Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Goodbye letter to Aimee

After scattering Aimee's ashes last week, this next step just felt natural...

Dearest Aimee,
You were a great girlfriend. You were fun, and we laughed a lot together. We had similar interests, and I always had things to talk to you about.

We traveled around some, and we ate out a lot, and went to football games. We drank coffee. We fell in love.

And you made me a better person.

You were a great wife. You took care of my needs, and put them in front of your own. You led me by your example of what a great marriage looked like, and you were patient as I learned from your example and not from nagging, complaining, or guilt trips.

You contributed to our home by the chores you took on, the money you earned, and the love you gave. We tackled various challenges together, as a team. We fell more deeply in love.

And you made me a better person.

You were a great mother. You poured yourself into Rowan. You modeled great parenting and nurturing for me. You encouraged my wishes to be involved in raising Rowan. We watched Rowan grow. We both delighted in Rowan, worked to help her develop in a healthy way, and planned her future.

We intentionally modeled the best possible behavior for her, treating each other consistently with love, affection, and a deep mutual respect. We showed her what an affectionate and mutually respectful marriage looked like. Our circle of love expanded immensely and added another beautiful soul.

And you made me a better person.

Now you're gone, and I'm doing this alone. But thanks to you, I'm far better equipped than I was. I have more patience, understanding, and appreciation. You taught me so much, and you did it without ever sitting me down and telling me what I was doing wrong or correcting me in any way. You were just an amazing woman, and you showed me the way to be a worthy partner to you and father to Rowan. And despite all my flaws, I learned something.

I became a better person.

You made me that way. And I can never thank you enough for that.

I'll always miss you. I'll always love you. And I vow to make sure Rowan knows how incredible you were. I will never, ever hide you from her.

Thanks to you, I am a better person.

Until we're reunited in heaven...


Friday, October 26, 2012

I said goodbye today

It's almost midnight on October 25. I am exhausted, so I won't write much. But I wanted to let all of you know: I survived the day, and so did my best friend Bart, who went with me.

The hike itself was rough. Three miles each way, with an elevation gain of between 2200-2400 feet. Nine years earlier, when the group Aimee and I were in hiked this mountain, it was a gorgeous fall day, sunny and warm. Today? Not so much. More than half a foot of snow at the trailhead. Up to several feel deep by the time we got to the top. The temperature at the car was 35 degrees - at the top it felt like it was in the teens. We hike all the way up in a combination of clouds and fog. The top affords some fantastic views when it's clear, but it wasn't when we got there. More clouds and fog, and little visibility.
The skies opened up as it came time
to say my goodbye to Aimee
Then God answered a prayer I'd been asking, and the skies opened up.

It didn't last long initially, but long enough that with a breathtaking (literally) panoramic view, I began my final goodbye to Aimee.

Bart videotaped it, and I'll post it some time in the next few days. In the meantime, I'll tell you that it was hard, so very hard to actually open that box and fling her ashes out into the air at the top of the mountain. But I did it, and it felt like the right thing to do. Plus, it was Aimee's wish to be cremated and have her ashes scattered, so I feel good about what happened today.

Almost immediately after we were done, the fog rolled back in.

We packed up our gear and began our return trek. But as if Aimee was smiling on us, the skies cleared again shortly after we'd started back down, and stayed that way pretty much the whole way back. The views we saw were nothing short of amazing, and I once again felt like I had done the right thing, leaving Aimee to rest in such a gorgeous setting (although her spirit is with God now).

So now I just need to go to bed. As I said I am exhausted, but I feel good, like someone who's done what they know is right.

As for Aimee, I'll see her one day in Paradise.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Final preparations for 'goodbye'

It's surreal.

Check trail conditions, get diretions (I haven't been there in nine years), pack food, camera, water. Sounds like any other hiking trip. Oh, except, don't forget the wooden box of Aimee's ashes.

This box contains the vast majority
of Aimee's ashes
By the time many of you read this, we'll be on our way to Mount Pilchuck. It should be an interesting hike, considering the latest report I can find from the trail, from last Saturday, says there's as much as 16" of snow at the summit, and at least some snow the entire way. Since then, it spent several days raining here, which in the mountains likely means more snow. I really hope the trail is even open, and we can make this journey. Ironically, I've been recalling that original hike from nine years ago, when the weather was perfect - sunny and temps in the 60's or so - and not a trace of snow anywhere.

As I mentioned in my post the other day ("Collision Course"), my therapist told me how important this was as a way for me to say goodbye in a way that I had control over, unlike the day she died. But it hasn't been that simple.

My goodbye is not anyone else's goodbye, but to some of them it seems to feel like I'm imposing that.

I'm thinking of Donna in particular. She is having a VERY hard time with this. We had a good talk last night. Well, I talked and she cried and talked through her tears. Bottom line, she is not ready to say goodbye, and may never be. I get that. In most cases, the loss of a child is so much different, and deeper, than the loss of a spouse. If I try to see things from her perspective, I've moved out Aimee's clothes, gave away many of Aimee's books, packed up her jewelry and other personal effects (saved for Rowan in a large black trunk), and sold Aimee's car. Now I'm literally getting rid of Aimee herself, or at least what's left of her physical presence. It's easier for Donna to see what is gone than what I've kept, and that's understandable. She insisted she wasn't angry with me at all, just hurt at the loss of her daughter. But regardless, this event is really hard for her to accept.

The pain seems rooted in one major difference between Donna and I in this grief - I need to, can, and will move on. Donna can't and won't. I don't say that with even an ounce of recrimination. It's the nature of our different relationships we had with Aimee, and the different way we process grief. Donna clings to physical abjects and reminders. I cling to memories and emotions.

And some of those memories are tied up in tangible objects. I kept cards Aimee gave me. My wedding ring. Her wedding dress. Lots and lots of photos, letters, and journals.

But this 'object', this box of ashes, this is going to go. It's essentially the last thing of hers that I'm holding onto that I ultimately don't want to keep. Besides, it was her wish that her ashes be scattered. And I've known I needed to do this since shortly after Aimee's death.

So I, along with my best friend, will hike that mountain (God willing), and set Aimee free in the beautiful nature she loved so much.

And I will say my goodbye.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Collision course

I'm on a path. It leads me through a wide plain, nothing worth notice as far as I can see to the right or left. The walk is nice - sunny, warm but not hot. I feel pretty good. But I know it's not going to last.

Ahead of me is a wall. I can't see it yet, but I know it's there. When I reach it, I'll have to crash through it, and on the other side the sun will be gone. The nice temperature will be gone. I'll be in a storm. I don't know how bad that storm will be, or how long it will last, but I'll be in it, and I have to ride it out.

I can't turn around and go back. I can't turn to one side or another. And I can't stop where I am, for the path I'm on is Time, and Time is ultimately immovable, unstoppable. As nice as this walk is right now, I know where it's leading, and I wish I didn't have to go.

But I do.

Now the wall is within sight. In fact, I can see that I'll be there in about two day's time.

Two days.

That illustration is exactly how I feel right now. Despite continuing to battle my grief, the summer was actually not terrible. I'm a happier person when the sun is out, and between a great second half of the summer and fantastic early fall (weather-wise), I've been in as good a mood as I could have hoped. Additionally, other aspects of my personal and professional life have been going well, which has added to the "sunny" feeling of the last several months.

But October 25 is two days away. The upcoming hike up Mt. Pilchuck to scatter Aimee's ashes and say my goodbye is looming like a storm, and God only knows what emotions that is going to unleash in me. During a conversation with my therapist, she mentioned that this goodbye is incredibly important, as it's the one I have control over. I didn't have control over my parting from Aimee, no foreknowledge of it, so I wasn't able to really say goodbye to her.

But I do have control over it this time, and I've been holding onto my goodbye for the last ten months.

I've spent the last ten months facing what happened as pragmatically as possible. Aimee died, I can't reverse that or bring her back. Process grief, process letting go, process moving on. Live life, keep going, keep moving, keep living, move on.

Move on.

Move on, dammit.

Well, in order to keep moving on, I have to do this. I have to say goodbye and literally let go of Aimee, flinging those ashes out into the sky on top of that mountain and let them fall where they may. Separate, away from me, ultimately free as she has been now for ten months.

I've been looking ahead to this day with some level of dread since last December, when I first decided this was what I wanted to do with Aimee's ashes.

It's here in two days.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Moving forward, marching on

In one week from today, I will scatter Aimee's ashes, saying a final goodbye to the woman I loved so much, built a life with, and had a child with. I never, ever wanted this to be how our life together ended. I still wish, every single day, that it hadn't.

In pictures like this, you can
see how much Rowan loved
her mommy
But of the many things I learned from Aimee, one of them was to live your life. It would be so easy for me to stay focused on what I've lost, and try and hold on to feelings, scents, objects, and never let go and never move on. But that's not living. In fact, living that way indefinitely would be a kind of living death in its own way.

My goal has been to learn how to live, and to move on, without trying to forget Aimee or do anything to dishonor her memory. It hasn't been easy to move on, because many days I have wanted to just sit at home and stare at photos or videos of Aimee for hours on end. And sometimes, I do in fact indulge that for an hour or two here and there. It feels good to remember how much fun we had and how much love we had for each other. But, to quote someone near and dear to me, "Life should be lived for the living." To me that includes first and foremost Rowan, but also family and friends, as well as new people who come into my life.

So as I look back over the last ten months, and at how these posts that I've written have progressed, I can see that my efforts are paying off. It was extremely difficult at first. In fact, I had to pretend I was getting on with my life, because I didn't feel it at all. But now, I do feel it. Things are different. Not happy-go-lucky all the time or without pain, but that crushing weight of grief is no longer ever-present on my shoulders.

I honestly believe that would make Aimee happy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Two sides of the coin

My favorite season is summer, but autumn is a close second. I love the crisp air, the smells, the colors, and football season. I love Halloween and Thanksgiving, and the build-up to Christmas.

Although spring is typically thought of as the season of lovers, I've typically had more luck in the fall. A number of my relationships, including and especially my relationship with Aimee, have started as the leaves began to fall from the trees. I'm sure that's part of my love of this season - I have some really happy memories rooted in this time of the year.

Which makes this fall really, really weird for me.

I am pretty happy right now. All the trappings of autumn are here, and overall, the weather has remained pretty good, which only adds to my enjoyment of the season. I've even opened myself up to dating again, with some success that has added to my mood.

But I can't ignore where I'm going.

Aimee on Mt. Pilchuck, October
25, 2003
In nine days, I will (along with my best friend) climb a nearby mountain to scatter Aimee's ashes. Aimee and I hiked this mountain the day we met, and although I tried several times to get us free to hike it as a celebration of the anniversary of that sweet day, it never worked out. Now, on the ninth anniversary of that day, it'll finally happen. Only this time I'll be carrying Aimee's ashes up in a box instead of her walking up by my side.

And she won't be coming down with me. At the top of that mountain, I will say the goodbye that's been in my heart for the last ten months.

Every time I think about going up there and saying goodbye, I am hit with a huge wave of grief. I have worked steadily to process my grief and move on with the life I still have to live, but of course, the hole left by Aimee's death is too big to just cover up and move on from so easily. I loved her so, so much. She left so many wonderful marks on my life and how I live now that in many ways, I will always have her as part of me. And then of course there is our little girl.

After the hike, things will still be tough for some time. Memories of meeting for the Halloween cruise six days later. Our first official date (to Leavenworth, WA) two days after that. Thanksgivings together, including our first one where a cousin of mine hit on her during the family gathering. Fun memories.

And of course, December 18.

I love autumn, but this one is about to get difficult.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My return to dating

One weekend, when Rowan was just a toddler (I can't recall exactly how old she was), I took her to a local park. She was just at the cusp of learning to walk, pulling herself up on furniture, and walking around while holding on to things. This day at the park, I held her hands and walked backwards while she walked towards me, holding on for dear life. After I felt like she had it down, I slipped my hands out of hers and eased backwards. She immediately got nervous and toddled after me, reaching for the safety of my hands.

I stayed just out of her reach.

She walked, on her own, for about 10-12 steps before she started getting really mad that I wouldn't hold still, so I finally let her grab my hands again. But she'd walked, on her own, and within another day or two, she was doing it regularly.

Baby steps.

In some ways, I feel like that now.

It's a less then a month until the anniversary of my and Aimee's first 'official' date. That was almost nine years ago, and I got to a point, when Aimee and I were engaged, that I realized that was probably going to be the last first date I ever had.

But I was wrong.

In a post I published back in August (Dating again), I wrote about feeling ready to begin dating again. Well it took almost another two months, but I have finally crept out of the shadows and made the bold leap forward. Well maybe not a leap. Maybe a step. I sat down at my laptop and set up a profile on one of the popular online dating sites, and sat back to see what would happen.

This is how people meet now, right?

Baby step.

On a side note, I've found it to be really clinical and unromantic. I mean, reading profiles of people the site sends me and deciding which ones I want to contact feels EXACTLY like screening job applicants. "Yes, I've read over your resume- er, profile, and looked over your qualifications- er characteristics, and I'd like to bring you in for an interview- er, date." Yuck.

But the process was also a little cathartic. I don't like stagnation - I like progress. Moving forward. Setting up that profiles and getting started was a step in that direction.

Then it went further.

Baby step.

So far, I have been on two dates, each with a different person. It was surreal, being out with someone other than Aimee, but it was also nice to get out of the house, talk to someone new, and daydream about the possibilities. And while both of the gals I went out with were tremendously nice, I felt enough of a connection with the second one that there will be a second date some time in the future. Other than that? Well, I'm not going to think too far ahead right now. I'll just see where things go, and take it nice and slow.

Baby steps... Baby steps...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"Dancing in the Minefields"

I'm working on a talk I'm giving tomorrow, and this song just played on my iPod. It was a favorite of Aimee's, I think because of how it describes the type of marriage she always wanted, and that we (for the most part) had. I wanted to share it with all of you.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I screwed up

Being a parent is hard.
Tonight was the end of a very fun but long day. After church, Rowan and I took advantage of the absolutely gorgeous weather to go play around Green Lake in Seattle for the afternoon. The weather was SO wonderful, I stayed there over an hour later than I should have. It just seemed so, I don't know, magical somehow. I didn't want the day to end.

Once we did get home, everything seemed to be going ok. Bath, TV show, teeth brushing, and eventually Rowan was in bed. But about 10 minutes after I got her down and I collapsed on the couch in exhaustion, I heard her call me and ask me to come back up. I was just so damn tired and not thinking, I said, "Rowan, I am not coming back up there right now. I just left a few minutes ago, and I want you to keep trying to go to sleep."

She almost immediately started crying.

Now under normal circumstances, I'd chalk this up to a tired girl not getting her way. And on any given day that may have been it. But as she started crying I also realized that bedtime has been hard for her lately. And she may not have been looking for an excuse to delay sleep, but some comfort and snuggles from daddy because the sudden quiet left her thinking about her mommy.

Man, can I relate to THAT. My sleep patterns are still a disaster after months of avoiding lying in bed awake.

I took a deep sigh, got up, and headed up to her room. She indeed looked sad. If she'd just been looking for an excuse to stay up, she would have brightened when I came in. Instead, she kept crying, and then broke my heart with, "I'm sorry, Daddy. I'm just a little sad and want a hug."

Many of you will probably tell me it's understandable to be so tired at the end of a long, fun day. You're right. And many others might say that every parent has those moments when we're at the end of our rope, and that I shouldn't be too hard on myself. And you're right as well. But that doesn't change one simple fact. This is not a normal family, and Rowan is not going through something that most children go through. And I know that, just like I know lately has been hard for her. I have to work harder on keeping that in mind before I react, so that I can be better at giving her what she needs.

Luckily, children forgive quickly. I snuggled up to her, and she wrapped her arms around one of mine and cuddled up to me with a sigh. It was only a few moments before her breathing got slower and heavier, and I slipped out of her room and went back downstairs.

Good thing for me, that little child loves me. :)