Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rowan is starting to feel it

Right around the six-month mark past Aimee's death, I started to feel like I'd turned a bit of a corner, like things were finally starting to improve. Overall, I was feeling less of a weight of grief on me all the time, and more like I could start facing my future.

But for whatever progress I have now made, it seems a bit like a terrible baton has been passed from me to Rowan. She's starting to struggle.

Given how young she is and the special relationship between mother and child, I have no doubt that Rowan will deal with her mom's death, in some way, for the rest of her life. But these first six months were, at least on the surface, somewhat easy. Her moments of grief, after the first couple of weeks, were pretty few and far between. That has changed dramatically in the last week.

Rowan's grief is obviously much closer to the surface now. She has begun to overreact to small things in a way she's never done before. Not with anger, but with sadness. At small frustrations or incidents, she'll burst into tears and pull herself into a ball. She won't talk about why she's upset or what she wants me to do to fix it.

Lucky for me, it occurred to me pretty quickly what was really going on. For now, I'm meeting her sudden onset crying with quiet consolation, hugs, stroking her hair, and kissing the top of her head (she likes that). I also scheduled her grief counselor, who she hasn't seen in months, to come back this weekend.

I don't know if my own state of mind will stay somewhat calm for a while, or if my own pain will come roaring back from the background and overwhelm me again. I suspect that I'll still have many days ahead of me where I'm drowning in my own waves of grief. But at least at this moment, when Rowan clearly needs me even more than normal, I'm so grateful to be in a little better place emotionally to help her through this.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My first Aimee ghost

I saw her. Last week at the Seattle Aquaruim, I saw her.

Last Thursday I took a vacation day, and spent it with Donna and Rowan. Among the other things we did, we went to the Seattle Aquaruim. Not long after we arrived, I left Rowan with Donna for a moment and took a side trip to the rest room. As I was trying to re-find them again, I saw Aimee.
Or her ghost.

Well, it was neither. It was a woman with a similar build, a near identical hair cut and color, holding a little girl in her arms not much younger than Rowan. She was even wearing nearly the exact clothes I last saw Aimee in - shorts and a white t-shirt (this gal was wearing green shorts, and Aimee's had been pink, but the style was identical). She was taller than Aimee (most adults are - Aimee was only 4'10"), but she was short enough that when combined with the other things I saw, I SWORE it was Aimee for a moment. As this gal turned, I saw her face and she looked nothing like Aimee, but for just the briefest of moments my heart had just about stopped.

I know this is common for those who have lost people they were close to. Even I have experienced it before. When I was in high school, a classmate I really liked was killed in a car accident, and for the next week or so, I kept 'seeing' her in the halls. Of course it wasn't her, but each time there was that jarring instant when I thought it was.

Frankly, I was surprised it took this long before I saw a 'ghost' of Aimee. But the amount of time that's past since Aimee's death didn't take away any of the shcok I felt at the sudden appearance of someone who, at least for a moment, so closely resembled her.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Six months without Aimee - a reflection

When Aimee died on December 18, I could not even begin to imagine a life that didn't have her in it. I couldn't fathom raising our daughter alone. I had not concept of how to single-handedly manage:
  • childcare
  • finances
  • laundry
  • cooking
  • mowing the lawn
  • vacuuming
  • cleaning the bathrooms
  • doing the dishes
  • grocery shopping
  • and on, and on, and on...
Even more, I couldn't imagine not sharing my life and my love with her. I couldn't see how I might succeed at being a good parent without her guidance and encouragement.

And I didn't want to. If I'm totally honest, I did not want to keep living. I wasn't suicidal, but the desire to live was completely gone. When I thought about my remaining years, I simply hoped they were blissfully short. And I felt like if I were faced with death, I wouldn't fight it - I'd embrace it. Those who were around me and with me back then, I don't know if you saw or sensed that about me, but it's true. That's how I felt.

Even the presence of my beautiful daughter was only so much of a help. I knew she needed me, and I wanted to be there for her. But that's not the same thing as a strong desire to live.

Over the last six months, things have changed some. I have settled into a new routine that gets most things accomplished. (Deep down I knew I would - I'm FAR from the first-ever single parent!) I somehow managed to get Rowan through two tummy bugs and bronchitis, the second half of her first year of preschool, and all without her looking like we were homeless. I even got her weaned off of her binky and threw her a birthday party (or rather, paid someone else to throw her a party).

I've held up at work. Not always as well as I'd like to, but enough that none of the important stuff has been dropped. At home I've done laundry, bought groceries, etc. (I haven't cleaned much at all - I'm still using the service that my colleagues across the country all chipped in to pay for, which runs out at the end of next month.) And that brings me to my next point: I HAVE NOT DONE THIS ALONE.

I have had a LOT of help, support, and encouragement. Early on, people brought meals or watched Rowan. Coworkers covered my work and let me ease back into my job. I've received cards, books, and even tickets to a baseball game as a recent Fathers Day gift from someone I've never met (which as I recall was a client of Aimee's). I have been more blessed than I could have ever anticipated.

And this blog has been a lifesaver as well. Having a way to vent, cry, or otherwise release my emotions in a safe way on a platform that others could support me or commiserate with me has been so good for me. 

But more than just that, I am starting to feel 'life' again. I wrote recently about the 'guilt of joy in grief', but what that really indicated to me was that I had actually FELT some joy, even if briefly and with guilt. It's a step. It's progress.

I will live.

"Hi, Love. It's been six months, and I remember..."

Hello, my Love,
As of today, it's been six months since that dreaded Sunday afternoon you were taken from us. I still remember that day so well. And I remember the days leading up to it. I remember the red-eye flight from Seattle the previous Sunday night. I remember the exhausted but excited trek through the airport to get our bags and then the rental car, and how we forgot the carseat at baggage claim until we picked up the car, and had to go back for it.

I remember the seafood restaurant we all ate at on the first night, with the colored lights decorating so many of the boats docked nearby. And I remember the sangria they served that you and Caroline loved so much.

I remember all of us going to Key West for the day that Thursday, and eating lunch at the taco stand. I remember the pirate musuem and the Key West Aquarium we took Rowan too, and the ice cream we got afterwards.I remember our impromptu date night that night in Key West (thanks to Justin and Caroline and Donna for that). I remember you and I taking Rowan to feed the tarpon and then we bought that cross made of seashells.

I remember all the fun times at the pool. Shopping at Shell World. You and Donna and I taking Rowan to the playground. I remember us all eating the Key Lime pie you and Donne bought that Friday.

I remember Saturday, the day before you died, you and I and Rowan and Donna went to a 'beach' where the strip of sand was maybe five feet wide. The sun was scorching that day. The 'sand' on the bottom in the water was more like a gooey, slippery clay. And we had fun anyway. And I remember that after we all got back to the house, and everyone else was napping or otherwise occupied, we snuck in a little 'marital closeness' as you called it. That would be the last time we were close in that way.

And I remember the lobster dinner we made on Saturday night, and the incredibly sweet thing you had all of us do where we said something nice about the person sitting across from us at dinner. What an amazing gift that was during your last dinner with us here on earth.
Aimee and I during a trip to San Diego
If only I'd known that would be your last dinner with us.

I remember that up to this point, the vacation had been absolutely perfect.

That fateful Sunday, I remember you and Rowan and I cuddling in bed that morning. I remember sending you off to your scuba diving training session with toast with cookie butter for breakfast. I remember taking Rowan to play at the playground, and then swimming at the Aquatic Center. I remember seeing you and kissing you good-bye through that chain link fence between the pools and the sidewalk. And I remember that last glance before you left, that quick wave goodbye as you walked away...


I remember Justin getting that call a few hours later, and leaving in a panic. I remember waiting for an eternity for him to come back or answer my text or return my call. I remember feeling dread, and trying to stay calm.

I remember Justin finally coming in, crying and distraught and saying out loud what I feared in my heart, and I remember knowing that it wasn't a joke and it wasn't a mistake because I could see the police and pastor and victim's advocate standing outside the door, looking somber.

I remember feeling Rowan gripping the back of my shorts, and me knowing she was scared and confused, and my heart breaking for her.

I remember sitting her down and telling her a short time later what happened, and her bursting into tears and crying in my arms, and me crying as I held her. I remember feeling that this wasn't right, wasn't right at all, that if Rowan was to be raised by a single parent, that had to be you, my love, not me.

I remember someone made spaghetti for dinner that night, and no one ate hardly any, and Rowan noted that there wasn't a bowl for Mommy. Not because she thought we needed one, but she noted the difference. I remember I couldn't sleep that night, but was haunted with visions of you trapped in that boat as it sank deeper into the water, and you fighting to get out, and you couldn't, and finally your body stopped fighting and gave up.

I remember meeting with the team from the Coast Guard who explained what they thought happened, and that they planned to do a full investigation.

I remember Rowan telling her stuffed toy Ducky about your accident and death.

I remember packing up Tuesday morning, and stopping at the Aquatic Center on the way out of town, and crying at the fence where we had our last kiss. I remember the absolutely hellish trip back through that airport where only eight days earlier we'd been so happy and excited about the vacation ahead of us, but now were filled with despair about a life ahead of us without you. And I remember hating that I was leaving Florida without you.

I remember getting home, and being heartborken that you weren't there with us. And finally, I remember our dog Abbey looking at Rowan and I as we came through the door, and then sniffing the air for you, and then lowering her head and coming to me - she's a good dog, and she loved you, and she knew you were gone.

As of today, it's been six months since that dreaded Sunday afternoon you were taken from us. And I'll never, ever forget how much I lost that day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Aimee's last Fathers Day card to me

You want to know why I think Aimee was amazing. Here's just one of MANY reasons - the card she got me last year for Fathers Day, and what she wrote inside:

Printed on the outside of the card:
"To good to be true...
That's what it felt like the first time I kissed you.

To good to be true...
That's how it feels being married to you.

To good to be true...
That's how each day seems with our beautiful family."

Printed on the inside:
"And words can't express just how grateful I am that you're real, that you're mine, that you've made our life together too good to be true.
Happy Father's Day"

But it's what she wrote that meant so much:
I really, truly feel that I am the luckiest girl to be married to a guy like you. I love you. I trust you. I respect you. I admire you.

You're a loving, tender daddy to our girls & a phenomenal, giving partner to me. What more could I ask for?

Thanks for loving me. I can't wait to see where our journey takes us!
Love you,

(The 'girls' she was referring to were our daughter and our dog.)

Aimee telling me that she loved, trusted, respected and admired me? Those were VERY high words of praise coming from  her. She gave her trust and respect to very few people. To have those, combined with her admiration and her love, well, you can see why I felt to honored ro be loved by her.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The guilt of joy in grief

OK, before we get started you need to know this - I am a child of the 80's and I still do and always will love cheesy 80's pop music. And yes, that is relevant to this post.

A few days ago I put in a CD I hadn't listened to in years: Depeche Mode's "Violator". It's a great album, which I used to love and knew beginning to end. As it played in my car and "Enjoy the Silence" came on (my favorite song off the CD), I cranked up the volume and sang along. It was fun, and for a few moments it was SO much fun I forgot about everything else (except watching where I was going, since I was hauling down the freeway at 70, er, um, 60 MPH). For a few brief minutes, I got caught up in the song, and I was almost transported to another time and place. A simpler time filled with things like classes and crushes and part-time jobs to pay for my junk food habit (which now takes a full time job to support).

I forgot about Aimee, and how much I missed her.

About two thirds of the way through the song, that fact hit me, and I felt terribly guilty. In that moment, I was torn. I KNOW I can't stay mired in grief forever. And I know and believe (I've talked about it here before) that life has joy left in it for me, hopefully a LOT of it. I will slowly move on with my life.

But after six months of grieving, and knowing that at some level, I will feel this for a LONG time, it felt weird and somehow wrong to feel those moments that were completely free of sadness.

I still miss Aimee a lot. I will for a long, long time. But I also know I need to learn to feel real happiness again, even if for now it's just in the memories and feelings brought up by cheesy 80's music.

For those who love this song as much as I do, here's my gift to you. Enjoy the music.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Three years ago...

With this coming Sunday being Fathers Day, I was reflecting that it was three years ago that Aimee and I bought our house. It was a foreclosure, and had been thoroughly TRASHED by the previous occupants, so we got it for a great deal. Catch was, there was a TON of work that it needed.

While I moved us into the new house, Aimee took Rowan (only a year old at the time) back to Indiana to visit her parents. We scheduled the contractors to come in that week and do the bulk of the really big work: rebuilding the upstairs bathroom, new drywall in several places, new windows, new floors, and a few other projects. All the minor stuff, we figured we'd do on our own after we moved in.

Aimee walks in front of our new house the day
the "SOLD" sign went up, end of May 2009
Which brings to me to my reminiscence of Fathers Day three years ago. The house was still a disaster, but the bulk of the big stuff was done. The girls were going to be home in a day or so, and I was on a mission: before they returned, I wanted the kitchen and Rowan's room to be more or less 'done'. I did the kitchen first, cleaning it thoroughly and putting all the dishes, pots, pans, and food away. Then came Rowan's room.

I spent that Fathers Day, the WHOLE day, prepping and painting her room. And when it was done, I spent a good chunk of the night and the next day unpacking her stuff and setting up the room to be ready for Rowan to occupy it and Aimee to take care of her in it. (I did stop long enough to take myself out to a steak dinner that night.)

Three years later, and some of the rest of the projects have been done. Many haven't. I've actually made a push recently to get a lot of the bigger ones we wanted to do completed, which feels very bittersweet to me (although there is NO downside to finally having closet doors in all the bedrooms, which I finally ordered). Those projects were ours, and it's hard to move forward with them without Aimee. But as I pass another Fathers Day and remember painting Rowan's room, I know that my job has not changed - to make this house a home for my family. Ultimately that's done through love, but closet doors and more efficient heating don't hurt either.

Like it or not, ready or not, life moves forward day by day.

Aimee's not dead - she's in California

A week or so ago, Rowan told Donna that she'd decided not to think of her mommy as being dead. "Let's pretend she's on a trip for 1000 years," she said.

Donna told me about this a day or so later, not in front of Rowan, so she didn't know I knew about it. But it was only another day or so before she said it to me too. When she did, I asked her, "Do you know where mommy went?"

Rowan thought about it for a minute. "California, " she said decisively.

Aimee's not dead, she's on a trip
"California?" I replied. "I think that sounds nice. It's sunny a lot there. I think if mommy's going to be on a trip for that long, she should go to places were it's sunny."

Rowan liked that idea, so we talked about other places where mommy might go and still be in mostly sunny places.

So Aimee might 'be on a trip for 1000 years', and might go any number of sunny places. But right now, apparently, she's in California.

So my Love, I hope you're sitting in a comfy chair on a warm beach, drinking a strong beverage with an umbrella in it. Dip your toes in the water for me. I got everything more or less under control here. See you in about 1000 years.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The incureable loneliness

When your spouse dies, you lose a great many things from your life.

You lose companionship. You lose support. You lose encouragement. And you lose love. Loving someone and being loved. And there was nothing greater in the world than being loved by Aimee.

The biggest side-effect of all these combined losses is loneliness.
This smile could cure
almost any of life's ills

When I was married to Aimee, I could always rely on her when things got tough. I leaned on her for support, or encouragement, or simply comfort and understanding. But now I'm going through the most difficult thing I've ever had to go through, and I need her more than I ever have to help me through this.

But she obviously isn't there.

This amazing woman who small body housed a tremendous amount of love is no longer there for me at a time when I need her more than I ever have. In fact, there simply isn't anyone who I can lean on the same way I leaned on her. And not having someone there to comfort me the way she did actually magnifies the pain. At least before, there was comfort. Now there's nothing.

And the hardest part is that I can't do a damn thing about it.

I am truly blessed to have a strong circle of family and friends to love and support me. This is true, and it's been critical to my getting through this so far. But it's not even close to the same thing. No offense everyone, but none of you is Aimee. None of you loves me the same way she did. You may love me in your own (and valuable) ways, but it's not the same.

For example, I was laid off from my job two years ago. Friends and family were VERY supportive, and I got some great help and advice from many people. But no one comforted and supported me like Aimee did. She was, as she always was, amazing. When I would worry or get frustrated with my job search (which was blissfully short), she'd hug me and look up at me with her million-watt smile and tell me she knew I was doing the best job possible and that she trusted me and God to get us through this.

This trial I'm going through is difficult. I wish I had my Aimee here to help me.

I wish, I wish, I wish...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The decision

As I move through this grief process, I have come to a decision - a decision to move on.

This journey is long and difficult,
and far from over
This does not mean that I am finished grieving. In fact, my grief is as strong as it has ever been over the last roughly six months. It also doesn't mean that my life is about to change in any real way any time soon. Even at this very moment the thought of Aimee and the fact that she's gone for the rest of my life fills me with an almost unbearable pain that I desperately want to escape from. No, I am not finished grieving. This 'decision' is less of a defining moment than it is a mark of a gradual turning point in a long journey.

This decision is the result of months of trudging through pain, tears, grief, anger, despair, and more. And that journey is not complete. Hell, in many ways it's just barely begun, I suspect. This journey will take years.

But for the first time, I am starting to feel like some of the words I've been saying will eventually come true. Not today, or tomorrow, but someday. Words like:

  • I need to continue to live my life.
  • I will show Rowan that there can be, will be, and is happiness in life even after such a huge and tragic loss.
  • Life is short, unpredictable, and fragile, so you better live life while you're still alive.
  • I will be happy again. I will find joy in life again. (Right now, I do find these things in Rowan, but in little else.)

These are things I've been saying but haven't really meant to this point. I've hoped them, wished them, and tried to make them real. But until recently, I haven't felt like they were true. That is starting to shift.

Who knows, maybe I feel this way right now, for a few days, and then regress into what I've been feeling and stay there for weeks or months more. In fact, that probably will happen. But deep down, I know that slowly, slowly, like a turtle making his way through a puddle of molasses, I am working towards a day when I can feel real happiness again.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The solitude of single parenting

Although this post is born of the loss of my wife, I believe any and all single parents might find at least some truths in this post.

It's near the end of the school year, and my daughter will be completing her first year of preschool. Now I know in the grand scheme of life, this is not a big deal. But as a milestone for a child, finishing her first year of preschool is kind of a big deal to me. However, it's also sad.

When I looked at my daughter's school calendar and saw that the last day was coming up, the first instant brought a bit of fatherly pride, which was immediately followed by the sadness of knowing that Aimee would have loved this milestone. It's just one of many ways that I feel alone as a single parent sometimes.
Like when:
  • At a Christmas program days after Aimee's death, the children in the audience were allowed to come on stage and sing a song. My little one went up, a bit hesitant, but excited to get to go on stage. It was a proud moment, and I cried because I couldn't share it with Aimee.
  • There was an assignment my daughter brought home from school that she'd done a particularly great job on. I decided it was going into the 'Box", a container Aimee had started to store some of our daughter's keepsakes. I missed being able to beam about it with her.
  • Our daughter turned four. Although I was extremely grateful that there were a couple of family members there, it was still a moment that I really wished Aimee could have been there for.
  • When my daughter and I are at odds, and there's no 'tag team' partner I can switch with. Or when I am at a loss for how to deal with something she's going through, I wish I had another parent in the home I could consult with to make sure I'm making the best decisions or handling things the best way.
  • Thousands of other small moments pass where my daughter gets really excited, or happy, or does something really cool, and I don't have anyone to share that with who loves Rowan the same way I do.
Aimee was there for our
daughter's first day of
preschool, but won't be

there for her last one

And I know the future will hold many, many more of these moments. Starting Kindergarten. Accomplishments in soccer games or learning to swim or dance recitals. Later on it's be makeup and boys and puberty (ack!), then dances and driving and prom and graduation and college. Someday after that new jobs and marriage and kids and so on and so forth.

Aimee will miss all of these, and I will miss sharing them with her. I will also miss her wisdom and insight and patience, and I will (and do) miss the extra hands that helped so much and did so many things so well. But far and away what I miss most is sharing the joy of raising our daughter with her.

I have always had a lot of respect for single parents, and all the work it takes to do it well (hell, it's a lot of work to be a good parent when there are two of you doing it). But until I became a single parent myself I never realized the loneliness of it, and how so many of these moments that should be shared with a partner have to be experienced alone. I know it's not the end of the world, but it is sad. Especially when I think of how much Aimee adored our daughter and how much all of these moments would have meant to her.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The waves of death, they hit me

It hasn't been a good week.

Within the last week or so, there have been a number of untimely deaths here in Seattle. Primarily from what's been on the news, people shot and killed for no good reason (not that I believe there are very many 'good' reasons to kill another human being). As I mentioned in my previous post, these types of incidents have hit me harder lately because I really know something of what their loved ones are going through. But the kicker happened Thursday night.

Grandma Rose (and a dozing Grandpa David)
The call came at about half past midnight: my grandma Rose had unexpectedly passed away.

Now my grandma Rose was 90 years old and had health issues, so 'unexpected' is a loose term. But on top of how I was feeling already, it was a tough blow to take. Then as the cherry on top of that shit sundae, the draft of my new revised will and power of attorney was waiting for me in the mail when I got home the next day. So I then got the pleasure of reading about all the stuff that'll happen when I die, and what arrangements will be in place if that happens while Rowan is still a child. Ugh.

The result was a sudden and very powerful resurgence of an interest in things connected to Aimee's death. I have no idea why that was the reaction to the past week's events, but it was. I re-read pages and pages of a scuba diving forum conversation that had gone on for months about Aimee's accident. I looked at the Facebook page and website of the Key Largo Scuba Shack (which has been closed since December 18). I even tried to find the name of the shop the owners had in The Bahamas, but I was unsuccessful (if anyone else knows it or finds it, please don't tell me - I actually DON'T want to know).

But as I reflect, this current period of sadness (dare I use the "D" word, depression?) actually has been going on since our anniversary April 29. I've just been going through a greater awareness of the huge hole in my life, and how permanent that hole really is. I keep finding myself paradoxically more drawn to reminders of Aimee and more pained when I stumble on them unexpectedly. I can't focus as well, my motivation to do much of anything is nonexistent, and I am having a damn hard time getting out of bed each day.

Yeah, I guess that does sound a bit like depression.

I don't really know what the point of this post is, I guess I'm just venting tonight.