Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The calm between two storms

I'm in a period of relative calm right now. In fact, I feel almost happy.

It hit the weekend of the six month mark since Aimee's death, and it hit so suddenly I almost felt a physical change. I mean, I actually felt the sadness, like a weight, get dramatically less. And it's stayed that way ever since. At first I felt like I'd turned a corner, and that maybe I was in a new stage of recovery from the loss.
I feel better when it's sunny. What'll happen
this winter?
But maybe it's just a vacation.

In April and into early May, I faced a gauntlet of tough dates. Follow that through to the six month mark, and it was a hard road to walk. Then, with the passing of that marker and the beginning of summer (I always feel better when it's sunny), I suddenly felt better. But I don't think it's going to last.

Just as I faced a gauntlet of dates this past spring, so I face another in late fall into early winter. It looks like this:

  • October 25: The date Aimee and I met. It is on this date that I plan to scatter her ashes on Mt. Pilchuck, which we hiked on the day we met.
  • October 31: We met up on a singles Halloween cruise, and it was that night that we really hit it off. I asked her out for our first date that night.
  • November 2: Our first date.
  • Thanksgiving: It's hard to quickly define this one, except to say that it has to do with Terry's (Aimee's dad) last weeks alive. (He died December 19, 2010.)
  • December 18: The one-year anniversary of Aimee's death.
  • December 20: Leaving Florida without Aimee.
  • December 29: Aimee's memorial.

It's also possible that December 23 will be a tough day. Although Aimee and I never really marked that day as a couple, it is the anniversary of the day I proposed to her.

For now, I feel like I've been granted a bit of a reprieve. I still miss Aimee, and I still have tough moments, even times I still cry. And I'd even say those moments are still fairly frequent. But the overall feeling of grief is a lot less than it was.

I better enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rowan is scared

As I write this, I am spending a few vacation days in Washington, DC with Aimee's side of the family: Donna, Justin, and Caroline. Rowan is here with us too. It's good to see Justin and Caroline, since I haven't seen them since late January. After Aimee's death they came back to the Seattle area with us and stayed for almost a month, which was a great support and comfort. Then they headed back home to DC.

I was sad to see them go back then, so that made this reunion all the better. And Rowan was excited to see her "Uncle J and Auntie Caroline" too.

Rowan with her uncle Justin
last December in Key West
But I was keenly aware of the circumstances of the last time we were all together. Apparently, so is Rowan.

Although she showed great excitement at first, she has been ill at ease ever since. It got worse as today wore on, almost to the point that she was being a bit irrational, and I'm ashamed to admit, almost a bit annoying to me. Finally, when I put her to bed, she was shaking and told me she as scared. She often does that when what she means is "I don't want to..." Such as, I don't want to go to sleep. But this did feel a little different.

"Rowan, what are you scared of?"

In a very small voice, "I don't know."

"Are you afraid something is going to happen to you?"

She shook her head.

I paused, and something occurred to me. So I asked quietly, "Are you afraid something is going to happen to me?"

Without a second's hesitation, she nodded.

And there you have it. Rowan remembers that the last time this group of people was together, she lost her mommy. Now she's afraid she will lose her daddy too. And you know what? I get it. I totally do. To a four year old, that cause-and-effect theory makes perfect sense.

We'll be here for a couple more days. I sincerely hope that over that time, we'll build up enough new memories with Aimee's family, especially with Justin and Caroline, that Rowan will feel more at ease when we're all together. As her mommy's family, they are her family too, and always will be, no matter what. I want her to be close to them, and through them get other stories and memories to keep her mommy alive to her.

And in the meantime, I'll pray to God that He keeps me safe, if for no other reason than for Rowan's sake.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

If I got a surprise visit from Aimee today...

A few days ago I had this sudden vision out of nowhere: what would Aimee see if she suddenly dropped by for a visit? How much have things changed? And, how would it make her feel?

When we left for Florida (the last time Aimee saw this house):
  • It was spotless;
  • Rowan was three years old;
  • She also still used a binky (pacifier);
  • And she didn't wear glasses;
  • I was 20 pounds lighter;
  • The bedrooms still didn't have closet doors;
  • There was a blue and white comforter on our bed;
  • The bath towels and rug were red, and the shower curtain was white;
  • Rowan slept in her old crib, which had been converted to a day bed;
  • In addition to our dog Abbey, we also had one of Donna's dogs, Buddy;
  • Her clothes hung in the closet and filled her dresser;
  • Stacks of her books were in bookcases, and on the end table next to her side of the bed
  • And finally, I wore a gold wedding band on the ring finger of my left hand.

But if she came by the house now:
Aimee didn't get to see Rowan move from
her crib to a big-girl bed
  • It is chronically a mess;
  • Rowan is four years old;
  • She doesn't use a pacifier anymore;
  • And she wears glasses;
  • I'm 20 pounds heavier;
  • The bedrooms all have closet doors, as does the basement closet;
  • There's a dark red comforter on my bed;
  • There are brown bath towels, bath mat, and shower curtain in the bathroom;
  • Rowan sleeps in a new (pink) twin bed with new Rapunzel bedding;
  • Buddy is at Donna's;
  • Aimee's clothes are in large storage bins in the garage;
  • Her books are either in the garage or have been given to Goodwill;
  • And finally, my wedding band is on a chain around my neck.

There are probably even more changes as well. The point is, life has moved on. Some of it has been just normal 'life' stuff, like Rowan turning four, and getting glasses. Some of it is me intentionally changing things in order to move on, such as moving Aimee's things out and changing the bedding and towels.

As I quickly counted up all the changes, I realized that a lot of things are different now, and I suddenly felt guilty about it, like Aimee would feel like we've (ok, I've) been slowly but surely pushing her out. And I guess, honestly, in some ways I have been. I have to. But then I thought about Aimee and the kind of person she was. She'd want us to move on. She would hate to see us stuck in some weird time-stands-still place where we let as little change as possible to try and preserve the last remnants of her in our lives. Yes, we keep some reminders. There are photos of Aimee up all over the place - the kitchen, living room, basement, and of course in Rowan's room. But I want to have a balance of remembering Aimee and keeping her memory fresh and alive for Rowan, while also acknowledging that we need to get on with our lives, build new memories, write new chapters.

I miss Aimee. Some part of me always will. But we, Rowan and I at least, have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and live this new life. We didn't choose this, but it's the life we have now and we'll live it as best we can and ask God for strength when the days get tough. Things will change. We'll learn how to find our joy and our fun. We'll make new friends. And we will write those new chapters that someday we'll read to Aimee when we see her again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shannon's guest post 2/2: How my life has changed

Yesterday's and today's posts are from my sister Shannon. In this post, she shares how her life has changed as a result of Aimee's death. Here is a link to yesterday's post.

Dreams died that day: not just my brother’s dreams of his future with his beautiful wife, but my dreams that people do actually live happily ever after. My marriage of 15 years ended approximately 3 years ago. I look around me and watch marriages fall apart every day, and 3/4 the people I know that are still married have not divorced simply because they don’t want to lose their husbands income, or pay their wife child support. Or even more important reasons, such as having someone to mow the lawn or take out the trash. This makes me sick to my stomach. Patrick and Aimee gave me hope - that tiny glimmer of hope that people can marry and make it work, be happy, be best friends, be partners and love each other. They were such and amazing example of a true biblical marriage. Words cannot describe the happiness I felt for my brother every time I saw them together. Aimee put a sparkle in his eye that was never there before. And then it ended in an instant. They did it right and it still ended.
My sister Shannon
This left me with little hope.
Then the anger came, a lot of anger at God. I yelled and screamed at Him. How could you let this happen?!?!? Aimee was an amazing person who touched everyone around her with her loving, generous, and supportive spirit. Why not take someone else?? Even me??? She was a way better person that me!! Please God give her back and take me. I prayed that so many times knowing full well that God does not do such things. But I prayed it…and I meant it. More anger: ”God, how could you have done this to my brother?!?!? He has had so many struggles, so much heartbreak. And he did this marriage thing the right way: didn't rush in, waited until he found the one, got married, had a child. THIS IS SO UNFAIR!!” ran through my mind hundreds if not thousands of times. Which is ridiculous of course. Life isn’t fair, and no one deserves this, and why not her?
Then came Aimee's memorial. I had never been to one, and had never planned on going to one. I wanted to remember people being alive not them being dead. What’s the point? I went anyway, though not sure why. Just did. And I heard something there that changed my life:
One of Aimee’s friends who spoke at the memorial said something to the effect that Aimee never told other people how to live their lives, but she lived her life as an example. I looked around and saw the amount of people in the room, the amount of people that she had affected in such a positive way. There were a lot.
So many people feel that success is defined by the things you earn. After that day, success was redefined for me. I now believe that success is defined by the number of people that you positively affect in your life. By that measure, Aimee was EXTREMELY successful. I decided that I wanted to be successful “Aimee style”.
I was somewhat Aimee’s opposite by nature: forceful, intense, inpatient, tough, rushed. Not all of the time, but a lot of the time - too much of the time. That all changed that day. Not in a New York minute, but I realized I wanted to be different, to follow the example set by Aimee. I may not be all that I need to be, but thanks to her loving example I am a much better person than I used to be.
Very few people inspire me. My brother inspires me - what an amazing man of God. What an amazing father. The way he has handled this has been such a source of inspiration for me as well as thousands of others. I believe the ability to be open and honest with your feeling is a gift that is possessed by few, and practiced by even fewer. This blog has touched so many, including myself. Reading his blog and seeing his faith in God even through this unimaginable tragedy has strengthened my own faith. His unwavering faith in God has showed me what that word really means. These words he said to me one night very soon after Aimee’s death stick in my head: “The bible says that all things work together for the good….it doesn’t say my good.”
With those words in mind, I am going to list the good things that have come out of my life through dealing with Aimee’s death.

1.       This has changed the core of my goals in life. I now focus on doing as much to positively impact others as possible. Just like Aimee did.
2.       I have slowed down. I try to never say to my children “I'm too busy right now”. It's reminded me to enjoy every minute to give them all of the love that I can while we are all still here.
3.       I really now realize that any one of us could be gone, at any minute. The song “If today was your last day” sticks in my head. So I try never to put off until tomorrow what is important today. Like hugging my kids, or telling someone how much they mean to me. You never know which minute will be your last.
4.       I have stopped putting off things that I want to do. I went to Hawaii last month, and I'm going again next month. Before I would always say, ”next year, next week, next month.” Now, I just do it. Who knows if “next year, next week, next month, or tomorrow” will come? Today is a day that we will never have again. Don’t waste it.
5.       My brother and I are a lot closer than we were prior to Aimee’s death and I have really gotten to see what an incredible man he really is. For that I am very grateful.
6.       I spend a lot more time with my niece. For those who don’t know, my brother and I live about 3 hours apart. Doesn’t seem like far but with two busy schedules it might as well be across three states. Since Aimee’s death, I have made a point to go visit Rowan more often. And what a blessing that child is. She makes me grin ear to ear every time I see her. She is just like her mother.
7.       Watching my brother deal with all of this has let me know that terrible things can happen and you can and will survive. And seeing what an incredible man and father he is gives me that little hope that there may be a few good men left out there.
8.      Believing in the goodness of people is very hard sometimes. When I saw that amount of love and support shown to my brother and others during this time of need I was astonished at the amount of good in people. For a while at least, it took away the lenses of my own bad experiences with people and reminded me that good people, with good hearts, still exist. Quite a few of them =)
9.       I have seen this blog, where my brother shares his heart and his struggles, help so many people through their pain. It touches people on a very personal level, and makes them feel like someone, somewhere, can relate to their pain.
The thing is, as much as this has affected my life for the better, I would give it all back. I wish I could take away my brother's and my niece's pain and to see that sparkle in his eye…that sparkle that said “Aimee”.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Guest post from my sister Shannon: Getting hit with the news

Today's and tomorrow's posts are from my sister Shannon. In this post, she shares what she went through those first days and weeks after Aimee's death.

I can still see the moment in my head…..it was a Sunday. I was sitting at the desk in my office when the phone rang. It was my mom. I don’t remember her exact words, but she said something like “I have some bad news”. I thought she was going to tell me that something had come up and she wouldn’t be able to follow through with her plans to take me and my kids to the Nutcracker for Christmas. I thought, “well that would suck, but it’s not the end of the world.” But when she said ”Aimee was killed today”, I didn’t believe her. I thought, “what a horrible thing to say….that’s not funny”. But I knew she wasn’t joking; she would never joke about something like that. I don’t remember much after that. I know she told me it was an accident on a scuba boat, something about the boat flipping. I screamed, and screamed, I walked upstairs and vomited several times. I just kept thinking about my brother’s Facebook post that morning. It still sticks in my head: “Taking Rowan to the Aquatic center today. Aimee is going scuba diving, crossing it off of her ‘bucket list’. I’m happy for her, but I will be happier when she comes back safely.” Those words haunt me to this day.


I have never had anyone close to me die suddenly, and I was totally unprepared for dealing with the flood of emotions that has followed. It is all still such a blur of emotions that I have never dealt with and that overwhelmed me on many, many occasions.
Here are the memories that really stick with me:
~ I remember the last time I had saw Aimee. It had just been on Thanksgiving. Patrick had gone to work that Friday. Aimee and I were in the basement playing with Rowan. We had a tea party. She was such an amazing mother, balancing her conversation with me, while never letting Rowan feel like she was bothering her, but still somehow staying completely engaged in whatever it was we were talking about. We talked about them coming for a visit after Christmas and taking Rowan sledding. 
Shannon picked this photo. It's Aimee, Rowan
and I at her house, Christmas 2009
~On the day she died, I was Christmas shopping for my kids, I bought them sleds….I also bought one for Aimee and Rowan for when they came to visit….I later found out that she probably died at the same time I was buying that sled. It is still in my garage, never been used. I took it out once when we went sledding, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it. It just sat there next to the truck like a blaring reminder of her not being there. Every time I see it I am reminded of that day. The future plans that will never come.
~Going to my brother’s house the day he returned from Florida, and everyone leaving to go here or there.  I'm left alone in their house - her house. Taking a shower... is that Aimee’s shampoo? Her razor? Her body wash? I had to get out, I didn’t even finish. I came out of the bathroom, and what's staring at me? Pictures on the wall: wedding pictures, pictures of her and my brother, her and Rowan... oh my God!!! I have to get out of here. I left.
~Going back for my first visit after the memorial. We went to dinner at Olive Garden and my brother looked terrible. My heart ached so badly for him.  We went back to his house and played with Rowan in the basement, where I had last seen Aimee. I thought, "I can’t lose it in front of my brother, he has enough to deal with." I left his house around 9 and started crying the minute I got in my car. When I got back to my hotel. I can honestly say it was the loneliest I have ever felt. It was like that night lasted forever. Alone with thoughts of my brother, my 4 year old niece, and of Aimee dead. Horrible thoughts were swirling through my head - visions of her drowning. What was she thinking about? Was she scared, or did she find peace in God? Did she think of Pat and Rowan? Every time I closed my eyes I saw her drown, over and over and over again. I hope that is the closest to hell that I'll ever come.  I was up all night crying.

~I had a meeting for work the next morning at 7. My boss told me I looked like hell and to go home. On my way back home, I got stuck in a snow storm going over the mountains, and they closed the mountain pass. I got to sit there, alone with my thoughts again. It was literally like spending 2 days in hell. I kept thinking that I must have done something to make God angry and this was his way of punishing me. Probably two of the most painful days I have experienced in my 38 years of life.

~When I got home I collapsed from exhaustion, and I had a dream. Aimee was standing next to my bed saying “It was just a bad dream….I’m not dead….It was just a bad dream.” I woke up screaming and couldn’t go back to sleep.

~On a more recent visit we were watching “Tangled” and the main characters were trapped in a cave filling with water. They were going to drown, and I couldn’t handle it. All I could see was Aimee and what could have been her fear while she was drowning. I had to go outside. I sat in my car and cried. I couldn’t stop. When I did come back in, I said I was tired and went to bed in the guest room. I laid there staring at the closet where Aimee’s coat still hung. I cried more.

Every time Rowan talks about her mommy, my eyes swell with tears. My heart is not breaking for Aimee. She is in heaven. My heart is breaking for my brother who must live without his wife, for Rowan who must live without her mother, and for Donna who must live without her daughter.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Next week, a special guest post

When I first started this blog, I figured it was a way for those that knew Aimee to travel alongside my and Rowan's journey of grief, and for us to commiserate. However, as time has passed and the readership of this blog has grown a LOT (nearly 53,000 page views to date), I realized at some point that this blog has morphed into helping people who are going through similar circumstances, many of whom have never previously heard of Aimee or me or anyone else in the family.
My sister Shannon (left) with Aimee at
a family picnic a couple of summers ago.

So if this blog is more than just my rants, but also about people feeling reading it so as to feel like others are going through the same thing, it made sense to me that once in a while readers should also get the perspectives of others in my story. To that end I invited my mom and my two sisters, Aimee's mom (Donna), and Aimee's brother Justin and his wife Caroline all to write posts for this blog if they so felt moved.

The first person to accept my invitation was my sister Shannon. And she clearly had a lot bottled up, because she wrote four pages full of thoughts. While she gave me permission to edit it down, I think instead I will simply split it up into two posts, which will appear on Monday and Tuesday next week.

Her perspective on hearing about Aimee's death, helping me and the family through Aimee's memorial, her own triggers of grief, and how her life has been changed since Aimee's death are all very powerfully related. And I think that many of you will relate to how she has felt as she has walked through her own journey of grief.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My health

Grieving can be tough on you. Take it from me. In the last seven months, my health has been shot.

Over the last ten years, my weight has averaged around 195-205. A year before Aimee and I got married, I was in the upper 170's. When Aimee died, I was at about 210.

I weighed about 180 lbs in this picture,
roughly 50 lbs less than I weigh now.
I now weigh 230. And I can't stand the sight of myself in the mirror.

But it's not just the weight. I am normally a VERY healthy person, as in I don't get sick often at all. Maybe 1-2 colds a year, tops. A stomach bug every few years. And to this point, knock on wood, I've never had the flu (or had a flu shot). Of course, until this past March, I'd also never had bronchitis. But that hit me then, and I still today have on again-off again bouts of chest congestion and coughing. I also have had increasing trouble with my digestive system.

The reasons for these troubles are simple and obvious.
  • I have been eating like crap, partly due to already poor discipline being nonexistent the last seven months. Partly because Aimee fixed healthy meals and now I get premade stuff that can be thrown into the oven for 45 minutes and put on a plate.
  • I drink WAY TOO MUCH Starbucks. A certain amount of coffee is healthy, but drinking sugar-infused lattes pretty much EVERY day can't be good for you.
  • And the big one? I have been chronically sleep deprived since Aimee died. The horrendous effects of lack of sleep are well documented, and among them are several reasons why not only does weight stay on, it increases.
In other words, if I'd just get some decent sleep, I'd probably lose at least a few of these pounds

Spraining my right ankle twice in three months didn't help either, and given that part of the foot is still numb and another still feels frequent pain, I'm a bit afraid there may be nerve and ligament damage from the second incident. That makes it a bit tough to go to the gym and burn some calories on a treadmill or bike. And I can't swim to save my life. Um, actually, that may be a terrible cliche to use right now. Anyway, I have little to no time to exercise.

But this is going to change.

Long story short, I used the occasion of my birthday this past weekend to put my foot down (the left one). While I understand that reversing this will take some time and patience, I simply can not afford and will not allow my health to continue to deteriorate further. I've let the effects of grief do a lot of damage to my body. It's time I do the hard work to put myself back together again physically. Because gaining weight and being sick is not going to help me heal emotionally either, and not getting enough sleep is especially going to wreak havoc on my emotional well-being.

It's time to start kicking grief's ass.

Friday, July 13, 2012

My birthday

Warning: this post is a little raw. And a bit blunt. That's how I feel right now.

Tomorrow is my birthday. 42 years. That's how long I'll have been alive on Planet Earth. It's no small miracle I've made it this long.

I have some fun plans for the day, and that's good. But today, right now, I hurt. I miss Aimee. I'm terribly lonely. I feel so bad for Rowan, who also dearly misses her mommy. And we both seem to feel it worst at night.

Tonight Rowan and I are going to go to Donna's and having a little birthday dinner and cake. Then Donna is going to keep Rowan tonight and tomorrow so I can have the whole day to do what I want. And like I said, I have some fun plans. But after I leave Donna's house tonight and go home, I'll be there alone.

And I hate that.

I hate watching TV alone. I hate cleaning up the house alone, doing laundry alone, making lunches alone, And I sure as HELL hate going to bed alone.

That last one isn't just about sex, either, though trust me, I miss that. A LOT. It's when Aimee and I would sometimes just lie there and talk. Or hold each other. No matter what kind of day we'd had, holding each other at bedtime was always comforting and reassuring. And yes, I do also miss my and Aimee's sex life. Frankly, we had a great one.

A number of people close to me have asked me if I've started thinking about dating again. Hell yes, I've thought about it. Not because I have completely moved on from Aimee. How could I have already? No, I've thought about it because I miss so much the things she brought into my life.

Any ideas as to what my birthday wish might be?

PS: I didn't always hate living alone. I used to love it. I had a hard time coming around to marrying Aimee because I was enjoying my single life so much. I had my own space, answered to no one about how decorated it, what time I went to bed, what shows were on the TV. But I decided what I was gaining was worth more than what I was giving up. Wow, I had no idea how right that was.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Climb

You don't know how you got here, at the bottom of this hill, this mountain.
You don't know how far up it is, shrouded in fog, mystery.
But you know there is only one way to go
You have to climb this mountain

There is a barrier behind you -  no retreat, no escape.
The paths to either saide are blocked, and leave you only one option.
There is only one way to go
You have to climb this mountain.

The distance is unknown, as you can't see very far.
But you can tell this jounrey is going to be long, and difficult
And there's only one way to go
You have to climb this mountain

Slowly you begin your painful journey, despairing at the enormity of the task.
You feel you'll be slogging up this incline forever.
But what choice do you have?
You have to climb this mountain.

Two steps up, one and a half back. It's freezing, you're sweating. And crying.
Places of rest and refuge are hard to come by, and never enough.
But you can't go back down.
You have to climb this mountain.

Hours turn to days, weeks, and months. The landscape does not change.
Still in a fog, no end in sight. Progress? Sure, but how much or little in the grand scheme?
Unsure, but pressing on.
You have to climb this mountain.

But as time wears on, the journey is slightly less arduous.
Not easier, but you're somewhat accustomed. Perserverance gained.
You still hate it, but
You have to climb this mountain.

Then one day a knowledge, a hope. There is a top and one day you will reach it.
Not a triumph, not a victory, simply a destination, a new beginning.
It's what you now look for because
You have to climb this mountain.

One day someone asked me what this journey of grief felt like. I replied that in some ways it felt like I was standing at the base of a mountain, and I had no choice but to climb it. It was shrouded in fog, so there was no way to know how long the climb would take, or how hard it would be. All I could do was start, and climb some each day, and trust in the hope that one day I wouldn't have to keep climbing anymore. It wouldn't be some great accomplishment, just a transition into a new phase of life, one that is a little easier.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

From 'our house' to 'my house'

Aimee walking around our house on the day the "SOLD"
sign went up, May 1, 2009.
Aimee and I bought our house about three years ago. It was a foreclosure, and had been absolutely trashed by the previous tenants before they left. We moved in about three weeks after we closed, with about 60% of the work having been completed by contractors (the really big stuff). We planned to do the rest on our own.

Little by little since then, Aimee and I worked to fix up our little home. We painted the interior, put new doorknobs on, stuff like that. But we still hadn't finished everything we wanted to do as of last December.

So when Aimee died on December 18, the house, at that point, was "ours" in the sense that everything that went into how it looked was decided upon by both of us.

Since December, I've walked a fine line of trying to keep our house 'same enough' that Rowan feels like it's still her home, while making it different enough to ease the overwhelming reminder of Aimee everywhere. It's one thing to have pictures of Aimee displayed - I think it's critical for Rowan to see those - but some things just needed to be altered enough to make the place a little less 'ours' and a little more 'mine'. I know that might seem cold and heartless to some, but I have to live there, and I need to be able to be comfortable and relax as much as possible. After all, our homes should be our sanctuary, not a cause of more pain.

So first it was new bedding. I moved a few things around. Then new bath towels and mat. After that I moved a lot of Aimee's stuff out - her clothes, makeup, most of her books, stuff like that. More reently, I bought a new shower curtain (the old one had been hers, and for some inexplicable reason, I felt it just had to be replaced).

But not everything I'm doing is changing to be different from when this house was 'ours'. Some of the bigger projects I'm undertaking now were on our wish list before. Especially the two that I initiated this past month, one of which is done and the other which will be completed soon: new heating/AC unit and closet doors on all the bedroom closets.

These two things, especially the closet doors, were a big deal to Aimee, and a part of my feels like I'm carrying on part of her desires for our house by doing these. Don't get me wrong - I would have done them anyway because they were both necessary. But it also doesn't feel like an 'independant' project, if that makes sense.

Overall, though, I feel driven to make the house a little less 'Aimee' in feel, because it's just too hard sometimes.

I feel good about the changes. Some of them are for me, and some are for the things Aimee and I always wanted to do to the house. But there is also sadness, because with every change I make without Aimee, I remove a piece of her from the house. It's necessary, and good both for me and for the house, but this continual process of letting go is difficult.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The making of a modern single father

I do not know what most of today's fathers are like. I know what MY father was like (we're not even going to go there!), and I'm not much like he was. He had a lot of faults, but in some ways his attitudes about being a father were fairly typical of his generation: child rearing was for the women, his job is to go earn the living. His involvement in my life was mostly restricted to discipline or assigning work.

When Aimee and I found out we were going to be parents, we talked about what we saw our roles as being. We both agreed that my role should be considerably more involved than my father had been. I would help with the tasks of raising Rowan from Day 1, and be more than just a breadwinner, but a parent with whom Rowan had a significant and close relationship with from her earliest years.

So, this was how we proceeded, with me helping with feedings, changings (yuck), and other parts of raising her. But more than that, I spent time with her, playing, reading, etc. As she got a little older, we did daddy/daughter dates. She helped me when I worked in the yard or did laundry.

Yes, I have a goofy daddy,
but I love him
But, there were differences. For example, while I sometimes travelled for work for several days at a time (up to 10-11 for some trips), and took the occasional trip to Phoenix to visit my best friend. During these, Aimee was often parenting solo. Me? I never had to do that, and the thought of it terrified me. My longest stretch alone with Rowan as of December 18, 2011, was about 8-9 hours. Never even once overnight.

When Aimee died, this was one of the things that I was dreading - being a single parent. The lack of someone else to 'tag-team' with was bad enough, but going days on end on my own? God help me. And God help poor Rowan. But there was one thing going very much in my favor. My involvement with Rowan meant that we already had a close love and bond. Plus, it meant I knew the basics of how to care for her. I knew where her clothes were, I knew her routines, and I knew how to handle her moods, fits, and fears. I wasn't starting from scratch.

Well, we're going on seven months now. That knowledge has helped immensely. So has Donna's frequent help, plus the occasional break provided by friends here and there. But as expected, I've had to step up and be a single dad. And as much as I've felt inadequate at times (see also "Single parenting, I didn't sign up for this" and "I make a lousy mommy"), I know that on the whole I am making this work. I've cared for her when she's been sick. I've weaned her off of her pacifier (without scarring her). Threw her a birthday party, bought clothes that fit her, made sure she saw a counselor when she's needed it, and most importantly, showed her love and let her grieve in her own way. Much of how I am raising Rowan and coping with these circumstances is due to things I learned from Aimee. Between her degree in early childhood development, training in childhood grief and trauma, and her amazing empathy and love, I picked up a ton more knowledge from her than I would have thought possible.

She used to say to me with some regularity, in a very happy and proud tone, "Patrick, I want you to know that I am very confident that if something ever happened to me, you'd do a great job taking care of Rowan." I'd typically tease her and tell her she was off her rocker. And in all seriousness, I DID think she was off her rocker. I felt like a competent father with her by my side, but had serious doubts I could do this it on my own.

Now, there are days when I am just clicking as a dad, when doctor's appointments are scheduled and clothes are clean and food is fixed and Rowan is happy, and I WISH WISH WISH Aimee could see me and I could see her and I could say to her, "Love, you were right. I doubted you, but you were right. I CAN do this, thanks to you." And she'd smile her sweet, proud smile that she gave me more often than I deserved and she'd nod and tell me I don't give myself enough credit and that I am a good man and that's why she married me. I know this because she said those things to me often.

I want Aimee to be proud of the job I'm doing. I think on the whole, she would be.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A glimpse at what Rowan will deal with

Humans have a tendency to focus what's in front of them. This is especially true in crisis situations like the one I was in for months. But as things have settled somewhat and my focus has shifted, I have begun to see a bigger picture. A part of that was the recent realization of things Rowan will face.

Rowan drew a picture of her
family earlier this spring, and
it included me, her, and Aimee.
When Aimee died, I was able, as an adult, to take in all the information about what happened and begin to process it. I could understand what happened, why it happened, and why the result was what it was. I HATED it, but I could understand it.

But for Rowan, who was only 3 1/2 at the time, I could really only explain the basics: mommy was on a boat, there was a accident, and mommy drowned. She's now in heaven with Grandpa. Rowan understood what that meant, and it's probably as much as she coudl handle and was all she needed at the time.

But one day...

As she grows older and continues to process the loss of her mother in each new stage of her own development, more questions will occur to her, which was a sudden and new revelation to me. It hasn't happened yet, but it will. It'll probably occur to her to ask:
  • What happened? Why was there an accident? How did it happen?
  • Could it have been prevented? Did mommy have to die?
  • Why didn't you keep her from going scuba diving that day?
  • Why was mommy the only person on the boat who died?
  • Was this someone's fault? If so, have they been punished, and what was their punishment?
  • And probably many more.

As these questions hit, I fully expect that anger will suddenly become part of the range of emotions she'll feel. In a way, Rowan will go through her grief process SO much more slowly than the rest of us who have been affected.

Knowing this now, I realize I need to be prepared for when these questions come. I need to provide her with as much information (appropriate to her age when she asks these things) as I can, as honestly as I can. And I need to be prepared for the fact that she may explode with sorrow or rage or some other emotion, even though by then years and years will have passed.

Rowan will be dealing with this a long time. Probably all of her life.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Grief Perspective (I am blessed)

OK, so this is roughly the third iteration of this post. I never published it before, because it just never felt right. But after it stewed in its own juices in my brain for a while, I finally hit upon what I truly wanted to say.

I am ridiculously blessed.
When really bad things happen to us, that's often all we can see for a while. Some people never get past it to see anything else. Some people focus on the bad their whole lives, even when the 'bad' isn't that bad at all. But for most of us, we can eventually look past whatever terrible circumstance has befallen us to take a more realistic and wholistic view of our lives.

Over the last six-plus months, I've seen and heard of tragedies that have befallen other people, often much worse than my own. Additionally, I have traveled to rural parts of Africa (through my last job) and seen places where those who have it the best have it FAR worse then I've had or will have. I have no excuse for dwelling on my own misfortunes and crying that 'I have it so bad and everyone else should feel sorry for me.'
Orphaned children in Mozambique, eating
porridge provided by a Community Care Center

So I took a quick look at my life, and decided I'd just count a few of the biggest blessing I have right now.
  • A strong faith in God that helps me and gives me hope of the future, in this life and the next.
  • My loving and extremely supportive family. This includes not only my mom and two sisters, but Aimee's mom, brother, and sister-in-law as well.
  • Regarding Aimee's mom (Donna), she has been a total rock star the past six months. Despite the horrific loss of her daughter just one year after losing her husband, she has been a great resource for me with Rowan, taking her a couple of times a week so I can run errands or go to the gym, and often having her over for a sleepover one night a week so I can have a night off. Sanity - saved.
  • Rowan is another HUGE blessing to me. Not just because she's my precious little Rowie-bear, but because without me having to be present and strong for her, and without the need for me to 'stay on my game' to take care of her, God only knows what sort of epic collapse I might have had. She's also been a source of happiness in some very dark times.
  • My job, and my colleagues past and present. Wow. I have received more support and encouragement from the people I work with and many I've worked with in the past than I can express. I could probably write a whole post just about that. What's more, having a stable job that I love, in this economy, is a HUGE blessing regardless of a person's circumstances.
  • Aimee's planning. After Rowan was born, she had each of us draw up wills, and we got life insurance policies. The policy on her wasn't huge, but it was enough that I didn't have to worry about losing the house when we lost her income.
  • Rowan's preschool. They've taken amazing care of her, and been a HUGE help to me (in several ways) as well.
These are just some of the BIGGEST blessings I have right now. I could go on and on. The point is, if I could block out (or better yet, reverse) this one terrible tragedy, I'd see that my life is great. Which shouldn't be a surprise to me, since that's how I felt about it on December 17.
So, despite my pain, my grief, and my huge sense of loss, things could be SO much worse than they are. I recognize that, and so I also must recognize that I am truly blessed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Rowan is talking to Aimee

Rowan has started to open up more the last few weeks. Lately, it's taken the form of talking to Aimee. But this isn't what you might imagine. She's not staring into the sky at some unseen heaven talking to the stars and not getting an answer.
That'd be too simple... for me.
This is the photo of Aimee that
Rowan was talking to tonight
No, she's talking to a laminated photo of Aimee she has in her room, and I get the privilege (and discomfort) of carrying on the "Mommy" side of the conversation. Yes, you read that right, I get to be Aimee to Rowan so she can talk to her mommy. Or at least the voice of mommy while she talks to the photo.
(People who've been following since the beginning may recall she did this once before, but it was only once or twice. This time we're going on DAYS of this, many times multiple times a day. And most often at bedtime, which makes sense. This is often when I miss her most as well.)
Tonight's bedtime was especially poignant. You see, I take this very seriously, even if it is VERY difficult for me to do. The better I am at recalling how Aimee spoke to Rowan and mimicking that, the more emotional it gets for me. But I try to do the best I can because I know Rowan needs this and it helps her. So here is a snippet of tonight's 'conversation with mommy':
Rowan, staring at the photo of Aimee I was holding up in front of her face: "Hi Mommy!"
Me, as Aimee: "Hi, Sweety!"
Rowan: "Hey Mommy, guess what? Me and Daddy went to the beach today."
Me: "You did? Did you have fun?"

Rowan: "Yep. And I wore my new sandals and they didn't hurt my feet at all."
Me: "Oh, that's great, honey. (pause) Hey Rowie?"
Rowan: "Yes, Mommy?"
Me: "I'm really proud of you."
And this is where I realized that to Rowan, she really WAS talking with Mommy, and I wasn't even in her consciousness. Because her face softened a lot, her voice dropped down, and she sweetly said,
"Thank you, Mommy."
I leaned the photo in towards her face and made a kissy sound, as if Mommy were kissing her goodnight.
Doing this can be hard for me. But in that moment, where Rowan was genuinely touched by what her "Mommy" had said to her, it was all worth it.