Tag Archives: death

What’s in a Number?

My anniversary is coming up.

My wedding day
My wedding day

Well . . . technically, it’s not my anniversary any more.  I should feel that way about it, but there’s still a part of me that doesn’t.  It should be a day rich with memories, the occasional jab about missing the date by my wife.  There should be the mandatory extolling of marriage’s virtue and the required teenaged rolling-of-the-eyes when the “beautiful story of our love” comes up on more than one occasion.

Unfortunately, none of that will happen in my household.

I have to come to terms, in my own head, with the fact that I now share this anniversary with my four children.  It’s a weird dichotomy, too, to have this anniversary have so many mixed messages.

You see . . . on March 26th . . . this coming Tuesday . . . I would have been married twenty years.  Would-have-been is the key phrase.  The possibly poetic, but most definitely bitterly ironic thing is that on the morning of my eighteenth wedding anniversary, March 26th, 2011, my wife, Andrea, passed away.  A resistant strain of pneumonia had gone septic and in just a few days she went from the woman I knew to being . . . well, the woman I knew.

It’s a hard thing to have to share this day with everyone.  I won’t pretend.  I do it, maybe a bit begrudgingly, but I do.  This is supposed to be a day I celebrate . . . the day I married a woman who grabbed my heart while it was still beating and entwined her own with it.  Now, though, I have to share the loss and grief of the day with the celebration we held some twenty years prior.  It’s a hard polarity to deal with.  Some points in the day last year reminded me of the sunny day we got married . . . a day we thought wouldn’t come due to the winter storm that blew through just a couple days before.  Then a computer beep or the smell of peroxide or alcohol will throw me eighteen years forward into a hospital room.

My family, today, taken by Amy Renz's Hunny Bee Photography
My family, today, taken by Amy Renz’s Hunny Bee Photography

Don’t get the impression I’m complaining, my kids, even I need the solace of being together to weather the storm of this day.  It’s coming, we know it, and we plan to do something fun each year to more or less celebrate, not denigrate the day.

It’s a funny sort of maelstrom this day has always bred.  My wife, Andrea, could never remember the date of our anniversary.  It was the end of March, she knew it, but it never really sparked her as a great day, I don’t think.  She wanted to celebrate but then the day would come and she didn’t want to leave the kids behind or do anything together.  I always pulled out the stops, took her to dinner or cooked something brilliant (or hoped to) and reminded her of the day.  She didn’t dislike the day nor did she not like being married, quite the opposite, but the anniversary didn’t mean that awful much to her, I guess.  To her, she was happy to be married each day, I suppose, except when we argued.  Even then, the vow had us working on what was wrong, not looking for an escape.

So the day comes with renewed meaning, I suppose.  I remember what I had and the eighteen years I enjoyed/loved/hated/stressed-out-about/extol/celebrated and renew my vow to keep us all writing this new story.  Last year I made a video, remembering her and looking at what we’d done.  This year another video is coming…first on Good Enough Mother and then linked here.

But at the end of the day 26 is a number.  It’s a day.  It was a day I celebrated.  Now it’s a day I both celebrate and remember.  It’s filled with joy and melancholy, which part of me thinks is a shame.  I loved our anniversary, even if my wife didn’t always remember it.  I wouldn’t have gone crazy with a 2-decade anniversary party, but I would have done something romantic.  Instead, I’m doing something joyous and taking my kids on the road.

Anniversaries, after all, are meant to be shared.

 

Some housecleaning . . .I won’t be posting much over the next days leading up to the 26th, as I prep and finish the anniversary video.

Tell a Story

Bound for Glory by the Tedeschi, Trucks band from the LP Revelator

I spent Friday at a college visit with my oldest daughter, Abbi.

Abbi, after last year's play.
Abbi, after last year’s play.

Abbi, you see, wants to go into drama, theater, film, whatever happens to hit closest to her heart when she goes.  The particular visit also included her having to audition for a scholarship from the school’s program.  Abbi has two monologues that she has to give, one classic, one modern.  The classic is a favorite of hers from Shakespeare, a comedic monologue.  The other is a section she just discovered from the play Our Town.

I’ve seen Abbi do the Shakespeare monologue before, and she’s brilliant at it – if I say so myself.  But the monologue from Our Town affected me, more than she may really know.

My kids have been surrounded by a lot of darkness lately.  Death seems to swirl around us lately, and it’s nobody’s fault, it’s life.  Life, however, seems to have a mist of grief that is intent on bringing us to bear and it’s hard to keep moving when the mist obscures the landmarks and footprints you’ve made.  It’s hard to see if you have traveled the same ground when you can’t see where you’ve been or where you’re going.

Abbi performed the monologue for me and it nearly brought me to tears.  It’s a character who is coming to terms with the fact that she has died and is trying to see what she did, could have done, and what she is missing or missed.  She said she was nervous and wasn’t happy with her performance.  If that’s her worst, I feel for her future audiences because of the fact that it reached into my heart and squeezed it.  Hard.

I wasn’t at her audition, but she talked about it.  She wasn’t first to perform, but came after a girl who was in-state, filled with confidence (too much maybe?!) and was part of the state’s drama programs.  She walked in a bit over-confident and a lot egotistical, and she got the attention they felt she deserved.

Then Abbi got up and gave her two.

After her dramatic monologue, the panel questioned her . . . a lot.  They asked her about her choice of the piece from Our Town.  Abbi recounted to me that her answer was more than sincere, and maybe a little more personal than she’d wanted.
“We’ve had a lot of death in our family lately,” she said, “and it’s been a lot to bear.”  She recounted losing her mother, her great-grandmother and her grandfather, all in less than two years.  She talked about having to adjust to things in life and how we all feel now: life isn’t nearly long enough to waste it.  Grab the opportunities and experiences as they happen.  Find the adventure even in the smallest of events, and live it.

And tell your story.

The panel had read her essay – a required part of auditioning.
“You say here that you want to tell stories.   Can you expand on that?”

I won’t recount her entire essay, but she said that at the end of the day she wants to tell a story, a tale.  The way she connects and tells them is acting, on a stage, adding herself a bit to the character.

When they asked her to expand, she said that, in essence, she was doomed.  Every time I tried to complain about my job, my industry, all of it, my wife would look at me and roll her eyes.
“You have too many stories you want to tell,” was her line.  She hated that fact about me sometimes, but she was right.  I do.  Unfortunately for Abbi, she’s doomed to have it as well.
Abbi told them her father is a writer, a storyteller, a journalist.  But she added: “but I get it from all sides.  My Mom was a reporter.  Heck, my grandma can tell you a story about how she went to the grocery store this morning.  It may take her a half hour to recount the adventure of her 15-minute trip, but it will be a tale and it will always be interesting.  I want to tell stories and I do it this way, for me it’s the purest form of telling a story by inhabiting it myself and giving it to the audience.”

A member of the panel apparently was extremely excited by that answer.  It’s apparently exactly how they looked at things and she unknowingly had hit the nail on the head.

I couldn’t have been more proud of her, either.

Tell a story.  That’s what we do.  I recounted my past eighteen years here . . . telling of love, loss, and life.  I’ve told how I’ve moved on, becoming more and more the person I am now, moving into a new phase in life, a new way of looking at the world.  I sometimes dominate the conversation – to my detriment.  I have learned to listen.  I talk a lot, because I tell a tale.  But we’ve both learned to hear and not just fill in the gaps of silence.

We have little adventures, small trips, and seize what opportunities we hope to grasp.  It’s important to us.  We’ve lost, but look what we’ve gained?

The truth rolls around our heads . . . and we tell our stories.

So what tale do you have to tell?

At the movies, with Abbi
At the movies, with Abbi

Playing Catch-up

So, after three months, the IRS finally managed to get me a check in the mail.  This, by the way, after I yelled – while at work – at the “customer service” representative and made her cry.  I get that I was mean, I even get that I was frustrated and probably could have held my tongue a little better than I did.  I daresay, though, that I held my tongue for far longer than most people would have.

But in the process I’m having to catch up on soooo many things.  My kids’ tuition, which normally was easily paid, was behind because I’d counted on this refund check.  The deposit for next year is overdue.  The registration packet, all of it.  The car payment.  The phone bill.  I cannot in good conscience have my kids in Nebraska for the summer and not give my folks money to pay for their expenses.

But the biggest thing, the one that I’ve avoided and tried to prevent dealing with this whole time, is finishing the gravestone for Andrea.  I know it’s something I should have done, literally, a year ago.  I know that Andrea’s folks are not happy that it’s not there yet.  I also know that I did the preliminaries and I don’t want to face it.  It’s like the day of the funeral when I tried to leave the cemetery.  It isn’t easy.  It’s really the most difficult thing and it seems to be the last, most permanent reminder that it’s all over.

I get it, by the way.  I know that it’s been over since March 26th, 2011.  I understand that she’s gone and that she’s not coming back.  I’ve done everything for the kids since then.  I’ve raised them, fed them, housed them, bought uniforms . . . all the stuff that Andrea dealt with – far better than I did – I faced and not well.

It’s the last thing I wanted to prevent happening.  It’s like I had the opportunity to say “no, I don’t accept this!” and was doing it.

But now I have the check.  It’s the last obstacle – the money – that I had to getting the stone finished and in place.  I can’t spend a ton but I also don’t want to skimp on her.  It’s like the last present I can give her.  The problem is that is feels like the birthday I screwed up all over again.  She wanted something amazing and I gave her a replacement for a decorator item the kids broke.  I want to give her life and instead I’m sealing the grave forever by signalling everyone that it’s here she’s resting for eternity.

I asked the kids if they wanted to be part of it, if I should send pictures and get their ideas.  They don’t.  Abbi, as she’s often done when the topic of her Mom . . . when it comes to her death . . . comes up shut down.
“I don’t really want to, Dad” is her response and I can’t say I blame her.

But like so many things, it has to be done.

Now I just wait for the finished product.  I have that long, at least, to pretend that it’s not over . . . not completely.

The Final Sign

My Favorite Picture of Andrea

Tell Me What You Want (And I’ll Give You What You Need) by The Doobie Brothers

There is one final task, one last thing that I’ve put off and stalled far more than the average widow or widower likely ever would. I wish I could say there’s some massive, glorious artistic reason, a bent that drives me to wait until perfection is reached but I’d absolutely be lying to you if I said that.

Andrea died and there were so many things I had to choose, so many things I had to decide that were life changing or even permanent options that we should have made together.  I never thought about where we would spend eternity.  I had to walk through the cemetery with a map of open plots that showed where there were openings and determine where I should put Andrea forever.  I was about to choose one of the first places we found, a simple little spot under a big tree when my Dad told me to wait and look around.  That I might find somewhere that might fit a little better.  I can’t lie, there was part of me that was so tired, so exhausted and depressed that I just wanted it to be over.  Andrea was normally that voice of reason.  She was the one who would look at me and say “Dave, just look around.  I like this one.”  I didn’t have her to help me make the decision so I was lost, literally wandering around a cemetery trying to figure out what would be the best place.

This came after having had to decide on the flowers.  Decide on the casket, but since we had been through so many things and her body was in the shape it was in we only could choose from two different caskets, the costs rising exponentially through the decision making process.  It’s really strange, the things you have to decide upon.  That first day, just about an hour after my wife passed away, the hospital forced upon me a list of decisions I had to make.  A list, not a simple handful, but pages of information, things I had to determine.  A long line of items that just kept piling up and staring back at me, telling me, “yes, Dave, you’ve lost the person you loved more than anyone else in this world, but figure it out, kid, you have to get home and tell your kids the worst thing they’ve ever heard.”

The funniest thing is, in that entire list, between a mortuary, the casket, what kind of service, reception, rosary or not, the thing that kept jumping out at me, the craziest and most inane of things, was the item that said “find clothes for your loved one in the casket.”  I kept staring at that list and only could see that she needed clothes and I didn’t know what to dress her in.  I didn’t know what to do.  There were so many massive, horrific decisions I needed to make and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to have to find something that Andrea would have approved of wearing forever.  It’s funny, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I obsessed over it, to the point that I must have worried everyone, my daughter, Andrea’s best friend too because the two of them took over the duty and went out, together, and Andrea’s best friend bought her an outfit and jewelry to wear for eternity.

Had I not had all these amazing people, from my father, mother and kids to Andrea’s best friend and sister, I would have failed, fallen, and collapsed on my knees with no idea where to turn.  I would have never made it.  It was an amazing testament to the people who loved Andrea and love me, but also an indication to me just how ill prepared I was for everything.

The last decision I have to make is proof that I just cannot face all the difficulties sometimes.  You see, Andrea sits there, in the ground, in a spot that I finally chose after spending that extra time my father prodded me to take.  I’m glad he did.  Sitting there in a spot forever she lies under the shade of one of her favorite trees, a crepe myrtle, another crepe just behind her.  Both trees smaller now, but looking to age well and both shade her from the intense heat of the sun and shower her with flowering beauty forever.  The funny thing is as much as I’d like to say Andrea’s in a great spot and would love where she is, I picked it knowing more that we’d think of her, that the trees would remind us of her choices and her life.  I picked the spot so we’d be happy to come visit her.

Still, as perfect as her spot is, I have up to this point refused to decide on her gravestone.  That’s the final choice I haven’t been able to let myself make.  Over the summer, Hannah found some old stones in the cemetery surveys my mother did for the Nebraska Historical Society that had ideas she and her siblings wanted to put on the stone.  Andrea was my angel, and I told her that.  She was “My Sweet Angel” and I even wrote her a song with that as its title.  I wanted her to have an angel, but something that stood out.  I wanted to have the winged letter “A” that Hannah found on a stone in O’Neill.

I want it to be a stone that’s not a run of the mill choice.

But I still can’t bring myself to buy it and put it on the ground.  It’s not just the cost.  I knew it wouldn’t be cheap, I even researched the places that will cut the grave marker for me.

It’s just . . . final.  It makes it real, finally and permanently real.  That’s the best I can come up with, though it’s not all of it.  I don’t want to do it.  Every time I think about it, every time I look at the stones or talk to the granite company I just start to fall apart.  I don’t want to do it, but I know it’s just so disrespectful not to.

It’s the final sign, the last bastion and hold on the former reality that I have.  Once I place that it’s like it means it’s really happened, that she’s really down there.  I have to see it, written in stone, that she is gone, she left me and I have to carry on without her.  I hear all the time, people say that we’ll be together again.  Is that really fair?  If she’s in paradise, I’m left here without her.  Seeing the amazing wonder that is my children growing, but living in the hell between sleep and waking.  I am left here for years without her and it really bothers me.

Andrea deserves better, I know it, but I can’t let go.  I keep looking and keep holding back.  I know I have to make a decision soon, but I just cannot bring myself to do it.

It’s the final sign.  The last letters on the page that lead to the new story.  It’s like not wanting to really know how the story ends and make the book last longer than it has.  Except this time I’m the writer and I really do know how it ends.