember and gifts I had to buy. Truth is, I loved it because it was a chance to love and honor two of the girls in my life that I loved so very much, Aimee and Rowan. There was nothing brutal about it.

But that's changed now. I am dreading Aimee's birthday. Rowan's birthday will be fun, but very bittersweet without Aimee there. And I'd be perfectly happy to go to sleep the night before our anniversary and wake up the day after. I really would like to just skip that day altogether, thank you very much. This gauntlet of dates will possibly be the hardest stretch since late December, and may be the most difficult I have to face until the fall and into this coming December. (Aimee and I met on October 25, and our first date was November 1. Of course, the anniversary of her death will be December 18, a week before Christmas.)

I seriously think my counselor is going to earn her money next month.

Getting it from both sides

Lately I'm getting it from both sides.

Over the past couple of weeks, Rowan has become more and more open about Aimee's death, and the fact that she misses her mommy. We talk about it more, look at pictures more, and have even started watching some of the video from the Florida trip over the last two days (more on that later). I'm glad, because I don't want Rowan to bottle it up, but it's also hard. I hate to see Rowan's obvious sadness, and the occasional comment or question I just don't know how to respond to.

On the other side, Aimee's mom is becoming a basket case lately. It's COMPLETELY understandable - Aimee's birthday is coming up soon. As a parent, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to face the birthday of a child you lost prematurely and for no good reason. But it means that EVERY time I've seen her over the last week, she's cried. A LOT. And clutches me and cries into my shoulder or neck. I know she's heartbroken, but taking on and trying to help her through her grief while ALSO trying to help Rowan, well, it's really wearing me down. Especially when you consider I'm far from chipper myself.
Donna and Rowan planting
flowers last summer

The latest episode was last night. Donna wasn't even supposed to come by, but she'd picked up some flowers for Rowan (very sweet of her) and stopped by to give them to her. The previous night she'd asked me about video of Aimee, and after she'd left I'd located our video camera. There are several videos we shot in Florida, some of them a lot of fun, and there are parts where you not only see Aimee and hear her voice, but a couple of places where she's laughing with this pure, joyful glee at the silliness happening in those moments. Rowan and I watched a few last night (at Rowan's request, once she saw the camera), and then again tonight. When Donna arrived, I asked her if she wanted to see a few of them.

She did.

And she sobbed. She grabbed me, dug her fingers into my shoulders and sobbed into my chest. All I could do was hold her.

I don't think things will get better for Donna until after Aimee's birthday. And like I said before, I totally get it. But good God it is hard to be an emotional support for her, and for Rowan, and deal with my own shit that lately has threatened to drive me crazy. Maybe that's why the anger has finally started to really hit me. I spent most of the day today just livid, and not at anyone or anything in particular, but just ready to scream or break something.

Rowan and I are going to get away for a few days. Probably couldn't have come at a better time.

Besides, I need Donna to get a better handle on things before my and Aimee's anniversary comes along. As much as Aimee's birthday is hard for Donna, our anniversary is the date I'm dreading.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The silent half

For the last three months I've had a lot of love and support from a lot of people. And believe me, I've needed it. I think the same has been true for Donna as well. And many times when I talk to people who know me or who knew Aimee or any of her family members, they tell me they're thinking of or praying for me and Rowan and for Aimee's family. This has been wonderful to hear, because I've really needed it, and so have they.

But there's a group if people that have been unintentionally left out. A silent half, if you will.
Aimee with my sister

MY family.

My mother and two sisters loved Aimee with all their hearts. I used to tell Aimee that pretty soon they'd disown me and adopt her in my place, they loved her so much. My mom is not all that prone to strong displays of emotion, but she burst into tears when I called her that night and told her Aimee had died. My sisters were equally affected, and all three of them still are. I never talk to any of them without Aimee coming up in conversation, and they always express once again how much they loved her and how much they miss her. They loved her not just because I was married to her, but because of who she was. They were as affected by her sweet and genuine nature as everyone else. And you know what? Aimee dearly loved them too. My family was part of Aimee's family, and vice versa.

So, though many of you may not know my side of the family, please also think of them and pray for them. They're dealing with terrible grief over this loss too.

Thank you.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A few words about Rowan

One of the areas where I have had the most fear is in the arena of caring for Rowan through her own grief. I have NO idea how a three year old grieves the loss of her mother. I've got her seeing a therapist that specializes in childhood grief and trauma (and she's not cheap, either). But Rowan only sees her every other week, and I'm with her pretty much every day. I've been worried I might do or say the wrong thing, although after three months, I am starting to get a little more comfortable in navigating this with her.

Aimee and Rowan walking
and holding hands in Key West
But counseling or not, one thing is for sure: Rowan is starting to open up more. For most of these first few months, Rowan has not initiated conversation about Aimee hardly at all. If I've initiated a conversation on the topic, she'd respond, but not work to continue it. In fact, she'd been reluctant to talk about Aimee or her death too much, so I didn't push it. But that's starting to change.

Over the last week or so, she's starting shifting a lot. Several times now, Rowan has said, "I miss mommy." This is big because she used to never say that unprompted. Now she is. She's started talking about seeing mommy when she gets to heaven and "jumping onto mommy's cloud with her." Rowan has also talked about 'pulling mommy back down' from heaven so she could see mommy again. And then a couple of days ago, she pretended to do just that, and then asked me to pretend to be mommy so Rowan could talk to her. I obliged her, and it seemed to make her happy. (On a side note, I am used to pretending to be princes, kings, unicorns, pirates, mermaids, giants, Angry Birds and Piggies, and characters from any number of Nickelodeon Jr shows. But pretending to be Aimee was quite a stretch for me.)

Oh, and Rowan did the sweetest thing the other day. She saw a framed picture of the three of us (me, Rowan, and Aimee.) on a side table, and she walked over and kissed it. When I asked her what she was doing, she answered, "kissing mommy."

On the one hand, I'm happy to see Rowan progressing and starting to work through her loss outwardly. It's easier for me to discern what to do or say when Rowan's emotions are being manifested outwardly. On the other hand, it makes her sadness and grief more visible, which is heartbreaking for me to see. Seeing her tender, sweet little spirit so upset is wrenching for me, and it's hard not to get very angry that my little girl has to go through this. It is incredibly unfair that Aimee was taken from us.

And dammit, my little girl should not have to grow up without her amazing and incredible mother.

Leaving DC

I recently traveled to Washington, DC for work. No big deal, really. I was gone, including travel time, about four days. Donna watched Rowan while I was gone. We had Rowan stay there a few times so she got used to it, and I prepared her ahead of time for my absence so she’d be expecting it (that’s key to her coping with changes in routine well).

The trip went pretty well, logistically. Rowan did well at Donna’s. Donna did great with Rowan. The travel arrangements went smoothly. The hotel was nice, and the work went well.

So why am I writing about it?

The trip home got to me. For whatever reason, the process of going through the airport to fly home triggered all these emotions from when we flew home from Florida (that DC trip was my first trip since then). That trip last December was so fricken hard. Aimee had only been gone for two days, and it just seemed insane that we were going home without her when we’d arrived expecting so much fun, and had had a blast for the first six days. Then, in stunned shock, we were walking through the airport, going through security, all the steps we’d been through in reverse just eight days before, but without our beloved Aimee. We were in so much pain that day, unbelievable pain. And going through the airport in DC triggered a lot of that for me again. It was weird, unexpected. And it was hard to shake.
Aimee's phone

Actually, there was one other part of the trip that was difficult, which I just recalled. When I would travel before, I would text Aimee as soon as the plane landed, and then call her from my hotel. I forgot about the texting, but when I got to the hotel in DC, the reflex to call Aimee was so strong I almost actually called her phone. The loneliness of NOT having someone to call, of there not being that someone who loved me so much and was dying to talk to me when I got in, that was hard. Those first few moments in that hotel, of not calling Aimee, were some of the loneliest I've felt since her death.

Incidentally, I turned around and travelled again the next week, and had no such flashbacks or recalled emotions. That's part of what makes all this crap so difficult - the unpredictability. I didn't expect the trouble I had when I went to DC, but it hit pretty hard. Then I half expected it to repeat the next trip, but it didn't. Ugh.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My failure

I'm driving down a hill, a city street. The buildings here are not too tall, maybe on average 3-5 stories. The street is fairly narrow, cars parked on both sides. The hill is fairly long, and the street I'm on ends at a waterfront of some sort - a harbor or a river. I have driven here before, the street is somewhat familiar, but normally I am alone. This time, I am not alone.

Aimee is with me.

It takes me a moment to recognize this fact, and then a second later I realize that she's not supposed to be there. She is dead.

And then it hits me: it's my fault.

I start to cry, I put my hand on her arm, near her hand which is resting on her knee. I begin saying over and over, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." I want to look into her face, to catch her eye, but I can't. I need to keep my eye on the narrow road. And she won't turn towards me. She is silent, stone-faced. She does not tell me it's ok, or that it's not my fault. She does not blame me, not does she release me from my guilt. She says nothing, her facial expression, at least the sliver of it I can see, moves not at all. No warmth, no love, no nothing. And I feel like my conviction of fault is confirmed.

I wake up.

Sometimes when I dream I carry the emotions into the waking moments immediately following the dream. This time, I didn't. I woke up relieved that it had been a dream, and secure in the feeling I'd had since Aimee's death that there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. There's no way I could know how that day was going to go.
The Atlantic Ocean off of Key Largo. As I waited
for news on Aimee, I stared at this from the deck
of our vacation rental.
It was not my fault.

But that dream tapped into something. And that something was that I KNOW Aimee's death isn't my fault, but that doesn't always mean I don't FEEL, subconsciously, like it was my fault. I mean, I'm a fairly traditional guy, and part of that means I feel it is my job to protect my family. Nothing bad is supposed to happen to my girls on my watch, right?

The night Aimee and I got married, I told her dad Terry that I would take care of her. I meant it, and he knew it. But a small part of me can't help but feel like I failed.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The slow but inevitable shift

As sad and hard as it is, Aimee is being moved out of our house.

At the two month mark after Aimee’s death, our friend Sarah took Rowan for a few hours and Donna came over to help me with an important and emotional job: Pack up Aimee’s clothes. I invited Donna because I knew this was something she’d want to be part of. I also knew she’d want to keep a few of Aimee’s things. I wanted her to have the opportunity to go through Aimee’s stuff and take what she wanted. It was a rough morning.

But it was also a large and necessary step in the slow shift in our house.
Aimee's clothes, shoes, etc are in these
storage bins in my garage
More and more of Aimee’s things have been removed. Work files have been turned over to her colleagues. Unneeded paperwork recycled or destroyed. Books donated. And now clothes packed away for storage. (I plan to keep most of them in storage in the garage until Rowan get a little older, thinking she might want to play ‘dress-up’ in her mother’s clothes.)

There was also another reason I felt the need to pack them up. For those who've never been to our house, we bought it as a foreclosure about three years ago, and it had been trashed by the last inhabitants. That's actually how we were able to afford it at all. We'd fixed a LOT of the things wrong with the house, but one we hadn't gotten to yet was closet doors. NONE of the closets have doors on them. So, no matter what I do in my bedroom, Aimee's clothes are right there, staring at me. As soon as I wake up in the morning? I'm directly facing the closet, and her clothes. Need to get dressed for work? Have to get my clothes from next to hers. Get socks out of my dresser? That's right next to her side of the closet. Oh, and when playing hide and seek with Rowan, one of her favorite places to hide is, you guessed it, behind Aimee's clothes. And every time I looked at them, it was a reminder. They had to be packed up and moved out of my room.

I’m not ‘getting rid of Aimee’ entirely. There are still a lot of photos around the house, especially from our wedding. In Rowan’s room in particular, I have added a couple of photos and am adding more. The large print from Aimee’s memorial is also in Rowan’s room. I have also started putting a number of Aimee’s thing into a ‘memory chest’ that I’m putting together for Rowan, so that she can go through different keepsakes and memories of her mother whenever she feels the need to connect with Aimee as she grows up.

But at the same time, I feel very strongly like we have to move on, even if it’s slowly and in small steps. However tragic it may be, Aimee does not live here anymore, at least not in body. Her memory is everywhere – that won’t change. And in some ways, those reminders are getting harder and harder to look at.