Thursday, December 19, 2013

Part 3: What I'd like to see for the future

So, now we know how Aimee died, and who was responsible. Now, what would I wish for in regards to the future, as a result of all of this?

Assuming I couldn't undo what's been done and bring Aimee back to life, there are three big things I wish I could make happen in the aftermath of Aimee's death:

I took this photo on my and Aimee's
honeymoon, ironically, off the
coast of Florida. Aimee's own sun set
there five and a half years later
  1. All scuba dive shops in the U.S. would be required to carry insurance. Seriously, at least in Florida, they aren't. Key Largo Scuba Shack had no insurance, so after Aimee died and the owners decided to stay in another country, there was no way we could go after them to compensate us for the tremendous loss we'd suffered (Aimee's income, a myriad of increased expenses, not to mention the huge emotional toll). I think it's criminal - literally - that businesses can operate in an industry that contains a great deal of personal risk (especially when not done correctly), and not be required to carry insurance.
  2. Any vessel that took passengers out onto the ocean commercially would be required to pass annual Coast Guard inspections, even if they only took out a few people. That may be unrealistic, but it's horrible that a business can sidestep the rules to put innocent people at risk on a boat as bad as the Get Wet. Even if a boat is going to be used as a "6 pack" (six or fewer passengers), it should be required to at least once pass a Coast Guard inspection before it can be used commercially. Or maybe once every five years. 
  3. Jones and Gracey would be brought back to the U.S. to face whatever legal consequences there might be as a result of their horrific management of Key Largo Scuba Shack. They knowingly and willfully cut corners in ways that made their operation unsafe for their passengers AND crew. They put people's well-being at risk, and as a result killed one person and nearly killed another. They ought to face the consequences of their actions.*

Of these three, they're all either long shots or practically impossible. But that doesn't mean some how, in some way, I won't try. Aimee's story, and her legacy, are from over, I'll tell you that.

Part 1: Here's what really happened on December 18, 2011
Part 2: Who was involved in Aimee's death, and how

________________________________________________

*A note on why #3 isn't going to happen: Apparently, countries almost never extradite their own citizens to other countries to face charges. Among those is the U.K., where Jones and Gracey are from. From what I was told by someone in the Florida Attorney General's office, countries that are part of the British Commonwealth of nations will typically never arrest and extradite British citizens to countries that are not part of that Commonwealth, and from the last I heard these two are living in the British Virgin Islands or some such similar place. In other words, they're probably never going to face the music for what they did.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2 year anniversary, and words that brought me to tears

Today marks the two year anniversary of Aimee's death. While I had planned on posting Part 3 of the series I wrote on Aimee's death, I'm going to postpone that until tomorrow.

Instead, I am going to share with you these words, written last night by a friend of mine (and Aimee's), and one of the first things I saw this morning. If you read only part of this, read the third paragraph (in italics). It's so beautiful, and so dead-on, it brought me to tears.


From Kristi:


"Two years ago tomorrow as I was getting ready to head to St. Joseph's Hospital for my 10th surgery of this humbling medical journey [blood disorder], I learned of the passing of my dear friend, Aimee. 


Filled with grief, when the Chaplain came in to pray for my surgery, we instead spent the time praying for Aimee and her family, especially her husband (also a dear friend) and daughter. Goosebumps resulted when I thought of how Aimee would have also been full of the same comforting words, much like the Chaplain's. Her joyful spirit and sweet smile often gave all of those she knew a wonderful sense of peace. I felt her with me that day and knew the surgery would be complication free.

It's the last operation I had and although the recovery was a long road, and this wacky blood of mine continues to humble me and to teach me my limits, it also has provided me with a renewed commitment to embrace each day as a gift. I now live life for today, with a much more open heart and a tender forgiving spirit, trying to learn, to love, and to journey down the path that God is constantly revealing. I take more risks now. I attempt things I wouldn't have dreamed of two years ago. In the blink of an eye, after all, inexplicable tragedies or a medical issue or unexpected news, can quickly change everything.

So on this day, a day not promised that also marks the two year anniversary of her passing, do what Aimee would have done. Provide comforting words to a friend. Be a joyful spirit to someone who is hurting. Offer a genuine smile to a stranger. Buy someone a cup of coffee. And never stop trying to find peace, both in your own heart and through the friends and family in your circle. In these small ways and more, we can honor an amazing wife, daughter, sister, mother, and friend.
God bless you and keep you, precious Aimee. Thank you for the beautiful lessons you taught us while you were on this Earth. And thank you for the peace you provide as you watch over all of us from heaven."



Thank you, Kristi, for amazing and beautiful about an amazing and beautiful woman.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Part 2 - Who was involved in Aimee's death, and how

When we lose someone tragically or unexpectedly, it's natural to want to know the answer to one simple question:

Whose fault is this?

In  the case of Aimee, her death was the result of a series of actions, inactions, and decisions, where any single one of them being different probably means that Aimee doesn't die on that boat.

Here are the people who I feel are responsible for Aimee's death, and why or how. Except for the last one, which is the party I hold most responsible, these are not necessarily in a particular order:

Who: The boat captain, John (yes, I am intentionally leaving out most people's last names).
Why: John was about 19 years old at the time of the accident, and seems to me probably wasn't terribly experienced. Which may be why he seemed to think that instead of getting people OFF of a sinking ship, he thought to have them move further up into the cabin, under the hard top, to try and bring the front of the boat down to counterbalance the sinking back end. From all accounts, there's no way in hell that boat had a chance to get back to port, and he should have known that and gotten people off the boat. He didn't do that.

Who: Kara, the dive master.
Why: While the boat began taking on water at a dangerous rate, she stood by and waited for the boat captain to do something (I got this directly from her own statements during one of her depositions). She was older (albeit not by a lot) and had more boating experience, and I don't think it would have been unreasonable for her to make decisions to protect the safety of her students. But that's not the only thing I think makes her partially responsible for Aimee's death.

When the boat capsized and people got to the surface, it was clear two people were missing. The ones who'd gotten out were able to grab the raft floating in the water, and another boat was nearby and approaching to rescue them. The boat captain grabbed scuba gear and went after the missing people. Why didn't Kara? The two people missing were both HER beginning students, and she was a licensed and experienced dive master. Why the hell did she not try to help rescue both people? If she'd gone down in the water with John, they might have gotten them BOTH up in time to save them.

Who: PADI (http://www.padi.com/scuba/), which stands for Professional Association of Diving Instructors. Why: They are an organization that trains and licenses scuba instructors, and they allow dive shops to post their logo and propaganda to lend them a sense of legitimacy. In fact, my lawyer showed me some literature that indicated that PADI does some sort of "quality inspection" of a dive shop as part of the certification process. Well, maybe they do, but apparently they're not especially thorough. The boat they inspected wasn't the one Key Largo Scuba Shack actually used, and PADI had no idea. Didn't PADI check to see if this was the only boat KLSS owned and planned to use? They also had no idea that the boat Key Largo Scuba Shack WAS using was a piece of crap, repeatedly breaking down and having to be towed in. Yet they were content to list KLSS on their site as an implied endorsement. Sadly, that's exactly how Aimee ended up on that boat. Her brother and sister-in-law had done some diving, and found Key Largo Scuba Shack on the PADI web site. Assuming that meant it was a reputable dive shop, they went diving with them that week, and suggested it to Aimee as well.

Who: Mike & Judy S.
Why: There was some dispute about their role in the management or ownership of the Key Largo Scuba Shack. I recall seeing a news report that listed Mike as the manager. I heard they were minority owners. They claimed that they held no ownership, but had simply loaned the primary owners money. Regardless their official role, it seems clear they were involved in a hands-on way, which means they could have had some say in the maintenance and care of the boat and other equipment. At the very least, I feel they had a moral obligation to intervene if the boat was unsafe and they knew it.

Who: The U.S. Coast Guard.
Why: In a way, it is quite unfair to list them here. They conducted a thorough investigation, as best as I can tell. And leading up to the events of December 18, they did what they were bound to do.

So why are they on this list?

Vessels used to carry passengers commercially, or at least dive boats in Florida, are subject to annual Coast Guard inspection. However, there are too many boats, and not nearly enough resources for the Coast Guard to inspect them all, so an exception is made for "6-packs" - boats that carry six or fewer passengers. This leads us to the sad history of the Get Wet (the boat Aimee died in). It was large enough to carry more a larger load of passengers; however, since it had apparently failed a number of Coast Guard inspections, KLSS decided to reclassify it as a 6-pack to avoid any further inspections.

Still, the boat was so bad that it broke down multiple times, and had to be towed in. The owners were supposed to file reports of this to the Coast Guard, but apparently never did. Again, not the Coast Guard's fault, but they also have nothing in place to monitor these types of incidents and follow up, which then puts the lives of innocent people like Aimee at risk.

I maintain that it should be enforceable policy that if a boat fails a Coast Guard inspection, it can't be used (at least not commercially) until it does.

All of this leads us to...

Who: Last but not least, Chris Jones and Alison Gracey. Yes, THEY get their last names used.
The Key Largo Scuba Shack logo,
taken from their Facebook page
Why: These two are the primary owners of what was once Key Largo Scuba Shack. These pieces of garbage were in the Bahamas opening a new Scuba Shack branch when Aimee was killed, and as British citizens, decided they'd be better off staying there and not returning to the U.S. to face what had happened.

And why wouldn't they want to?

Because, my good friends, they are the ones most directly responsible for Aimee being dead. And they know it.

They took shortcuts on the care and maintenance of the boat, which is why it was in such bad shape (hatches not fastened or properly sealed). The life jackets were nowhere to be seen. And the fire extinguisher had expired more than a year earlier. Every time that boat went out, they jeopardized people's lives, and they didn't give a shit.
From the Facebook page of Key Largo Scuba Shack on
December 8, 2011. It was the last post they made on  their page

As I already mentioned, the boat had broken down multiple times, yet they patched it up (as opposed to really fixing the boat's problems) and kept sending it out, and they failed to report these incidents to the Coast Guard. The huge hatch/storage bench wasn't properly sealed to keep water out of the hull, or fastened to the deck to keep it from coming loose. Which is why the boat sank, and when it did, that huge box broke loose and pinned Aimee to the window, trapping her in the boat and causing her to drown.

In summary, there were a number of "critical elements", of which if any single one of them had been different, Aimee likely wouldn't have died:

  • Coast Guard inspected the boat and refused to allow it to be used any ANY commercial use until it passed
  • Chris Jones and Alison Gracey had taken proper care of the boat, particularly making sure all hatches were sealed and secured
  • Mike and Judy had intervened and either taken care of the boat or notified the Coast Guard of the boat's problems or breakdowns
  • PADI had been less concerned with making money off of sales of their materials and classes and more concerned with making sure that the dive shops they implicitly endorsed were in fact reputable
  • John hadn't had his passengers move up to the front under the hard top, but instead moved them near the back and had them put on life preservers
  • Kara had intervened and had passengers do the above when John did not
  • Kara had ensured the other passengers were above water and about to be rescued, then grabbed some scuba gear and joined John in the rescue efforts of the two missing people

Next: Part 3 - What I wish for the outcome of all of this
ICYMI: Part 1: Here's what happened on December 18, 2011

Monday, December 16, 2013

Part 1: Here's what happened on December 18, 2011

This post has been a long time coming...

I am going to tell you, as best as I can ascertain, what happened on December 18, 2011. The information here is culled from conversations with investigators, and my own reading of the accident reports and witness statements. I will not claim everything as absolute fact, because if you've ever been involved in any way with a disastrous incident, you know that things can be so chaotic that it's possible that no one will be able to determine the exact correctness of every detail. That being said, this account, I'm confident, is pretty right on.

On the afternoon of December 18, the Key Largo Scuba Shack boat "Get Wet" was moored at Molasses Reef off the coast of the Florida Keys. There were six divers, three of them "discover" divers (beginners, who had gone through the training that morning in a pool), and three more experienced divers, one of whom was Aimee's sister-in-law Caroline. Aimee was one of the discover divers, going on her first-ever scuba dive excursion.

While the divers were out on the first of two planned dives, water started coming over the back (stern) of the boat as the waves picked up a bit. Since the transom (back wall) of the boat had a section cut out to allow divers on and off the boat (as opposed to a door that opened and closed, and might have had some seal around it to keep water out), the water came onto the deck. Normally, the water would roll back off, but the engine hatch, which also held a large bench and storage bin built into it, was not properly sealed, nor was it properly secured. Other hatches also appear to have been both improperly sealed or secured.

Since there were hatches that were not sealed, water began spilling down into the hull of the boat, and at an alarming rate. Further complicating matters, the bilge pump (which pumps water out of a boat's hull) stopped working. The boat captain, John, posted this on his Facebook page while the divers were in the water.

As the first dive was completed and the divers returned to the boat, the water situation was becoming worse. Apparently there was some discussion about whether or not the second dive would happen, and there seem to be conflicting reports on whether or not the boat was headed to the second dive or headed back to port. As best as I can tell, the boat captain was taking the boat back to shore.

As the boat continued to take on water, and the stern dragged deeper into the water, the captain had the divers move farther towards the front, under the hard top of the boat. Apparently, he was trying to counterbalance the dragging back end by putting more weight at the front. There seemed to be a brief and tense conversation between the dive instructor (Kara) and John. At some point, John apparently also sent out a distress call, which was overheard by a nearby boat. Then, moments later, the Get Wet rocked hard to the left (port) as the amount of water in the hull reached a critical level, and then the boat capsized, sinking stern first.

When the boat rolled, Aimee was thrown from the starboard (right) side to the other. The unsecured engine hatch (the huge bench/box in the photo below) broke loose from its place and pinned her to the front window of the boat. Caroline was pushed out a window by Kara, and most of the others found their way out as well. The exception was a young man from New Jersey by the name of Amit, who was also trapped in the boat (though in a different place).
This large bench is also the engine hatch. Although it's in
its proper place in this post-accident photo, this is what
apparently broke loose and pinned Aimee to the front
window of the boat. This photo was taken as part of the
 investigation after the boat was salvaged from the water 

As those who escaped the boat reached the surface, they found a raft that had been on the top of the Get Wet now floating in the water, and they made their way to that. At this time, is also became apparent that two people were missing. John, the boat captain, grabbed some scuba dive equipment that was floating in the water and headed down to the now sunken boat. Another scuba dive boat (The "Visibility") moored nearby, which had heard the distress call moments earlier, pulled anchor and headed over to rescue the people in the water.

After a short period of time, and after the people on the "Visibility" had rescued those in the water, John resurfaced with Amit, who was unconscious and not breathing. Amit was pulled onto the Visibility, and someone on the boat began CPR. John then re-submerged to find Aimee.

When John returned to the sunken boat, he first found one of Aimee's arms sticking out a window. When he pulled on it to try and free her, he was unsuccessful, so he went back into the boat and essentially through the engine hatch, under which Aimee was still pinned. Finding where she was stuck, he freed her, and then brought her to the surface. By this time, Amit had been revived and was receiving oxygen, though he was still unconscious. Aimee was pulled on board and people began to administer CPR. The Visibility then headed towards the shore.

Although CPR was administered to Aimee during the entire ride (roughly 25 minutes), she never resumed breathing. EMS met the boat as it arrived on shore, and EMTs took over the CPR. But apparently they stopped fairly quickly, recognizing the futility of their efforts. They pronounced her dead, and left Aimee's body on the boat until the Medical Examiner's Office arrived to take possession of her body.

Amit was taken to a local hospital, then flown to a hospital in Miami. From what information I have, he has made a complete recovery (at least physically).

At some point after the boat reached shore, Caroline called her husband (Aimee's brother) Justin and told him he needed to come to the marina immediately, that something had happened with the boat. Justin, frantic, asked me for the keys to my rental car, sharing only that there was a problem with the boat and he needed to go. He left, and did not return my texts or calls while he was gone. I don't recall how long that was, but it felt like an eternity.

When he returned, he was with two law enforcement officers, a member of the local clergy, and a victim's advocate. Caroline was also with him, although she stayed in the car for some time before she came into the house.

That's when I received the terrible news: Aimee was dead.

There are a few things I have focused on in regards to this accident, some of which I'll expand more on in the next post. 1. Why were the hatches not properly sealed to prevent water from getting into the hull in such catastrophic amounts? 2. Why was the engine hatch not properly fastened to the deck, the failure to do so being the reason Aimee was pinned in the boat? 3. Instead of trying to save the boat by putting people toward the front of the boat and under the hard top, why weren't people put in life jackets and moved to a position where they could easily escape if necessary? And finally, 4. Why did the dive master, the person likely most responsible for the well-being of those beginning divers, not also attempt to help rescue the two people who were missing?

Like I said, I'll get more into these in the next post.

Part 2: The various players in this tragedy, and my determination of their role in Aimee's death
Part 3. What I'd like to see in the aftermath of Aimee's death



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What's coming next on this blog

Last month, nearly two years after Aimee's death, I finally asked my lawyer for a copy of the official accident report. We'd had conversations with one of the accident investigators early on, and had an idea, at least unofficially, what had happened. But to date I had never read the official report.

Last week, I sat down and read the whole thing in one sitting.

Truth be told, there wasn't a lot there I didn't already know. I had incorrectly remembered exactly how the water started getting into the hull of the boat, but otherwise the particulars of the incident were pretty much already known to me. What was both informative but extremely difficult to read was the statement by the boat's captain, where he described finding Aimee and trying to get her out of the sunken boat. It gave me some insight as to why she might not have been able to escape the boat, but created a distinct and very disturbing visual of her predicament in her final moments.

So I am now in the process of putting together a three-part blog series about the incident, with those parts being:

1. My understanding of what happened that day
2. Who are the players, and what role did they have in Aimee's death
3. What I'd like to see, in the future, in a perfect world


Thursday, December 5, 2013

When Aimee's mother met my new girlfriend

This is one of those posts I wrote months ago (last spring, actually), but didn't feel like it was a good time to post it. Obviously, some things have changed since then.

Donna has been aware of my dating Sarah since basically the beginning. While she'd been very supportive of the idea of me getting out and dating again, once I was actually dating someone, it became a little harder for her, at least initially. There was no way around it - in a way, I was on my way to replacing her daughter. Donna saw that eventually someone else was going to fill some of the roles that Aimee had filled, particularly Aimee's roles as my companion and as Rowan's mother. And I realized that if I did in fact get remarried someday, that would also potentially bring in new grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more. More relatives to share attention with. More people 'competing' for Rowan's time, attention, and possibly affection. (Donna doesn't care a whit about getting my attention.) :)

But I give Donna a huge amount of credit. She also remembered what it was like to lose a spouse, and she completely understood my desire to find companionship again. I also assured her that seeing someone for more than a few months did not automatically indicate wedding bells in our future. This would take time.

So she continued to be supportive and understanding, and she trusted how I handled things with Rowan. It also continued to be hard for her, but she bucked up and bore it.

And then Donna and Sarah met.

I was preparing to go out of town for work for a few days, and Donna came by the house to pick up Rowan. Sarah was there spending a few hours with me before I left, and I let Donna know that Sarah was there so it wouldn't catch her off guard. Donna said that was fine.

When she arrived, the three of us (Sarah, Rowan, and I) were out in front of my house enjoying the last bit of sunshine of the day. As Donna got out of her car, she immediately walked over to Sarah and hugged her. I was amazed. In that one brief moment, Donna put Sarah at ease and her own discomfort aside, and welcomed her.

I honestly didn't know what to expect, but that wasn't it. Seeing Donna's reaction was so heartwarming to me, knowing that she'd do whatever she had to to support me - I just appreciated it so much. And it reminded me once again how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do.

Everyone else has also been extremely supportive, both of me dating again, and of Sarah specifically. Although Donna is the only person from Aimee's family to meet Sandra, Justin and Caroline have expressed a desire to do so, and support us being together (as of when this was originally written last spring). The same for Aimee's closest friends.

As I said, I am truly a blessed man.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Big Announcement

With the continuation of legal proceedings in Florida over the last couple of years, I have stayed pretty quiet about my relationship with the woman I have referred to as 'Sandra' on this blog. Her name is actually Sarah, and now that the legal crap is pretty much out of the way, I plan to be a lot more open about our relationship.

The significance of this is that while she and I have undergone a number of struggles and experiences that are directly related to my dealing with Aimee's death, I haven't felt free to talk about that here. It's one of the main reasons I haven't posted much this year - most of what I've gone through has been in the intersection between Aimee's death and my relationship with Sarah. So in the coming weeks, I plan to share some of those things here, in hopes that people who've gone through similar situations might learn from my mistakes experiences.

By next summer the last name on
the jersey will be her last name too!
But for now, I am just going to share this one small, insignificant bit of news:

We're getting married!

Yes, Sarah and I became engaged about a month and a half ago (a little more than a year after we started dating), and are already full steam into planning our wedding, which will happen next summer. 

This development has brought on a whole new set of things we're dealing with, which will also be the topic of some future blog post.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention that although Sarah is walking into a very complicated situation, she's handled it with an incredible amount of grace, patience, understanding, and humor. She's going from being a single woman with no children (or in-laws) to becoming a wife and mother with what amounts to TWO sets of in-laws. Because I'll tell all of you this: Aimee's family is still exactly that - family. Not just Aimee's, but mine and Rowan's as well. And soon, Sarah's. And as I saw on Thanksgiving, they are embracing her and she them.

So that's the big news, and all I have for now. More - much more - coming.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving, and some important news is coming

First, let me say I hope all of you had a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. I really did, which I'll dig deeper into momentarily.

But first, I have some news. Well, ok, it's not news itself, but rather letting you know that in the coming weeks, there WILL be news, and lots of it. This blog is going to really come alive again for a while, as I have a lot of things to share... soon.

In the meantime, I'm going to share some things I'm incredibly thankful for, and a little about my Thanksgiving.
A photo of Caroline from
her blog, Caroline in Space

  • I'm thankful that for now, at least, the legal proceedings in Florida are about wrapped up. I'm anxious to have that chapter in my life closed and behind me.
  • I got to spend time on Thanksgiving with Justin and Caroline. Since we live across the U.S. from each other, I don't get to see them as often as I'd like. I was particularly excited to see Carline because...
  • Caroline is pregnant! They're having their first child, a daughter. And in a move that brought tears to my eyes when Justin told me, they're going to name the baby...
  • Aimee.

I also need to say I am so thankful for my relationship with Aimee's family since her death. Donna has been an incredible help and support, going WAY above and beyond to be a help to me, and to play an important role in Rowan's life. Donna tells Rowan stories about Aimee, shares keepsakes and old photos with Rowan, and in general just takes amazing care of her when she's babysitting. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful resource, and Rowan is blessed to have such an important link to her mother.

But it goes beyond just that. As I've been dating 'Sandra' for over a year now, Donna has been so supportive of that as well, and has really embraced Sandra and her role in my and Rowan's lives. Justin and Caroline have embraced Sandra as well, inviting her to join all of us on Thanksgiving. We all had a really nice time.

I could go on and on about all that I'm thankful for, but I'll leave it at this for now. And watch in the coming days and weeks, as there will be lots of stuff coming out. One of the biggest pieces of news will be coming tomorrow or the next day.

And yes, it relates to 'Sandra'.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rowan sees the urn, and has questions I wasn't ready for

So I'm about six months late on my spring cleaning (or six months early, depending on your perspective). I was tackling some of that this past weekend, and as usual, Rowan wanted to help.

At one point, I was going through the bottom of my bedroom closet when I came across a large box that didn't look familiar. I pulled it out and opened it as Rowan looked over my shoulder. Inside was a beautiful white urn, and I immediately knew what it was.

It was the urn containing Terry's ashes (Aimee's father).
miniature urn with a small
amount of Aimee's ashes

Of course, it's really pretty, which sparked Rowan's interest. "What is that, Daddy?"

Rowan and I have never talked about what actually happens to people's bodies when they die. We've had the "we die and go to heaven" explanation, but I hadn't yet told her that the earthly bodies get left behind. I felt like talking about burying someone's body in a box in the ground would be kind of scary, and even worse would be explaining cremation, which is what both Terry and Aimee opted for.

So when Rowan asked me what was in the urn, I decided to go ahead and cross this bridge. I explained that grandpa's spirit was in heaven, but his body had been left behind and had been turned into these ashes. His family wanted to keep them as one way to remember him, so the ashes were in this urn.

Then I hoped she wouldn't make the obvious connection and ask what happened to Aimee. My hopes were granted.

For about five minutes.

I scattered Aimee's ashes on October 25th last year, the ninth anniversary of the day we met. But several of us kept small keepsake urns with a small amount of Aimee's ashes in them, and mine is on my dresser. So of course Rowan spotted it (it's been there for going on two years without her noticing it before), and asked me what was in it. She had a look on her face that told me she suspected the answer already. I told her in fact that a small amount of Aimee's ashes in it. She asked if she could see, so I opened it up so she could.

I watched her face as she looked upon what was left of Aimee's earthly body. She looked slightly confused, but didn't say anything else. A few seconds later, she looked away and changed the subject.

I'm fairly certain this topic is going to come up again, but ultimately, I'm glad the subject has been broached. And like so many other topics, they're conversations I wish I didn't have to have with my precious little girl.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Video of Aimee and Rowan shortly before Aimee's death

I have been holding on to this for a long time, intending to share it with you since shortly after Aimee's death. But for several reasons, I hadn't been able to do it. I think a lot of it has to do with my rambling (I'm the one shooting the video) about the vacation we're on, the house, the pool, etc, etc. It also felt so much more personal than some of the photos, the memories I've shared, and the experiences I've had since. This video belonged in almost another world, a world in which Aimee was still alive and our family was still intact.

But the focus of the video, primarily, is Aimee and Rowan playing in the pool. It's a wonderful few moments between a mommy and her little girl, one of the last such moments they'd have.

So what changed? Well, a few things. First, today is September 11, 2013, twelve years since 9/11. I've seen a lot of moving articles and tributes dealing with the needless deaths of so many people, and I couldn't help but think of the needless death of Aimee. Additionally, a number of friends or friends of friends have been battling cancer, and some have already lost their fight. Let's just say, there's been a lot of death lately, and so it's been more on my mind than normal. So while I'm not sure exactly why, the time felt right to share this more intimate and personal look into our last days as a family in a moment shared with Aimee, Rowan, and myself.




Tuesday, August 13, 2013

If I could go back in time to record something that already happened...

A technology news outlet I follow on Facebook posted the following status update a while back:
Have you ever wished that you could record something that already happened? What would you go back and record? - http://tcrn.ch/173v8RY
Although they apparently deleted my comment (for reasons completely outside of my understanding), this is what I commented (slightly edited):
I would so love to go back and record the few moments I got to spend with my wife on her last day alive. She died in a terrible scuba boating accident, and of course none of us knew those were her last hours. I'd record her and I and our then 3 1/2 year old daughter snuggling in bed that morning. I'd record the last hug I gave her. I'd record our daughter and I seeing her later that day at the aquatic center where she did her beginner scuba diving training, shortly before she went out on that boat. I'd record my last goodbye kiss, which was through a chain link fence. And I'd record that very last moment I set eyes on her, from across a distance, waving at her in her pink shorts and white t-shirt and beautiful smile before she left our lives forever. Some people feel we spend too much time recording life and not enough time living life, and they're absolutely right. But I'd so love to have those moments recorded so I could go back to them and also to show our daughter as she grows up and is trying to know and remember her mother.
As I reference above, I think many of us (myself included) spend too much time with our face pointed at a screen (usually a smartphone) taking photos, posting updates, whatever. We spend so much of our lives interacting with our devices and not living in the moment. But there are times when I think we have to recognize the preciousness of the little things, and we need to remember to try and capture them once in a while. You never know when those precious little events can become hugely important. I know my daughter and I would both love to have record of those last precious moments with Aimee.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rowan got sad, wrote a letter to mommy

When I got home from work a short time ago, I found the babysitter finishing up making dinner, which is normal, but Rowan was nowhere to be seen, which is not.

The sitter let me know that Rowan had seemed sad since she picked her up from school, and after asking for some snuggling and a story, had decided that she wanted to write (actually dictate) a letter to Aimee. Then Rowan shut herself in her room, which was where she still was when I got home. The sitter then handed me the letter she'd written out as Rowan had dictated it.

I went up to Rowan's room and after giving her a hug and talking with her for a minute about how we both missed mommy every day, she seemed to feel better and came downstairs. Then I read the letter while she was distracted by something else. The contents both made me laugh out loud and cry at the same time.

(Before I share the contents of the letter, I should tell you that Rowan loves McDonald's, but I won't take her there very often. I've explained that the food is very bad for you, and during our last visit there I joked of what Aimee would say if she saw me there with Rowan: "Hon! McDonald's, really?? Ugh! You can do better, can't you? Toad!" Rowan thought that was funny.)

Here's what Rowan wrote to Aimee:
Dear mom,
I wish you were here. I want you to see how big I have gotten. My dad has been a really good daddy and sometimes he doesn't let me go to McDonald's. I love you lots.
Rowan

Man, I really love that kid. And I love that she's starting to see something deeper here - that at least part of my motivation in being as good a father as I possibly can rests in the knowledge that I feel an even more profound responsibility to Rowan's development and care because the 'better parent' was lost. That's not a knock on my own parenting, which is improved. It's just a recognition of the vast, immeasurable loss.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tonight's 'mommy moment'

Most parents love it when their kids take naps. Not me. If Rowan takes a nap, it's almost a guarantee that she won't go to sleep until at least an hour or so after I put her to bed. I try to avoid her falling asleep during the day as much as possible.

But sometimes it happens anyway, and today was such a day. Sure enough, she had a hell of a time getting to sleep. I tried the usual - allowing her to read a few books typically does the trick - but no go this time.
Not the chair in Rowan's
room, but similar

So I did something I haven't done in years.

I went up to her room. I turned off her light. I sat down in the rocking chair in her room, and I called her over to me. She climbed up into my lap, and I quietly held her and rocked her. At first, she was confused, asking what I was doing. I explained that when she had been very young, her mommy (and sometimes I) had rocked her to sleep in that rocking chair, and I was going to try and help her get sleepy the same way now. She took a few minutes to get comfortable, but soon she was nestled into my chest, eyes closed, breathing getting slower. After a few minutes I stood up and carefully placed her on her bed, pulled up the covers to her chin, and gently kissed her on the top of her head. Her eyes never opened, but the smile on her face was enough to nearly bring tears to my eyes. It was still there several seconds later after I tore myself away and headed back downstairs to continue work on the night's chores (and to write this).

It made me recall all the times I had seen Aimee rock Rowan to sleep (or at least to relax her in preparation for going to sleep) when Rowan was a baby and toddler. It was a mommy moment.

And tonight, it was my mommy moment.

Rowan still misses her mommy greatly, and always will. But here and there, I do what I can to fill in the gap.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Father's Day tips for guys like me

Today, Rowan brought home the most adorable Father's Day gift that she made in preschool. She was so proud of it, and rightly so - it's awesome (see photo). I really like that her school teaches kids the tradition of honoring their moms and dads by making them thoughtful gifts on their special days.
Apparently this is supposed to read,
"Rowan's HERO lives here." Is that
not the best thing ever?

But it got me thinking about the last year a half, and last Father's Day and other important occasions (like my birthday). On each occasion, someone stepped up and guided Rowan in recognizing my special day, either helping her pick out or make presents for me. Rowan absolutely loved giving me these gifts, and I loved receiving them.

Before Aimee's death, that's a role she would have taken on.

So the point of this post is this: if you know someone who has lost their spouse/partner, and they have young children who aren't really able to go out and obtain gifts for the surviving parent on their own, please make sure you or someone else steps in and fills that gap. Losing a spouse brings with it so many, many other losses. And it adds so much to the surviving spouse's realm of responsibility, leaving so much more for them to handle. It has meant the world to me that Rowan has been able to recognize Father's Day and my birthday and Christmas, because others have helped her do that (and as I said, Rowan loves it, too). It would mean the world to others if someone helped their young children do the same for them.

On a related note: on Mother's Day, quite a few of my friends sent me some kind of note (tweet, Facebook post, etc) recognizing my efforts at filling the role of mom to Rowan. It was truly touching, even though I feel like I still get to have my day on Father's Day. Having people say encouraging and sweet things on Mother's Day too was a nice treat. So if you know any single moms (especially widows or families where dad is MIA) who are doing their damnedest to also fill in as father to their kids, maybe take a moment and show them a little love this Sunday. I'm sure it'll mean a lot.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Not as together as I look

I may have been fooling some of you. I certainly had been fooling myself.

For most of the last 8-10 months, I've had this sense that I was doing alright. I felt like I'd finally gotten my legs under me as a single parent. I felt a little more 'with it' at work. I had a routine down that seemed to be working in terms of the logistics of running the Rhoads household post-Aimee. Then I met a great woman and began dating her. The road was not easy, but it felt like things were definitely on the consistently upward path.

But, maybe not as smoothly as I thought.

It all started last year with my unwillingness to go to sleep at a decent hour. I had horrible visions of Aimee's last moments whenever I went to bed, and so I took to waiting until 3am or later before I'd pry myself off the couch and crawl upstairs to my room. Essentially, I'd wait until I could no longer keep my eyes open before I'd attempt to sleep, because then I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow. Viola, no wrenching visions to contend with. Worked like a friggin' charm.

Except the pattern has never gone away, and chronic lack of sleep is extremely harmful to your body.

The result? My health is deteriorating, especially in the last few months. After spending most of my life as an extremely healthy person who didn't get sick very often. I have been sick for the majority of this year (including right now). I am putting on weight (a common symptom of lack of sleep), and I was already too heavy for my own good. I had the flu for the first time earlier this year, every cold I get now is much worse than they used to be, and my digestive system has been such a disaster that my doctor tested me for five different conditions including Celiac Disease (thankfully all came back negative).

It's not just health. Things I used to be consistently on top of are now slipping. Two days ago I discovered the bill for my homeowner's insurance. It was due two months ago. Damn good thing the house didn't burn down last month. I NEVER paid bills late. Ever. And I tracked expenses, followed a budget, and balanced my checking account several times a month. At this moment, I haven't balanced my checking account since early April, and I haven't yet kept my spending under my income since Aimee died.

All of these problems can be fixed by the application of some simple self-discipline. Get more sleep, eat better, get more exercise, and watch my motivation, concentration, etc improve, and so on. Just one problem.

I have no self discipline right now.

Here's a great example. When I talked to my girlfriend on the phone earlier, I told her I'd be in bed by midnight (she's trying to encourage me and, at my request, hold me at least somewhat accountable). What time is it as I sit here and write this? 1:12am.

I know I don't have any excuses, but I can't seem to break out of this cycle.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A few Mother's Day thoughts, and a few tears courtesy of Rowan

Influences
I have been significantly influenced by two mothers during my life: my mom and Rowan's mom (Aimee). My own mom, who will tell you that going to kindergarten saved my life, was an incredible mentor to me growing up. She was also an example of monumental patience. She knew what kind of adults she wanted her children to grow up to be, and she stayed the course of getting us there through our childhoods (despite some SERIOUS setbacks along the way). And like all good mothers, she is still very much a mom to this day, a point so beautifully illustrated to me after Aimee died. I 'wanted my mommy', but I didn't necessarily want to say so. Turns out I didn't have to, as my mom showed up the morning after we arrived home from Florida, and stayed with me for the next five days.

I could not begin to list all of the things I learned from my mom in one place, but if you know me and think I'm even remotely likable, you can thank my mom for that.

Aimee's influence on me was over a much shorter period of time, but still extremely significant. She had rock-solid ideas about how she wanted to parent (and she expected me to agree with her, whether I did or not!), and she held true to her convictions. She also displayed amazing patience - not as much with Rowan, who was and is a great kid, but with me, who was a slow learner as a father. Just a few of the things Aimee taught me about parenting:
  • How to interpret different behaviors from children.
  • How to effectively redirect undesirable behavior.
  • How to effectively use rewards to modify behavior, without turning it into a system of constant and escalating bribery.
  • Build a solid relationship with her now, so that she'll be far more likely to listen to what I have to say when she's older and trying to find her own way.
  • And perhaps most important in the aftermath of her death, she had shared with me some pointers she learned when she'd gone through a class on helping young children deal with trauma and loss. A couple of times, these tips helped me tremendously with helping Rowan process her feelings, and I still use some of them today.
For many reasons, I owe Aimee a serious debt of gratitude.

The Rowan Effect
Rowan got to me twice today (Mother's Day), once at the beginning, and once at the end.

Normal weekend practice is for me to try and squeeze as much time in bed as possible, so I'm always still in bed when Rowan gets up. As always, she climbed into bed with me this morning to cuddle, then needled at me until I agreed to get up and make breakfast. But just as I started to move, she dropped me with a question out of the blue:

"Daddy, when you're in bed at night, do you get lonely with Mommy gone?"

Immediately I recalled in my mind how I got into this horrible sleep pattern that I have now: staying up til 3-4 am until I simply could not keep my eyes open anymore, because I could not stand going to bed and thinking about Aimee. I missed her terribly all the time, but it was most acute in the still quiet of bedtime. I missed our gentle teasing of each other, the long talks, and the incredible intimacy we shared. It was, in a word, agony.

"I used to miss her a great deal, but it's better now, " I said. "It's like a lot of things in life, sweetheart. It might be hard at first, but after a while-"

"You get used to it," she finished for me, sounding much older than her now five years of age.

"Yes, sweetie, you get used to it."

With that, she turned and went downstairs.

Fast forward to her bedtime. As I was tucking her in, I asked her "Rowan, with all the Mother's Day stuff, have you been thinking about Mommy today?"

"Yeah," she answered. "I've been missing her all day."

"Yeah, me too."

"Hey," she said, handing me one of her laminated photos of Aimee, "Will you make Mommy talk?"

"Sure."

"Mommy!"

Me, as Aimee: "Hi Rowan!"

"Guess how old I am!"

"Are you still 4?"

"Nope, I'm FIVE!"

"Wow, you're getting bigger all the time."

"And Mommy?" Voice much softer now.

"Yes, sweetie?"

"I miss you. I wish you could come back and visit sometimes."

"Oh, sweetie, I wish I could do that for you."

Rowan, voice now cracking, "It's just that I miss you so much, and I wish you were still here."

Luckily, she chose this moment to hug the photo, because I couldn't speak. I was choked up, and tears were in my eyes. And once again, I battled against hating the people whose collective negligence led us down this road of pain, especially for the sake of my precious and innocent little girl.

Please, value the mothers in your life, be they your own, the mother of your children, or what have you. Don't just appreciate them or thank them, but really pay attention to the strength and wisdom they share, because you never know when you may need to call upon it in your own life for yourself or those around you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Girlfriend

So, I've decided to share the news... I am seeing someone.

For now, I plan to protect her privacy by not sharing a lot about her, including her name. For now, let's call her "Sandra". But here's what I will tell you:

It's going well.

Sandra is beautiful, smart, and funny. She is a very warm-hearted person doing speech therapy work in an elementary school. Sandra is fully aware of my situation: of how I lost Aimee, that I write this blog (she doesn't read it), and that I still have very close relationships with Aimee's surviving family members. In fact, she's very supportive of that. We've been together about six months now, and although it's still early, I am cautiously optimistic about where this might go.

I have also started to slowly introduce her and Rowan, with the three of us occasionally doing activities together. That part is really weird, because although I am used to being with her when it's just to two of us, adding Rowan into the dynamic feels like I'm betraying Aimee just a little somehow. Intellectually I know better, but it's still weird.

You see, when we're all together, I sometimes try to imagine a possible future where we're a family. And I see this analogy where our family was a three-piece puzzle, with each person - Aimee, Rowan, and I - were each one of the pieces. Together, our three pieces created an image of our family. Then one of those pieces was suddenly gone, and our family looked a lot different. It took some time, but I was able to reach a point of acceptance of how this new family image appeared. But now if I imagine Sandra's piece fitted in where Aimee's used to be, well now that's a whole new family image, and that one will take some getting used to (if we get to that point).

For now, I am enjoying getting to know her, and beginning to watch her and Rowan get to know each other. It's all a bit surreal, and weird, and fun, and sad, and many other things as well. But one thing I feel very sure about:

Aimee would want this. I have not a second's hesitation about that. Aimee would want us to move on, build new relationships, find love, and round out our beautiful family. Maybe Sandra is that piece, maybe not. But I know I am doing the right thing.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Turbulence

Whenever I have to travel and Rowan doesn't come with me, she goes to stay with grandma. Such was the case for the trip I'm currently on. The night before I left, Donna came by and picked her up. It was a bit of an "off" good-bye for us, as both Rowan and I weren't feeling well. But as she walked across the porch she looked back through the front window and smiled. I blew her a kiss, which she caught on her cheek. Then she blew one back, which I caught on mine. It's one of our little rituals.

Fast forward to the next day. At one point during my flight, we hit some fairly serious turbulence. As a general rule, turbulence does not bother me. I understand the difference between being jostled around by unstable air, and an aircraft being in trouble (although I've thankfully never experienced the latter). But some things are just different now, since Aimee's death. And simple things like turbulence aren't as simple to me anymore.

As the plane bumped around, my mind wandered into decidedly unhelpful territory. What if one of these times it wasn't turbulence, but a real emergency? What if I died in a plane crash? I just kept remembering that last exchange with Rowan through my front window, seeing it over and over again. Would she remember that exchange if I died today? Like I remember waving good-bye to Aimee as she left for her scuba trip?

This wasn't the first time I've had these kinds of thoughts since Aimee's death. I've gotten more - for lack of a better word - paranoid about my safety. Not for my sake, but for Rowan's.

It's unsettling.

If we think about it, we all know just how fragile human life really is. That fact punched me in the face on December 18, 2011. But it's not just Aimee's death. We see it all the time in the news (such as the bombings in Boston this week), stories of people dying in accidents, or storms, or any number of causes. Aimee's accident just brought it home to me in a very personal way. And increasingly over the past 16 months, I've become more wary about my own odds for surviving through Rowan's childhood.

Make no mistake, that is now my number one goal in life - seeing Rowan to adulthood. Seeing her get married and have children would be a nice bonus.

I don't know if this is normal for people who've lost someone suddenly, to have this heightened sense of your own mortality. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of feeling like this.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Back to Florida this week

Although I haven't really spoken/written about all this, there have been some legal implications of the incident that took Aimee's life. While I am still not really at liberty to discuss that part of this situation, I will say that on Friday I have to go back to Miami for a deposition. Now get ready for the understatement of the year:

I am not looking forward to it.

Although I considered going to back to Florida last year, possibly to do something to commemorate the one year anniversary of Aimee's death, I eventually thought better of it. I just have no desire to set foot back in the state of Florida, period. Yet I will be forced to back, and very soon.

I have a mixture of feelings about this trip in general, but the part I may most be dreading is going through that airport again. I remember my two trips through there in December 2011 very clearly:

December 12, 2011. We're exhausted, just having come off a red eye flight from Seattle. But we're also excited. As Donna, Aimee, Rowan and I make our way to baggage claim and then to the rental car counter, we're feeling an odd mixture of crankiness (from lack of real sleep) and anticipation of the week ahead. The weather is sunny and warm, and the whole vacation is ahead of us. As we begin to discuss a plan for getting breakfast, we settle into the joy of knowing it's going to be a fantastic trip...

December 20, 2011. Donna, Rowan, and I retrace our steps from eight days previous in reverse, and in somber silence. The pain is so heavy and thick it sits on us with a tangible weight on our shoulders, and threatens to smother each of us. Aimee's suitcase, filled with her clothes, makeup, jewelry, shampoo, and other personal effects, drags behind me like a case of lead. We see places in the airport that we'd been just eight short days before - the bench at the car rental counter where everyone waited for me to get the car, the escalator where Rowan got scared and blocked it until I came back up - and the huge difference in mood punches me in the stomach. Far worse than that, I can't shake this terrible guilt of leaving Florida without Aimee, like a soldier who's left a fallen comrade behind to be taken by the enemy. I feel like a failure as a husband and a father, even though logic tells me that's not the case. 

Getting through that airport and getting on the plane home was very likely one of the hardest things I've ever done, and it took every ounce of strength I had.

Now I have to go back through it again.

I'm not staying in Florida for long, that's for sure. I fly in on Thursday, my deposition is on Friday, and I fly out again Friday night. I'd sure appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Good news

Recently I found out that Caroline (Aimee's sister-in-law) got some long hoped-for good news. While I'm not at liberty to share what the news is, I can say that all of us are extremely happy for her. And as I reflected on this latest development in her life, I came to a startling realization.
Aimee's sister-in-law
Caroline
It's a miracle she's even here at all.

Her good news is a reminder to me of how close we came to losing two members of our family on December 18 (for those that didn't know, Caroline was also on the boat that day). And there were six other people on the boat as well, including two members of the crew, any of whom might not have lived if things had just even the tiniest bit differently. In fact, another passenger did  almost die, and apparently had to be revived with CPR.

I don't spend a lot of time wondering about the "why" of it all. That's not always for us to know. But Caroline's great news is a reminder that sometimes the "why not" is even more important. Why didn't anyone else on the boat die that day?

As a firm believer in God, I have to believe that Aimee's work here on earth was complete. (I vehemently disagree with His perfect wisdom on this one, but I'm not going to win any arguments against The Almighty.) But for the others on the boat that day, their work here on earth is obviously not done. There is more for them to do, and hopefully their second chance is not lost on them (I know it's not lost on Caroline).

I got my own second chance when I was 17. I was in a horrific car accident that most people didn't even know about. Car was demolished. I crawled out without a scratch, and the driver only had a scrape across his cheek. Due to the specific circumstances of that crash, I most certainly should have died, and a number of laws of physics were broken in order to have the outcome we had. As a dumb teenager, I had no idea how miraculous that was at the time, but I've realized it since then.  And I know that it has helped shape my attitude towards life and my fellow humans. I was kept alive for a reason.

Caroline, my sincere congratulations on your good news. I can't tell you how glad I am you're here to have this moment.

Caroline also has a blog that you ought to check out. She's a far better writer than I am.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Aimee's Missing...

The big news in the Rhoads household this week - Rowan lost her first tooth! She'd been excited about it ever since it first started to wiggle, and on Sunday, in the middle of eating her cereal, it came out (and was immediately swallowed, causing no small amount of consternation on her part). I had to assure her the tooth fairy would still reward her for the tooth, even if it was M.I.A.
Rowan showing off her missing tooth

But this event, like many others, deeply underscores Aimee's absence. Every single time Rowan does something really cool or passes another key milestone in her life, I miss Aimee all the more. "She should be here for this" is the common refrain running through my mind. Aimee would be so proud of all the things Rowan has accomplished in the last 15 months:


  • Moving from crib/trundle bed to 'big girl' bed
  • Being weaned from using pacifiers
  • Finishing her first year of preschool
  • Starting ballet classes
  • Starting to learn to read and write
And more I'm sure I'm forgetting at the moment.

And that's just the beginning. Rowan turns five years old soon. For some reason, that number seems like an especially big deal to me. I wish Aimee was going to be here for it. Next fall she starts Kindergarten. In the next year or so she'll read her first book, learn to ride a bike, and so many, many more things.

Aimee will miss every single one of them. And that is just not fair, for any of us. 


Monday, February 18, 2013

Changes

So, I do have a few more posts in the works, but wanted to let everyone know about an important change I recently made to this blog as it relates to being able to post comments.

When I first started this blog, I made people sign in or register to make comments, but changed it soon after to allow 'anonymous' comments to be posted. The idea was to make it easier for people to post comments to my blog. However, that has started to backfire.

Over the last few months, I have started getting FLOODED with spam comments, all including links to outside web sites (gambling, shopping, etc). I finally got tired of the incessant email notifications and cleanup of comments, so I changed the settings once again to make people have some sort of sign in when they comment.

I know this will prevent some people from being able to (or wanting to) post comments, but I hope you will all forgive me for adding the extra hurdle. It just got to be too much of a pain.

Look for a new post some time this week...



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Grief for guys - the toughest stretch...

Note: This post took me MONTHS to write, rewrite, rewrite, etc. I'm finally only somewhat happy with what it expresses. If it seems a bit disjointed, that's why. But I'm tired of working on it, so here it is.

So it's well known that men and women process grief differently. I mean, men and women pretty much do everything differently, right? So what I'm about to relate will probably have some truth ring to it for men (at least, if they're honest), and maybe not so much for women.

For me, the hardest stretch since Aimee died started in about February of last year, roughly 2-3 months after her death. The shock and numbness had worn off. A new routine had kind of settled in, requiring less deliberate thought.

And I got lonely.

I mean, really lonely. "Desperate" is the word that comes to mind.

My response to this was to decide that I wanted to begin dating again. As in right now, if not yesterday. I even joined a dating site to begin meeting people. I didn't care that it had only been 2-3 months. I didn't care that I was still in a lot of pain over Aimee's death. I needed companionship, and I needed it now.

Let's just say, it didn't go very well.

In all, I only ended up meeting two women for coffee, and I didn't see either of them a second time. I quickly realized that being with someone else might make me feel better on the surface, temporarily, but that if I pursued anything more serious, people were probably going to get hurt. I just couldn't do that.

The bottom line is, these experiences did nothing to make me feel better about my loss. It was a horrible few months, and it only got better slowly. I missed Aimee so badly, but her being with me wasn't an option, so I wanted someone, anyone, else. Luckily, I suppose, that really didn't work out. But that doesn't mean I didn't want it to work out. Like I said, I was desperate, and in a lot of pain.

By June, I had begun to feel a little better. I was still terribly lonely, but I was getting more used to living with it. Plus, summer was starting, and more sunshine always improves my mood. I put the idea of dating out of my head for a while, and focused on trying to enjoy the summer and the activities Rowan and I could do now that it wasn't raining so much.

I began this post describing the difference between men and women in grief. I did so because over the last year I've checked out a number of other blogs by those who've lost spouses, and they're all by women. And they pretty much all seemed to have had absolutely zero desire to begin seeing other people during the first year (or even several years). Or at least, I didn't see where any of them talked about it. They did express loneliness, but not a desire to alleviate it by getting back into dating. These women seemed to prefer to stay focused on the grieving process without getting involved in a new relationship, and do so for quite a bit longer. Men? Well, to be blunt, we're weaker and we want another woman in our lives because they'll comfort us and make us feel better. And let's face it, some men can't really take care of themselves or their kids nearly as well as their wives, either. I'm not being critical, it's just a fact in many families.

(Gladly, I take GREAT pride in being able to function at a high level on my own in regards to running the Rhoads household. A partner to help me would be awesome, but I don't need a wife to help me.)

For some of the guys who do move on quickly, it doesn't always necessarily turn out to be a bad thing. I have two good friends who lost their wives, and my mom is friends with another. All three were remarried within a year. And by all accounts, all three seem to be happy and have good marriages with the women they married following their spouse's passing. Before Aimee's death, I might have been a bit surprised that someone might move on so fast. Now, I totally get it. If things had gone a little differently for me, that might have been my road as well.

I am thankful now that it wasn't.

PS. I think this fundamental difference leads women to often be very disapproving of men who do jump right back into dating after losing their spouse. I think they see it as tremendously disrespectful to the late wife. Trust me, it's not our intent. We're just in unbearable pain, and only know one way to address it. I'm not saying we're right or that women are wrong - I'm just explaining the difference.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The end of Missing Aimee?

I started this blog on December 19, 2011, the day after Aimee's tragic death. At first it served two distinct purposes:

  1. Share information about what happened and what was happening to anyone who was interested, without me having to repeat myself constantly, and
  2. Give me a way to express what I was going through and feeling in a way that was helpful (therapeutic) to me.
As time went on and the readership of the blog seemed to take on a life of its own (over 82,000 page views of this blog to date), I realized I was connecting to people who didn't know Aimee or me, but who were finding something here that they needed. It has been an incredible honor to think I may have somehow helped other people in their dark times with my own pain. And that in itself was wonderfully therapeutic as well.

I haven't shared everything I've wanted to. Legal issues have kept me from writing about certain topics that I would have liked to have covered. Specifically, I wish I could have shared more about what I know and think I know about what happened on December 18 and what led up to it. I'd love to name parties involved, and talk about who I think should be held accountable, and why.

But I can't.

So with about thirteen months having passed since Aimee's death, I'm left with less and less to say that's new, or in my estimation, useful to anyone else. I continue to miss Aimee, sometimes with so much pain that I even now still cry (that has never gotten easier to admit publicly, but I try to keep this blog as honest as I can). Rowan still has, and probably always will have, pain and loss from the death of her mommy. It's a long journey for her, because as she grows and understands her world in different ways, she'll feel her loss in new and ever more painful ways. I believe there will always be a 'primal hole' in her life from now on. Nothing I or anyone else can ever do will fix that. She'll have to learn to live with it.

As for me, my own journey is changing. Dating and 'finding a new mommy' are part of the next phase of my life. I miss being married, and hope to have that magic again someday. And I would love to find someone with whom I can share life's joys and pains, as well as someone who can share in Rowan's accomplishments and milestones. I want someone in Rowan's life as a role model, and with whom we can model a healthy, happy relationship for her so she knows what she should be able to expect/demand when it's her turn.

I suppose I could write about the adventures of dating as a widower with a child. Possibly there might be some use in that for some readers navigating (or thinking about) that way themselves. But it doesn't feel right to me to share that type of stuff, especially as it involves another person. Dating should be private, so I think I'll keep it that way. I could also write about single parenting, but I suspect there are a great many blogs out there that do so already, and probably better than I could.

I do have two more posts I've been working on for a long, long time. They've both been extremely hard to write, and they're still not quite done. The topics are pretty raw, as are the emotions they bring out in me. But I hope to publish them both within the next week or so. After that...

I may continue to add posts from time to time as new information becomes available about events of December 18 that I can share. Or if new feelings, emotions, or other pitfalls come to me that I feel the need to share in this forum. But otherwise, I think the time has nearly come for me to begin to close this chapter.

Stay tuned for my last couple of posts...


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Go On

I recently discovered a new TV show: Go On. I'll get to why I bring this up in just a moment.

First, basic info: It's on NBC, Tuesday nights at 9. But of course I don't watch it then. I DVR it, and then watch episodes when I get to them. The main star is Matthew Perry (of "Friends" fame), a cocky sports radio show host who - get this - lost his wife, and he's in a therapy/support group to help him through it. The show is a sitcom, but there are certainly some poignant moments.

And by now you probably have guessed why I've decided to write about it here.


As a sitcom, it's not bad. And clearly their audience is not widowers - that's not a big enough audience to make a prime time sitcom successful. But there are moments, sweet moments, where Ryan (Matthew Perry's character) remembers things or shares things about his wife, and it really resonates with me. There was an episode where he imagines she's there, and he talks with her for just a few moments, and I wished so hard (for not the first time) that I could do that - make Aimee appear in my head and just... talk to her.

The episode I watched tonight showed another member of the group, who'd lost several members of her family, at her teen daughter's birthday party. Someone asks her how she remains so happy, despite all of her loss. I forget already exactly the quote, but it goes something like this, "You can laugh, or you can cry. I choose to laugh." I know how she feels, but I also know how brutally hard it is to make that choice to laugh, especially early on. In fact, it was impossible for quite some time.

Anyway, I think it's a decent show, and I recommend it. And if you've ever lost someone, you might find a few gems thrown in.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Rough week

It's been a rough week.

I came down with my first bout with the flu a week ago. Of course, that coincided with Donna being out of town for two weeks, so I didn't have the backup I would normally have available. So that left me feeling like hell and trying to take care of Rowan.

Then on Thursday, it was Rowan's turn to get sick.

Luckily for both of us, Rowan's bout of sickness hasn't been as bad as mine. As of this moment, she's in bed coughing up a storm, but overall she's been doing better than me (who's currently on the couch coughing up a storm). Regardless, taking care of a sick kid when you yourself are sick stinks.

After a week of being sick,
I FINALLY got the dishes done
But that's not all of it, really. Earlier tonight I gave her a bath. While she was in the tub, I got some work done that's been LONG over due in our extra bedroom/office. After I got her out of the tub and dried her off, I sent her off to get her her PJ's on. And then I just sat there in the bathroom, towel in my hand, head bowed, and felt so, so tired. Not just from being sick and taking care of Rowan, but from doing this by myself for the last year. I know I shouldn't complain, but man, sometimes it's hard.

In fact, it's damn hard.

It's hard doing all the work. It's hard being responsible all the time. It's hard taking care of Rowan emotionally and physically. It's hard working a full time job. It's hard not having someone take care of me for a while. It's hard doing the laundry, fixing the food, shopping for groceries, cold medicine, toilet paper, dog food, blah, blah, blah.

Don't misunderstand me. The hard part isn't really the doing of all the work. I can do it all, and I have. And I think overall I'm doing it pretty damn well.

But doing it alone is tiring, and lonely, and sad. I liked the companionship of running a family with Aimee. I liked the teamwork we had. I liked how we gave each other breaks, encouraged each other, supported each other. Loved each other.

That's the part that's hard. Missing that partnership, that camaraderie.

Missing Aimee.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Observations after one year of Missing Aimee


Here are just some random observations after a year without Aimee. These are in no particular order.

I can do this single dad stuff. It took a long time to accept that I was a good solo father, but I did get there. I seriously doubted myself so much the first 8-9 months. But I eventually came to see that Rowan was as happy as a child could be in her circumstances (though she obviously carries a lot of pain), and that she she clearly felt loved, safe, and secure. Additionally, she is well behaved, well-mannered, and sweet. No matter what a child's parenting situation, you absolutely can not ask for more than that.

That being said, I can see seeds of the challenges I may face with her. I already see her questioning things about her mothers' death, and I know that some of the worst of her pain is still likely ahead of her, as she gets older and learns more about the circumstances of her mother's death and how needless it was.

Speaking of single parenting... I've known single moms throughout my life (including both of my sisters and my mom for at least some stretches of time), and across the board I've admired them for all they manage to accomplish. This year I learned firsthand just how difficult that is, especially if it happens suddenly and you're hell-bent on continuing to do everything well. I learned how to let go of some things, and how to get by on a lot less sleep.

All you need is love? The Beatles once sang that "All you need is love". Well, I'm not sure I completely believe that, but it sure as hell goes a long way. Aimee's love made my life a truly wonderful experience, even when life was far less than wonderful. And after her death, the love of so many friends and family members was just amazingly huge, I still can't fully wrap my head around it. Meals, gifts, free child care, words of support and encouragement, prayers, and so much more.

But please take this to heart: people can't truly love you in practical ways unless you let them. That means if you ever find yourself in a situation like the one I was in a year ago, when people offer to help, let them! I know it's not easy. Our culture idolizes the strong, and in some ways, that's OK. But when you're down, people want to help you, and you hurt them when you don't let them. You're not imposing on them by accepting their offer, you're recognizing their love for you, and returning it by allowing them to feel like they're alleviating your pain or worry in some small (or big) way. I know. I was exactly like that once, always one to say "Thanks, but I got it" when someone  wanted to help me in my times of trouble. But after I read "90 Minutes in Heaven" by Don Piper in the summer of 2011, I realized just how wrong this mentality is. And it was a lesson learned just in time for when I'd really need it. Now I'm passing it on to you. If you're going through struggles, don't be an ass and try to shoulder the burden yourself when someone offers to help. Let them help.

Choose to live. After Aimee died, I didn't feel like living anymore. Not that I was suicidal - I wasn't. But my joy for life was gone, as was my joy in all things (yes, even Rowan to some extent). But very early on, I decided, largely for the sake of my daughter, to choose to live every day. Not just to physically live, but to actually re-learn to find the beauty in life, to find enjoyment in things, and to feel happy again. It was damn difficult, especially the first six months. "Fake it 'til you make it" the saying goes. That's what I did. And slowly but surely, I found some joy again. Far more importantly I showed Rowan, by my example, that life does go on, and that it can be good if you choose to make it good.

Many days I still have to consciously choose to have a good day and find happiness and joy. It's often still difficult. But it's easier than it was, and it's a far better way to go through life than being miserable and taking those around you with you.

No one else is you.  No two people's grief is the same, and you can't compare your own grief process to that of others and wonder if you're 'doing it right.' There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no right or wrong amount of time before you can laugh again. There is no right or wrong way to remember your lost loved one. There is no right or wrong time before you can find joy. There is no right or wrong amount of time before you can fall in love again. You get the idea. You have to walk your own path, at your own pace, and do what you know in your own heart is truly the best way for you to go. Just keep in mind that this is never an excuse for being callous to the needs of others grieving with you.

Finally, let go of fear. I have had many fears this first year, some of which are still with me to some degree or another. Early on, I was afraid that most of my friends would move on from this tragedy and get on with their lives, and I'd be alone in my grief. And while slowly most of my friends have moved on from this, they haven't done so and left me behind. They've stayed by my side, checking in and just being available when I've needed them. I have not felt alone.

I have also feared for my own safety a lot more. Before, in the back of my mind, I knew that if something happened to me, Rowan would have Aimee. Now I'm it. I am more cautious than I used to be. More paranoid in dark parking lots, that sort of thing. I don't know if that will change. Perhaps it shouldn't.

There have been others. Fear about being a terrible parent. Fear that I won't find love again. Fear that our household won't be able to get by on one income. And so on and so forth. I have had to either learn that the fear was unfounded (I'm not a terrible parent), or that I'll just have to do what I can to address it, such as simply being more careful with my health and well-being.

I have chosen to live, but I will not do so enveloped in fear.