Friday, December 28, 2012

What I have that Rowan doesn't

As Christmas approached, I began to realize that watching Rowan open her presents without someone to share that joy with was going to be pretty sad for me. Fortunately, my mom had anticipated that and let me know that she wanted to be at my house for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. The closer it got, the more glad I was.

On Christmas Eve, after Rowan went to bed (and finally fell asleep), I started wrapping the last of the presents, stuffing the stocking, and eating Santa's cookies (I'm sure this tradition was started by a parent with a sweet tooth as an excuse to get more cookies - I must thank them). All the while my mom sat and talked with me about anything and everything, like we have since as long as I can remember.

On Christmas morning we watched Rowan together as she opened up all of her gifts, delighted over and over again at the wonderful surprises she found in each package. And I thought more than once that this is the sort of thing Aimee loved most - seeing Rowan in her joy and delight was Aimee's greatest joy and delight. I miss Aimee most in those moments, largely because I can't share them with her.

But at least this time, I was able to share the moment with my mom.

As I reflected on this later, I realized this it is in times like these we need our moms the most. Not just the boo-boos and scraped knees of our childhood, or the excitement of scoring soccer goals or piano recitals, or even the pain of navigating high school dating or the excitement of getting our driver's license. It's also when we're adults, with families of our own, and life comes along and deals us a nasty blow, and that inner child in us longs to have our mommy there to comfort us.

My mommy is still here, and when I need her, she's there for me.

Rowan's isn't.

This put Rowan's loss in such a greater scale than I'd ever seen it before. I mean, I know that once you have children you're a parent for life. But the full scope of how important that is didn't really hit me until I noticed how grateful I was to my own mother for being there on Christmas morning. Rowan will have people that love her, but no one loves you like your mother, and Rowan will never have that again. Not through the scrapes, recitals, dating pains, or significant blows dealt by life. I'll be there as long as God allows, and I know that will be good for Rowan, but it won't be the same.

This is the magnitude of the loss suffered on that terrible day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I saw Aimee's legacy yesterday

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the day Aimee died. While I muddled through the day, something amazing was happening, and I became slowly aware of it as the day passed. And even now, a day later, I am utterly blown away when I think of it.

Someone, I don't know who, apparently suggested to some of my and Aimee's circle of friends that a good way to honor Aimee on that day was to do random acts of kindness for others. Aimee was such a compassionate person, and that was apparent not only in her interpersonal interactions, but also in her desire to help everyone from the homeless, the mentally ill, and vulnerable women and children in developing countries. And with Aimee, desire to help never stopped at just a desire, but would one way or another translate into some kind of action.

That's what seemed to happen yesterday.

I'm sure I don't know all of what was done in Aimee's name yesterday, but I heard of a number of acts of kindness including donations made to charitable organizations, buying coffee or groceries for others, and giving up places in long lines. There were more that I heard about, and I'm sure others I didn't hear about.

It's a beautiful tribute to a beautiful spirit. I am absolutely certain that if Aimee were alive to see this all done in her honor, she would have cried tears of humble happiness to have known how her own life had made such an impression. I have to believe that somehow, up in heaven, she is being shown that the light she lived with here is living on in her impact on others.

And now, dear friends and readers, I ask you this: don't make it a one-and-done event.

My daughter LOVES her balloons!
Aimee was far from some crusader who spent every day in service to humanity. But she was a person who, when confronted with an opportunity to do good, embraced it. If her life is to truly make a lasting impact, I think all of us who knew her need to follow her example on an ongoing basis. It doesn't have to be anything huge, just small acts of kindness and compassion when the opportunities arise.

On a side note, big thanks to those who got Donna's email about sending balloons to my daughter and then did so. Thanks to you, she was thrilled by all of them and had had a great time playing in them. On the other hand, I have to figure out what to do with nearly 150 balloons which are now filling up my entire dining area and much of my living room. :)  It's a nice problem to have.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

1 Year: Aimee's Tribute Video

Set to the music of two songs: "Angel", by Sarah McLachlan, and "Shiny Eyes", by Flatfoot 56. The first song was chosen as it was one Aimee really liked. The second one was used on her father's tribute video less than a year earlier, and Aimee's brother Justin thought it was fitting to use it again here.

Many thanks to Steve Bartlett for creating this video, and doing it for free on short notice.

On today, the anniversary of the day that my beloved Aimee was released to be with the other angels back in heaven, I am spending it the following way:

  • Dropping Rowan off at school
  • Visiting with Pastor Kevin, the lead pastor from my church
  • Spending much of the rest of the day in quiet reflection
  • Meeting Rowan as she gets home from school
  • Spending time with her (see below)
  • Spending some time with friends, 'hitting the reset button' as Aimee used to say, doing something to get a reprieve after what I know will be a very tough day

I've spent a lot of time the last couple of months trying to determine what I want to do with Rowan to recognize this day. I wanted to find something that would be appropriate for Rowan to do at any age, and one that would not be geographically specific, so she could do it anywhere, no matter where she lives during her life. I also wanted whatever it was to become a tradition that she could observe for the rest of her life, or at least as long as she felt it necessary.

After considering and discarding many ideas, I finally settled on one I like: we're going to write a letter to mommy. She'll tell me what she wants to say, and I'll write it down. She also wants to draw pictures to go with it, which I think is sweet. I'll save all of them, and put them in her memory chest (a subject for another, soon to be written blog post) so that she'll be able to go back and read them any time she wants for the rest of her life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I don't care about tomorrow

"I don't care about tomorrow"
Aimee and I on our wedding day

I don't care about tomorrow
It's just another day
No matter what, you'll still be gone
Just like you were today

I don't care about tomorrow
A cold December day
I'll miss you like I miss you now
I miss you every day

I don't care about tomorrow
Whether skies are blue or grey
The hole you left can't just be filled
No matter what they say

No, I don't care about tomorrow
You're not here anyway
But thanks so much for all you gave
Your mark is here to stay

Rest in peace, Aimee.

Nightmare: The first week without Aimee

Continuing from my last post, this is the first week (actually, almost two weeks) after Aimee's death as summarized by my Facebook posts. It seems to be a more concise a clearer way to recall what was going on.

I shared this yesterday, but in case you missed it, I posted this the morning after Aimee's death:

Then, as the day wore on, I posted these:
As it turned out, one other person had been trapped and essentially 'died'; he was apparently unconscious and not breathing when he was pulled form the water. Efforts to revive him were successful. He was taken to a hospital in Miami, where I know he stayed for some time. As far as I know, he recovered from his physical injuries.

This blog was started the day after Aimee's death. To say it has been therapeutic would be a gross understatement.

If you're interest, the above post is here.

And this one is here.

The visit to the funeral home before heading to the airport in Miami may just be the closest thing to hell I'll ever experience (God willing). It's not that they did anything wrong - they were respectful, helpful, and sensitive. It's just that the last thing I ever wanted to be doing, EVER, but especially at the end of a great vacation, was making arrangements for my dead wife's body to be moved around. 

Then there was the trip home:

This trip was a nightmare. Our nerves were already raw. And while I love Donna, she can get on my nerves (you know, the ones that were so raw) sometimes. Combining little to no sleep for two days for either of us, delayed travel, long hours, a late night, and oh yeah, a dead loved one, well, it was bound to blow up. And it did.

I'm not proud of this, but the last of several arguments between Donna and I on the way home concluded with me telling her that if she wasn't careful, I'd cut her off from Rowan. That really, really hurt her, and I immediately felt like crap for saying it. I apologized, but the damage was done, and it took several days before she thawed out a bit and forgave me. Ridiculously, we'd been talking about how to raise Rowan, a ludicrous conversation to have been having at that point in time anyway. And Donna has been utterly amazing this past year, a true blessing to both Rowan and I. People, take note: don't try to even pretend to have a serious conversation when racked with grief and lacking sleep.

We got home well after midnight, where we were met by the pastor from my church, Kevin, and his wife Charlotte. We didn't need a ride or anything, they just felt like someone ought to be there for us, and met us there. It was an incredibly nice gesture.

Again, if you want to read this post, it's here

This was the first of two trips to the local funeral home, the second trip (and far longer one) being the next day - Christmas Eve. Christmas is by far my favorite holiday, but I will always remember having to spend hours at a funeral home on this Christmas Eve. But it had to be done. Had to get Aimee's body here from Florida, arrange for a viewing for Donna. After that, Aimee was to be cremated.

The moment described in this post is one of the most heart-wrenching moments I've ever had. It talks about how, when we got home from the airport, Rowan saw Aimee's car in the driveway and for the briefest moment thought Aimee was at home. 

After the funeral home visit on Christmas Eve, I went home,picked up Rowan, and took her to see Santa. This smile belies how nervous and ill at ease she was. Took six attempts before we got a usable photo.

As you can see from this last post, the day of Aimee's memorial got off to a terrible start. Rowan threw up about every hour to an hour and half all night. I got essentially no sleep. Rowan was sick all day. I was praying I wouldn't get it before the memorial (I didn't - I got it the next night, and not nearly as bad).

Then, had to get ready for the memorial...

As it turned out, the entire memorial went off without a hitch. If you want to read about it, you can find that in this post. The video of the song we performed, along with a great performance of Aimee's favorite hymn, "Come Thou Fount", can be found here.And I will post the tribute video tha came at the end of the service in my post tomorrow.

"Now begins life without her..."

Now begins life without her...

Now begins life without her...


Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook

I'm upset. Angry. Heartbroken.

I keep seeing two images from the deadly tragedy. The first is a line of children being led across a parking lot, and one little girl in particular is sobbing. And I think about how horrendous it is when children are forced to face death in ways even most adults shouldn't have to. I think of the terrible fear those poor kids must have felt when the gunshots started. I think of kids that saw their friends or teachers being shot, and how that trauma is going to be with them for life.

I think of kids trying to figure out how to cope with the death of people they knew and loved. I think of how children that young should never have to face death in such a close, personal way. I think of that because after a year of watching Rowan go through it I know how hard it is.

The other image that stays with me is the image of a man, presumably a father of one of the victims, leaning with his head against a car window, crying (now I can't find it again). While I do know loss, I can't fathom the loss of my child, especially in such a senseless, tragic way. I pray to God I never do know that pain (and I think of Donna as I say that).

I have been fighting tears all day. I'm sure I'm especially sensitive to this due to the nearness of the one year anniversary of Aimee's death, but I've been more sensitive to these types of things ever since she died last year. The empathy I feel for people who experience sudden loss has been magnified dramatically since last December. I imagine parents, husbands, or wives getting that phone call or that knock on the door, and getting that terrible news. Thinking of them going through that brings back with sick clarity the moment when Justin came through the door of that house with the news that Aimee was dead, and remembering that what made it hit home was seeing those policemen and others standing at the door. That's when I knew without a doubt that this was real. And then my mind goes back to these families going through that experience themselves, and my heart just breaks all over again for every one of them.

The only hope I have is this:
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4, NKJV
That verse (which was at the end of Aimee's tribute video) is one of the greatest comforts in times like this. I know not everyone believes what I believe, and that's fine. But for me, I can not imagine how I could possibly have any hope in this world if I didn't know in my heart that ultimately God will redeem all the bad and evil for good, and that His perfect will and justice will prevail.

PS. I know many people feel very strongly about gun rights and gun control laws in when events like this happen. I would ask that this blog post not be used for those discussions. There are more appropriate forums for those discussions, and I prefer to focus on more universal concepts at this time, such as our shared grief over tragedies such as this. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The final week, as seen through Facebook posts

Initially, I planned to share the last week of Aimee's life by writing about each of those days and sharing what we were doing and feeling. But after spending too many hours way too late into the night going back and reading these Facebook posts from last year, I decided this is a better way to share. Not only will it be a LOT less for you to read, but I think it gives a clearer picture of how great that week was, seeing it how I felt at the time, and not viewed through a dark lens of grief like I do now. I'll still add some background to the ones that seem to need it.

These are some of my Facebook posts from Aimee's last week alive:

Early the morning of Monday, December 11, upon arrival in Miami.

We had a really nice dinner on the deck of a seafood restaurant not far from our vacation house. I recall that Aimee and Caroline enjoyed their delicious sangria.

I didn't have enough vacation time to take the whole week off, so I put in some work several of the days we were there.

This was a really fun night. To this day I really appreciate Justin for suggesting they take Rowan back and letting Aimee and I have this date night. Such a gift that was.


Aimee's last whole day alive...

The beach trip is a funny story. The Keys are really rocky, and there are very few real sandy beaches, We found one about 45 minutes south, but it took us almost an hour and a half by the time we also grabbed lunch plus bought some beach toys. When we got there, the 'beach' was only about 6 feet deep, there was no shade at all, and it was HOT. We only stayed for about 20 minutes, and then we headed back.

This dinner was really very special. Not just because it was our last one as a 'whole' family, or because the food was amazing. It was more than that, and it was because of Aimee. If you're interested, you can read about it on this post I wrote last January: Our last (family) supper 


This post was early afternoon of December 18. I posted this on Facebook just over an hour before Aimee died. That last line would haunt me: "...even more glad when she safely returns."

At approximately 3:15 pm ET (if I remember the time correctly), Key Largo Scuba Shack's boat, "Get Wet", capsized and sank at Molasses Reef in about 30 feet of water. There were eight people on board - 6 passengers, one dive master/instructor, and the boat captain. Aimee was one of the passengers, as was her sister-in-law, Caroline. Two passengers, one of them Aimee, were trapped in the boat as it went down. The other passenger who was trapped was rescued first, and was eventually revived. By the time Aimee was pulled from the water, it was too late.

Thankfully, Caroline was not hurt.

I heard the news from Justin later that evening. I don't remember what time it was, but I recall that it was starting to get dark, so probably around 5:30 in the evening.

A while later, I made some phone calls. I called my mother, and a couple of my closest friends. Then I called a couple of Aimee's closest friends.

(For a more detailed account of December 18, read the post, "Aimee's last day".)

The next day, I made the announcement to everyone I was connected to via Facebook with this post:

My next blog post will show the next week or so via Facebook posts, just like this. How we got through the last two days in Florida, the God-awful trip home, Christmas, and Aimee's memorial.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Countdown to disaster: T minus 9 days

This post is part of a series that reflects on what we were doing, what I was thinking and feeling, and what this time last year was like.

It's Saturday, December 10, 2011
Tonight is one of two night a year that Rowan's preschool offers a "Date Night" for the parents. For $10, they keep the kids for about five hours, feed them dinner, and show a movie. Aimee and I jump at the chance for such cheap and reliable childcare.

My Facebook post from that night
After dropping Rowan off, we drive up to downtown Seattle and get dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery. It's a busy holiday Saturday night, and we have to wait for a table, but we're blissfully happy to be out on the town on a Saturday night, just the two of us, and not spending a fortune for a sitter. Despite the winter chill, it is otherwise a pretty nice evening.

After dinner we walk down 5th Avenue, and stop in a couple of stores for some Christmas shopping. We end up at a shopping center called the Westlake Center, which on its third floor has a balcony that overlooks a plaza, which is decked out for Christmas. There's a beautiful tree, tons of holiday lights, and a massive star lit up store an a nearby store. We each take the other's picture - I with my phone and Aimee with her camera. Sadly, we fail to get one together. I always hated getting my picture taken, and she gave me a bad time about getting photos together. I guess now I do wish I'd been more cooperative about that.

The conversation is both sweet and excited, because tomorrow we'll be leaving for eight days in the Florida Keys. We can't wait for the sunshine and warmth.

We get some more shopping done, including Adele's CD "21" for Aimee, and Aimee picking out a present that she plans to have Rowan give me. I would end up forgetting all about it until I stumbled across it a couple of weeks after Christmas had passed. That would end up being a very sad moment.

We wrapped up our date and headed back to pick Rowan up. Although we were actually a few minutes ahead of schedule, I was still characteristically impatient with slow drivers on the freeway. Aimee remarked that I was the only person she knew that could be mad because I was only going to be a little early instead of a lot early.

December 10, 2011 was a really good day.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My poor little girl

So, I had another post planned for today, already written and everything. But then, this happened...

As I put Rowan to bed tonight, I talked to her a little bit about some of the dates coming up. Christmas. Vacation from school. And I also talked to her a bit about the upcoming anniversary of Aimee's death. We talked about recognizing that day by writing a letter to mommy, and Rowan talked about what she'd say. Then she said she'd draw three pictures of herself: one happy, one sad, and one angry.
This must have been one of the
happy times.

Me: "The happy one for all the times you've been happy the past year?"
Rowan nodded.
Me: "And the sad one for the times you've been sad, and the angry one for the times you've been angry?"
Another nod.
Me, trying to get into what might be going through Rowan's mind: "Have you been angry at mommy?"
Rowan shook her head to indicate that she had not been angry with mommy.
"Oh, that's good. Because I want you to know, sweetie, that it's not mommy's fault she gone."

Apparently, that was a trigger of some sort.

Rowan burst into tears, sobbing harder and longer than she ever has. Usually when she's cried about Aimee, it's lasted a few minutes. This time it went on and on, and as much as I held her and stroked her head, she was inconsolable for some time. When she finally settled back down, she asked, "Why did mommy leave? Why did she go on that [scuba diving] trip?"

This was another instance of Rowan surprising me, as I just didn't expect this kind of question for several more years. But I'm sure it's normal to wonder why the person you love made the decisions they did that ultimately led their death. Aimee decided to go scuba diving, and as a result, she died. So why did mommy make that choice?

I answered her, "Honey, the scuba diving trip shouldn't have been that dangerous. And the more dangerous part, the diving part, went ok as far as we know. The boat should have been safe, and should not have sunk. Mommy should have been safe on the boat."

Rowan seemed to understand this, and we moved into a now familiar phase of Rowan processing grief over Aimee's death - she held onto one of the laminated photos of Aimee and through me, looking at the photo, Rowan talked to Aimee about what she was thinking, feeling, and doing. There were several times where Rowan's voiced cracked as she talked, but eventually she worked through it and ended up happy as she wrapped up her conversation with 'mommy'. She did, however, keep clutching that photo as she settled in to sleep.

And then I, with my head lying next to Rowan, cried for her pain and mine.

On a side note, Aimee has been VERY much on my mind the last few days, even more so than normal. And I can feel this swell of emotion building more and more each day as we get closer to the anniversary. What's more, I anticipate that once December 18 is in the rear view mirror, things will not get better right away. I actually think they'll stay tough until after New Years, which was the point last year when I began to try and pick up the pieces of my life and start over.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Extremely pissed

OK, I have to let this out...

One subject I have stayed away from on this blog (for several reasons) is the "WHY" behind Aimee's death. Or maybe the HOW, as it were. And I have sure stayed the hell away from talking about the WHO. I have tried to stay out of a lot of anger, and kept the focus on more positive things. Most of the time that works. But let's face facts here, people.

Aimee's death did not need to happen.

Her death was not caused by some freak accident or act of God.

Rowan & Aimee test train whistles
the morning of Christmas, 2010
It was caused by a series of decisions made by other people. Some of those decisions, from my perspective, appear to have been sheer stupidity. Others were reckless, and the risks of those decisions known by those that made them.

Aimee was an innocent victim.

And she wasn't the only one.

As Christmas approaches, I can't help but wondering what this season is like for those people. I'll bet none of them are sad and depressed about a loved one they recently lost at someone else's hand. I'll bet they aren't consoling a small child missing her mommy in the midst of what should be one of the most fun, happy times of the year for a four year old. I'll bet they aren't staring at a stocking hung by the fireplace that is empty, and forever will be, because the person it belongs to is dead.

They're lucky. They're lucky they don't have to deal with the death of a wife/mother/daughter/sister/friend. And they're lucky that for various reasons, I have chosen not to dwell on them and what they did, and rather focus on where Aimee is now and how to be the best father I can to our daughter.

They're really damn lucky.

This month, they're probably going to holiday parties, and doing gift or ornament exchanges, and eating great food and spending time with family and friends. Maybe they'll sit by a fireplace and open presents from under a Christmas tree. They'll laugh, they'll have fun.

They'll enjoy the company of their loved ones.

Well, we're doing those things to. But we can't stop the tears from frequently coming when we remember that one of our loved ones is gone.

They screwed up, we're the ones being punished. They made the mistakes, we're the ones suffering the loss. We're told from an early age that life isn't fair. Well, it's not. Sometimes it's a downright bitch.

Have a merry fucking Christmas, you bastards.

I'd like to say more about how Aimee died, what happened, what caused it, and so on. But I can't. After almost a year, the final report from the Coast Guard is still not public, at least not last time I checked (about 6-8 weeks ago). Furthermore, I'm assuming (hoping) some sort of legal action is likely still pending, though I don't know for sure. Either way, I am simply not in a position to talk more about what happened out on that boat that day. As soon as I can, I will.