Tag Archives: fall

Beautiful Music Together

I’ve made no secrets about the so-called “musicality” of my family.  We live in a musical household, my kids grew up with it and for years saw their father leave on many weekend nights to go play whatever gig paid a small amount of cash for his services.

Some would question whether all that effort was worth it.

The thing is . . . the last two years have shown me it’s completely worth it.

The musician and his daughter
The musician and his daughter

There aren’t a lot of things that you bring into a relationship that remain specifically and only yours.  That’s a good thing, for the most part, but my late wife’s inability to create or even understand the creative process for music was a hindrance at times.  A basis for knock-down drag-out arguments at others.  Why?  It wasn’t, for the two of us, a communal thing.  When we were dating it was neat, quirky and fun.  When we were raising a family she saw it as a nuisance.  That was her and I don’t say it as a criticism.  She had a million amazing things about her . . . that just wasn’t one of them.

But then she left.  Simple as that.  Not on-purpose, it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t really anybody’s fault.  Just one day she wasn’t there.  Suddenly everything that had become such common-ground for us was now a hindrance.  It was a reminder of her and the loss and the end of marriage and all of it.

Music wasn’t.

My beloved Dot
My beloved Dot

Music helped me heal.  Hell…it helped all of us to heal.  In the week after Andrea died I picked up my guitar and just played it.  Christ, I even beat on it.  It’s a wonderful testament to the Fender company that my green Eric Clapton model Stratocaster (affectionately dubbed “dot” from the green 7-up can color) survived those weeks.  I was soft, hard, angry, sad, and just miserable at times.  It got wet with tears.  It suffered indignity of broken strings from massive power chords beaten too hard on the pickguard.  Scratches still mar the 7-up green surface of the guitar with waxy residue from the picks I destroyed scraping the surface.

I have only begun to piece together the songs from the massive amount of writing and playing I did in those weeks.  Some have no lyrics.  Some were re-written.  Others had pieces of inspiration that can lead to better things.  It took me two years to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to be where I am.  Sadly, only one song of mine was completed so far, but it will make the newest recording session for my brother and I to release in the Fall.

But music wasn’t just written.  It was listened to, near constantly.  I decided if we didn’t have it playing and swirling around us before it should now.  When we eat dinner it plays – on the stereo, on the cardboard radio with an ipod.  Hell, we sing, we jam, I teach Hannah songs.  It’s one thing that ended up being communal.  Abbi sings.  Sam is in the school musical.  Christ, I even jammed with a singer-songwriter who I now consider a friend. (a term I never use lightly)

Music helped us heal.  We do make beautiful music together, even when we’re off key or off beat or what have you.  The world may never hear it, nor long remember what we play.  But play we do.

Nothing about what we’re facing is perfect.  But it wasn’t two years ago, either, so why try and apply life in the past to the future?  At the end of the day we have to do what works for us.

And for us . . . it’s making beautiful music together.

It’s Christmas . . . Don’t Be Sad for Me

There’s a recurring phrase that is uttered throughout this time of year.  Not to each other, it’s not a common phrase like “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year” . . . nothing like that.  It’s a phrase that I hear a lot . . .and it’s not just me.  I know others who lost their spouse and they get it too:

“It must just be so hard this time of year.”

Well . . . sure, it’s kind of hard.  But the thing is it’s not as hard as you think.

I know, I know, I’ve written about this before, here and on Good Enough Mother.

Still, I think it’s worth exploring just one more time.

A photo of one of our early, chaotic Christmases . . .
A photo of one of our early, chaotic Christmases . . .

Fall and Christmas are my favorite times of the year, they always have been.  I absolutely marvel at the change in the scenery, the firey red leaves and the muted earth tones that nature herself foists upon us as the weather turns colder.  The hardest part of the year . . . and it’s no coincidence that the blog started right then . . . was the fall that first year.  I love the crisp change in the season and the ability to put on a warm sweater and then find the person you love and just hold them.  It’s not sexual, it’s not lascivious, it’s sensual.  It’s loving and close and just . . . warm, inside and out.  I loved walking and hearing the leaves crunch under our feet.  I loved making drinks after and warming up and relaxing and starting a fire and just enjoying the season.

Christmas was the same.  It was stressful, painful, difficult, expensive, and just plain ridiculous.  I loved every m

Getting the Tree
Getting the Tree

inute of it.

That first Fall and Christmas were really hard for me and I don’t remember much about them.  Sure, I remember the presents and how the kids reacted, but the season?  Nothing.

But we made it through the cold.  It was a hard fought year, not one without its own stresses, but we made it.  We’re okay.  That’s hard for people to understand or believe, that we could possibly be okay.  I get that, it’s hard to imagine what you would do if the circumstances happened to you.  I didn’t have to imagine.

Still, last Christmas was great.  This one . . . though we don’t have as much money and I couldn’t get us out to visit my folks . . . it’s still great.  Why?  The kids and I are together and that’s all that matters.  We’re stronger together than when we’re apart.

As much as I love this time of year, last year I still woke up every morning having to adjust to the emptiness next to me in the bed.  This year I get up and do my routine.  That’s not losing her, that’s living with living without her.

It was important to me . . . the kids . . . all the family that we not lose the holidays to our loss.  It would be so easy to despair and make it a horrible time of year.  Instead, we embraced the holiday.  We bought the tree, we listened to Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas record, and we didn’t let little things get to us.

Tonight I made two pies, tarts and cookies.  We have the stuff for Christmas meal.  We have the stuff we need for the holiday.  I’m not sad, I’m excited.  The routines that could have killed us I embrace and enjoy.

So tomorrow night . . . well, tonight, since it’s now after Midnight as I write this, I’ll prepare for the big guy in the red suit to get credit for being the Christmas hero.  I’ll do what I’ve done every Christmas Eve since we lived in Texas . . . I’ll turn on one of my favorite movies – The Apartment with Jack Lemmon, and ready the house for Santa’s presents.  I’ll take a moment to realize my own Miss Kubelik isn’t here but still love every minute of the exhaustion that the season brings with it.  Sure, I’ll have twinges and memories.  That wound inside will always have moments that hurt.  Sights, smells, songs, even routines and traditions will bring that.  But it’s about remembering and honoring as much as it is moving forward.  The kids and I deserve to have great, happy, Merry Christmases.

It’s not about loss, you see.  It’s about life.


Welcome to my world, kid.

The kids in the leaves

Today was typical of the sole parent/sole income world in which we all live now.  Veteran’s Day is a typical day off for the kids in California’s schools, even ones in private schools get to “observe” Veteran’s Day.  I, however, had to work and that leads to one of the stresses of our little world in the last year: childcare.

So this year, without my asking, in an amazing feat of self-sacrifice and benevolence, my oldest daughter took the day off work so she could be home to watch the other three.  We’re in that awkward phase of the month where bills came out, so did rent, payments, all of that . . . and we’re still a bit behind.  We’re good until the end of the week, when I get paid, but just until then.

So imagine my surprise when I’m at work, in the middle of the 168th row of data I’m entering for an investigative piece and the phone rings from home.  Now, I understand that things happen, the phone will ring.  Her calling me never upsets me, I’d rather they call than if they don’t.  Instead, though I was trying not to laugh when she asked

“Can we go out to dinner tonight?  I have those gift cards.”

Bear in mind, every holiday my Mom gives Abbi gift cards so we can take the little ones ti IHOP – they love pancakes.  The cards are more than enough, for the most part, but I end up paying off the 10 bucks extra and the tip.  It’s a necessary part of having four kids.  I’m not complaining, it’s just life.  But Abbi wanted to take them all to dinner there and the cards just aren’t going to cover it all.

“Do you have any birthday money left?  Because I don’t have enough to pay the balance if we go over.”
“Well, then I can’t.  Why?”
“They’re driving me crazy!”

I had to control my laughter, I really did, because at that moment – at that precise second – she sounded just like her Mom, my late wife Andrea.  Andrea hated when the kids argued, cried, screamed, or did anything contrary to how she wanted things to be.  Now, if you have kids at all, you know that it’s almost a requirement to being a kid that you not do what your parents want.  It’s part of childhood that you be pernicious just once in awhile.  Andrea inherited that intolerance from her Mom, who had it even worse.  Crazier still, the kids all knew it, acted worse, and received enormous bribes to behave . . . which ultimately only lasted about an hour and they were persnickety all over again.

So to hear this from their sister, whose presence and demeanor speak more to their Grandma (my Mom) than their Mom, was just a bit of a funny instance to me.
“Have they done their chores?”
“No.  They won’t.”
“Tell them to go to the park.”
“I told them they could they won’t”
“Well make them.”
“Uh…sure, Dad.”

Here’s where, again, the idea that I’m supposed to parent from 30-odd miles away comes in.  Not often do I run into this lately.  They don’t often spend all day with their sister, but this was one of those instances.  It cracked me up because every time a commercial or movie or TV Show with a baby comes on Abbi turns into every woman I’ve ever known and says “awwwww….look at the baaaaby!”

Don’t get me wrong, I love all my kids.  But what my daughter doesn’t understand is that I love them even with the dirty diapers, the projectile vomiting, the 3am wake-up-calls, the temper tantrums and the picky dinner eating.  When you get that piece of your soul that combines with theirs you don’t really think about those things.  Abbi doesn’t remember that nothing – not breast milk, not formula . . . nothing cheap would stay in her stomach.  She projectile vomited, exorcist-like, in the apartment where we lived.  We spent $150 a box – my dad’s cost – on pre-digested formula designed for those with stomach cancer.  One box was 2-days of formula.  We had to add oil for brain development, iron for her blood, and vitamins for health to it.  It looked like dirty lemonade.  It smelled like it, too.  I remember this not because I want to rub it in her face but because I was so worried about her I’d have done anything and paid anything to make sure she survived.  It was scary.

So when her siblings pitch a fit she can’t handle the noise . . . and I chuckle.
“Tell them that they have to pull up all the leaves and pile them up.  If they want to jump in them, fine, but pile them up and ready them for yard waste.  One hour outside at least.  If not, I take the computer, game system, everything goes away.  Hannah does the dishes after and cleans the kitchen, not just picked up.  Same punishments for her.  I leave in an hour, it needs to be done by the time I get home.”

I’ve given the solution.  Still, though . . . comes “so, uh . . . no dinner, huh?”
“Ummm…no.  This Friday, when I’m paid.  That or we pay $35 bounced check fees for the $10 I don’t have in the bank.”

But at the end of the day, I came home, saw the kitchen, saw the back yard, and the kids were behaving.  All was right with the world.  I didn’t have to have another discussion, things worked fine.

But I couldn’t help using the line when she complained about how they’d behaved:
“welcome to my world, kiddo!”


A good kind of tired

Tonight’s only picture . . .

I’m going to do something that may shock, bother, or possibly even anger a few people.

I’m going to say this Halloween was better than most of the ones in the last few years with my wife.

I know, I know, that sounds horrible, awful, mean-spirited and sadly pathetic.  Doesn’t change the fact that it’s really true.

To explain this, you have to understand what the last few years were like in our house.  My wife had gotten ill.  Not deathly ill, but . . . sick.  The illnesses came with weight gain which caused other problems which caused more issues.  The depression, the pain in her knees, the weight . . . all of those things had an effect not just on her but on all of us.  It was a daily struggle.  Andrea had to take an insane amount of pain medication just to be able to walk – the soft cushioning in her knees had been torn and the bones were literally rubbing against each other.  That, in turn, made her very lethargic.  That made her move less, which exacerbated the weight gain.

So what is Halloween?  It’s walking around and handing out candy and being mobile.  That’s not something my wife was in the last 2-3 years of her life.  Add to that the fact her job – a pharmacist – had her on her feet all day, no break, every day, and she was in a miserable amount of pain.  That pain, mixed with the narcotics, drove her deeper into despair.  It made her sad.  It made her dark.  The light – that shiny, sparkly, twinkle that was there showing so much life – had dimmed in her eyes.

So why would I tell you all these horrible things?  Well . . . first, you should realize that the light was coming back.  The depression was being managed, both by her attitude and through medication.  We’d gotten on a weight-loss plan because the liver and other medical problems were being handled.  She’d started swimming, which had far less impact on her body.  No, it wasn’t perfect, but the embers were glowing in her pupils again.

But holidays – things like Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas – those were hard.  She refused photos.  She couldn’t stand long enough to help cook and decorate.  She still had amazing ideas but even implementing them fell on my shoulders most the time and I was already doing the basic daily chores.

That’s not to say she was helpless, she still picked up the kids while on disability.  She went to the school, did health checks, all of that.  But her activity level was just so low…  Months before she passed she had become isolated.  She was embarrassed, almost reclusive.  I covertly got a friend to come visit and her spirits rose.

But the kids, though they don’t realize it, were missing a lot.  I didn’t see that until last night.

Hannah had three friends over.  They made their own costumes.  They got everything together.  I raced home late and got pizzas for all of us, the home decorated, pumpkins carved and lit . . . it’s been a hard week for me and the kids.  Much as we treat the 30th – Andrea’s birthday – like it’s not as affecting, we know it is.  But you know what, that’s okay.  It’s okay to be close to friends, or grow close to someone and still be attached to this amazing woman.  She was there for half of my life . . . that’s a big chunk of time, emotion and experience rolled together.

We don’t live without her . . . we live with living without her.  That’s the big thing.

So tonight . . . we had the home all dressed up.  Abbi had on a pink tu-tu with a sweatshirt (she thought I hadn’t noticed) and answered the door handing out candy.  One of the kids’ dads and I went out with this massive group – six kids – and walked probably a mile or more getting candy.  We had cheap pizza.  We drank root-beer.  One of the dads talked about how hard it is to find like-minded people: people who know the same movies, music, Monty Python and Spinal Tap and can quote the Dead Parrot sketch from scratch.

We talked until late and then took the visitors home.  It was after 10 when the little ones finally went to bed . . . and I sat to write.  It was then I realized . . . the kids had a great Halloween.  Not a good one – which the last few years had been: walking our small neighborhood, getting some candy and then sitting alone in the house.  My kids all shared an experience with friends.  Abbi talked college and growing up with myself and other adults.

It’s a hard thing to come to terms with the fact that some things might be better after losing your spouse.  But when you have only a single picture from the morning . . . because you were running crazy all day, it’s a good kind of tired.  The kids went to bed . . . exhausted . . . smiling.

The lights, you see, may have left Andrea’s eyes . . . but I saw it there . . . in every single one of the kids tonight.


Positive Outlook

I had someone tell me recently that I seem far more positive lately.  More thoughtful, more upbeat.  What I don’t think these folks realize is that I am not normally dour or down or depressed.

I occasionally go back to the original point of my writing in here every day – well, most days.  I needed an outlet.  Music is a big one, but with the kids and no drummer or bass player, gigging every weekend didn’t seem like a good option at the time. So I started writing.  It was an exercise at first.  Then it was a history . . . of the story up to the current day and the love story that took me there.  Now it’s changed again.  Now I talk about being Dad.

That’s the change, I suppose.  It’s not the Dad that’s lost someone and is all behind the 8-ball and misses the love of his wife every single day and cannot function.  It’s fun to see that in the movies.  Dad is depressed, son lives with him, they hate everything about where they are now and pick up stakes and just . . . move.  Sure.  That’s financially feasible.  I couldn’t do this.  I have 4 kids.  I already moved houses.  I made my oldest change schools.  I’m doing that to the other 3 next year.  All of these were hard, logical, financial choices with the hopes of creating the least amount of damaging impact on the kids.

You have to understand, I didn’t want them to face any of those hard choices.  I didn’t.  The reality is, though, that reality kicks in and you’re stuck with picking up what pieces are left behind after they have that first impact of reality.  The change in Abbi’s school took about a semester.  Maybe a bit longer, in fact.  She’d gone two years to a private high school with Andrea’s income financing it, though we were more than a little strapped.  I lost her income and we lost that school, it was that simple.  The amount of money it cost to send her there was about the same as tuition for many universities.  I couldn’t swing it.

The first semester all I did was pick up pieces.  Abbi was upset, sure, and so were her friends.  What made that harder, though, was the fact that we now live in a connected world.  The distances are infinitesimal now due to email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Oovoo.  In years past, you moved and you tried to make friends and you maybe wrote a letter or called your old friends if you had time.  Today, Abbi was bombarded with messages about how much her friends missed having her there at school every day.  There was no severing tie.  Every day I had to pick up a piece left from the crash of reality hitting her.  Fortunately, I saw the pieces get smaller and smaller as each impact grew smaller.  Now she’s in the drama classes and has a circle of friends who brought her lunch because she was sick at home.

Hannah didn’t have that massive of a shift, but she had the impacts.  Grades hit her hard.  She nearly failed last year – the first year of middle school.  Her pieces were like boulders of her life trying to lift and carry them around.  I knew she missed her Mom and she needed more from me than I had to spare.  Then she hit puberty – in a big way – and the pieces were more jagged.  Today, she’s got a few bad grades and I pick up pieces still but they’re far smaller.  She kept her best friends and hangs out with them and plays guitar.  They all help pick up pieces.

Sam and Noah – though not one singular package – had their own things.  Noah couldn’t control his temper.  He retreated into his imagination, which isn’t like most kids’ imaginations.  Nothing dangerous or twisted, more adventurous and different.  He analyzes and writes and draws with little athleticism.  Sam, on the other hand, is active.  He broke his arm.  He runs and jumps and plays.  When a school grief counselor handled them incorrectly they both grew moody and depressed.  Sam retreated and wouldn’t talk.  Noah got angry and got in trouble.  Both of them had pieces far bigger than their bodies could manage break off in the emotional turbulence.  But they are also more resilient.

So now I see pebbles and stones and no more rocks or boulders on our road.  I bring up the rear, picking up the pieces still, but I’ve caught up a bit.  I see beyond today, which is hard for me because I had to take things a day at a time.

So yes, I’m happier.  Yes, I’m more positive, but that’s not a change.  It’s a return.  It’s the influences of my surroundings and people around me and the care of others.  Mostly, though, it’s seeing that I don’t have to carry so much any more.  Like the aging of a solar system, the number of impacts diminishes.

Sure, we get them still, but they are smaller.  We see them coming.


Bouncin’ Back

Bouncin’ Back by Robert Cray from the LP Midnight Stroll

About a year ago . . . maybe a little less . . . I posted the above song and said that I couldn’t see the events in the song happening at that time.  If memory serves (and it’s been decreasingly subservient lately) I didn’t think I could ever see things improving to that point.  It was a fairly bleak outlook on things, I have to admit.  But the thing about grief and loss is that you never really know how you’re going to handle it.  I wasn’t putting on a brave face, if I had been I’d have jumped into the waters again and started seeing people and acting like life was normal.  I was smart enough then to say I wasn’t going to put myself through that kind of psychological labyrinth.

But now, after hearing the song again . . . first time in a long while . . . I realized things are truly getting there.  No, I’m not perfect, but then I never was so it’s not like I had far to go.  I’ve managed to stop the last bastions of mail from coming.  The solicitations for Creighton University’s Pharmacy School have stopped when I inadvertently made the young student trying to raise money cry.  “She’s no longer with us,” was my line.  Not sure why people who can be so smart can be so thick.  “Can you tell me where she’s moved to, just for our records?”
“No, miss, you don’t understand.  She’s no longer with us.  She passed away.  Andrea died nearly two years ago now.”

In my head – and this is how warped I am . . . and how far I’ve come . . . I wasn’t crying or sad.  I just had a massive urge to quote Monty Python: “this is a late parrot.  Ceases to be.  Not pining but passed on.  Bereft of life moves on to join the choir invisible. ”  But after having – for god knows how many times – to explain what happened and the girl not getting the hint that I was not only disinterested in going through this yet again I had started to lose patience.  Yes, Andrea went there.  No, I didn’t want to give money.  No, it’s best if you take our name off the list.

After we moved into the house and I set up the pictures, shelves, all our life together in this new space, the kids and I had found a box full of stuff from when Andrea was a kid.  Paintings, which I knew she’d made but hadn’t realized we’d obtained, were in a box full of High School memorobilia.  At the kids’ behest I had put them up on the dresser in my bedroom.  That, by the way, was a hard phrase to utter in those first months – my bedroom, not our bedroom.  Now it rolls off the tongue without pause or consternation.

In the last six to eight months I’ve changed things around.  New pictures have entered the wall space.  I took down the paintings because . . . well, to be honest . . . they held no special place for me.  I didn’t know her when they were made.  She never gave me an indication she’d ever had an artistic bent, other than writing.  I had pictures of my own I wanted to put up – not family portraits or other things, but my own photography and memories.

Fall Picture . . . my favorite time of year

I came to the realization this last few months that while I spent half my life with this woman I have only seen half of that life.  So if I want to go out of town and see a friend or what have you . . . I should do it.  My kids are amazing and I care for them and love them more than anyone.  But . . . I have about 9 years left and then the house is empty.  So as the song says, I took the picture off my dresser.  Took the name off the mailbox.

The influence is there.  I have confidence and maturity from this amazing woman that I would never have had without meeting her.  I am not trying to forget her or push her aside.  It’s more like the analogy of this blog . . . she’s stopped, her book in the series is over.  Like a major character in a Joss Whedon film her story line has ended but is referred to and influencing the rest of the characters throughout their actions and movements from here.

As Cray aptly put it – I have the urge to sing again.  I saw a friend a week ago and confounded myself with the desire to actually dance.  (I didn’t.  I may have rhythm but I have two left feet.  It wouldn’t have been a pretty sight)

Fall – through most my life – was my favorite time.  The colors on the trees and the bite in the air are things that give me both a nostalgia for my childhood and the start of the seasons that bring my whole family and friends together.  Last year all I could think about was the fact that Andrea – in those big, fuzzy brown sweaters – wouldn’t be there to sidle up next to me and seek warmth and as me to hold her.  When we dated I used to take walks with her and feel the leaves crunching under our feet.

But this weekend, with a major number of leaves and the first cold day . . . I didn’t think about Andrea.  Not that way.  We piled up the leaves so the kids could jump in the piles with their cousin.  We opened the windows and let the cool air in.

The kids in the leaves

We just felt like it was Fall and Halloween and . . . wonderful.  I hadn’t realized how much I was enjoying myself until the end of the night – and it didn’t make me sad.  It made me very happy.  One of those things that I’d lost . . . one of the things Andrea had taken, the Fall season and the love of the time was back.  I’d finally taken it back.

Like the Strong Persuader says . . . I’m finally bouncin’ back.

The Last Page

It’s funny how a rock can have such a connection.

This is the final page of the story, the first book in the tale of our lives.  I guess, in a way, I was happy that it wasn’t there.  I was pleased that the plot of grass, sometimes muddied by rain and too much watering and sometimes vacant, like any other section of lawn made it somewhat difficult to see where Andrea was.  That way, you see, I didn’t have to face that last few lines of the book.

But the lines are written now.  It’s an epitaph.  I struggled with that . . . a long time.  I didn’t want something cheesy and I didn’t have space or room to do more.

So I stopped to make sure it was installed, since I was getting no answers from the cemetery, and there it was . . . in plain view, shining and new against the grass, the pink creeping over the clouds and the grey granite contrasting the green of the grass . . . reflecting the orange hue of the sky.

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think it would affect me the way it did.

I honestly thought it sounded cheesy and silly to think this was me avoiding something.  Every day I deal with the missing things in our lives and I do it fairly well, I choose to tell myself.  I’d come to terms with the fact that this is the way things are.  I’d come to a crossroads and chosen the path . . . only to veer off the road as often as possible, just to keep things interesting.

I don’t know how to describe what I was going through when I got there.  I’ve missed her more than I thought possible, but I’d come to terms with her being part of our lives but no longer in them.  I’d come to terms with raising the kids and Abbi leaving and Hannah going to high school.  I have dealt with Noah getting angry and losing his temper.  I have dealt with Hannah not turning in assignments.  I have dealt with being the man who had to tell each of those children . . . her parents . . . mine . . . and her sister that Andrea’s not coming home ever again.  These are all burdens that I had to bear without her help.  A year ago, this close to her birthday, when I started writing, I was angry about it.

Tonight . . . I realized I really missed her.  That’s all.  I’m not still pining for her loss or grasping at the loss of the woman I loved.  I can’t bring up any other way of putting it other than that.

I miss her.

In my head I came to realize that I could put her to the back of my mind and fool my emotions into the fact she’s just gone, not gone.  Instead, after this, it’s like I finally read the last few lines of the story.

The funny thing about that is I alternated between emotions in wave after wave for the near half hour I sat there.  I was relieved.  I don’t know what it is about cemeteries . . . or more to point, those stones . . . that draws us.  I felt so much more connected and able to finally tell her things.  To ask her things that I normally would never have dreamed of bringing up before.  I’d talk and then see that photo and . . . I’d miss her again.  I realized I hadn’t checked that epitaph, either, so I went around to see it.

I can’t take all the credit.  The first two lines are mine.  I wrote those in a song for her some twenty years ago.  The last two are from a BB King song I used to sing for her – all the time.  I can’t really sing it any more.

I don’t play or sing her song, not after our video last year.  It’s very hard to deal with that way and it’s hers, not mine anymore.

But I should explain . . . just because I felt these things, just because I miss her, doesn’t mean I’m falling back again.  I left feeling a sense of nostalgic happiness.  The story’s over, but I know that it’s the foundation for the stories to come.  I cannot fight missing her, she’s a part of my life, as well as the lives of Abbi, Hannah, Noah and Sam.  For the first time I realized that I was living with her and living on and it’s okay to miss her.  But by the same token, I am living with it, not fighting it any more.

So it’s true, this story has ended and I am happy with the last lines we’ve written:

Fly on, my sweet angel.  I love the way you spread your wings.



Through a different lens

The kids . . .

Sometimes I wonder about my kids.  Not in a bad way, not in the old “God, I wonder about them sometimes” kind of way but in a way that worries me.

Understand, I didn’t look at the world through the typical lens.  I grew up in a small town so everyone knew your business and I saw or perceived what was supposed to be a set of expectations.  Expectations that you’d do what everyone else does.  Expectations that you’ll go out with whoever they think is best or that you’ll hang out with who is expected and act as expected.

Me in High School

Two things were wrong with that.  First, it’s how I perceived the world.  I’ll be honest, and it wasn’t until many years later, that I realized it was just as much my own fault I saw things that way.  I was immature, lacking confidence, missing some of the more social graces, even.  On top of that I had a refusal to conform, no matter how harmless the conformity.  It wasn’t like I was a rebel, that would have been cool.  No, while the popular culture around me was saying we should listen to Tiffany trying to sing I saw him Standing There I railed and shouted how the Beatles version was vastly superior.

It didn’t improve much until after I’d gotten to college.  Whether worth the loss or not, I neglected and ignored even those who would have been exceptionally interesting friends to have around.  That was my older life . . . I wanted them away.  It didn’t mean I left my parents or home behind, I just enjoyed the stupendous isolation at times.  I taught myself guitar.  I joined a band . . . I’ll grant you, it wasn’t the greatest band ever.  Still, I found exposure to blues, jazz, all of it.  I met people who saw the world through the same kind of lens I did.  I didn’t regret the decisions . . . much.

That doesn’t mean I was cruel (I hope) or mean to those from whom I tried to isolate myself.  It took a great amount of introspection and looking at who I’d become to realize that my isolation and frustration were as much my own doing as the actions of others.  Sure, I was a crazy, geeky kid who loved Doctor Who and had a preference for much better music like Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin and Dave Brubeck rather than one-hit-wonders that dominated the 1980’s.  But look at music today . . . with autotune giving even the most lyrically and sonically inept person thinking they can actually sing.  A Flock of Seagulls seem like Beethoven by comparison now.

I see glimmers of that same lanky kid from my past in each of my four kids.  The push to do things their own way, the frustration, even the disgust at times, even if it’s not particularly warranted.  I want to jump inside their heads and tell them that it’s not nearly as horrible as they think.  By the same token, though, I don’t want them to feel like it’s OK and actually good to be completely conforming to what everyone says.  I play them Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech where he says to do things differently . . . because if nobody’s done it before, there are no rules telling you that you can’t do it.  I tell them that playing the guitar in a band – whether everyone around you says you can do it or not – is perfectly fine.  I remember that I’d only been playing a year when I joined a band and was knock-kneed and scared stiff on a stage with a bunch of people ten years my senior.

My point?  I am like most parents.  I don’t want the kids to go through a perceived suffering . . . looking at the world through those different lenses without realizing that sometimes it’s best to take the glasses off and look at the entire picture.  Sometimes you can be too focused.  Sometimes you can be too narrow.  That was certainly the way I was . . . until I’d gotten to college, and certainly until I met my future wife.

She showed me a beautiful, wild, and sometimes difficult woman could find someone like me – who walks just a few feet away from the path – attractive and interesting.  Did that make life easy?  No.  There were times I wanted to strangle her because she would only walk the path and I’d find things of interest off in the trees somewhere.  My advice to those four kids?  It’s OK to look at what is off the road . . . but I learned from my late wife that you should be aware of what’s ahead, too.

I am also aware that my wife found out from her best friend – who also happened to be a friend of mine from elementary school – that there was one thing about my family she needed to be aware of.

“The Manoucheris have a monumental intolerance for stupidity” was her line.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

The bite in the air

Weekend walk with my son
I made an observation tonight that simultaneously made me nostalgic and happy.

My son, Noah, who you see up there, asked me if we could go for a walk.  Not to go to the park or to play football or what have you . . . the myriad of things that a little boy would normally want to do on a Sunday night after doing chores all weekend, but to go for a walk.

I told him we would, and even though by the time dinner was over and I still had two more loads of laundry and lunches to make and cookies to get in the oven, I had told him we would.  So walk we did.

I hadn’t taken any of my kids on the trail I used over the summer.  It’s a simple dirt trail that weaves its way about two blocks away from the subdivision where I live.  I like it because there’s no traffic and it’s out of the way and nicely filled with gravel and there’s no worry of snakes, not too many bugs, no overgrowth, none of that.  It’s fairly well maintained except for the owners who let their dogs do their business all over the trail.  (never mind the signs and free bags supplied at the beginning and end of the trail.  Don’t get me started)

Noah was really happy.  Sam, Hannah, Abbi, none of them wanted to go but Noah was happy to have the opportunity to get out of the house and have some time with me.  I was glad I’d done it because Noah had a horribly stressful year last year – not that we all didn’t.  I love the little guy but I looked down and his fingers were beat up, the skin more than a little torn on the tops of his thumbs.  When I asked what happened he told me:
“I get nervous and bite my fingernails.”

I was a bit concerned.  Partially because my fingers are in almost the same shape.  I looked at him and told him he didn’t need to be that stressed out or concerned.  I want him to be able to look to me or his teachers when he’s stressed out.  At nine years old you shouldn’t be that nervous that you’re chewing on your fingers.  He looked a bit embarrassed so I showed him my fingers and said “I’m not mad at you, kiddo.  I have the same problem.”

I told him we would do this together . . . I’d stop and he should too.  “It’s hard, Dad, it’s a bad habit.”
“I know,” I told him, “but if I can do it you can too.”

I did this as I was walking down the trail and realized that the sun was going down, which you can see behind us in the photo.

I noticed as we walked that the days were getting notoriously shorter.  Last year we kind of breezed through.  We made it into the Fall without really looking at what got us there, we just were happy to get day by day.  It’s not that we’ve moved to looking that far ahead, but the bite is coming in the air.  As soon as I saw that sunset it brought me to happier times that also made me feel the loss in a pang that hit a bit more succinctly.

I’ve written in the past, but the Fall was our time – mine and Andrea’s.  I loved the bite in the air, and the fact she’d put on those big, warm sweaters and sidle up next to me.  The days would get colder and the weight of the colder air would surround us in a way that would push us together even more.

I felt the melancholy, the days of my tiny daughter and my young wife when Noah looked up and said how excited he was.
“It’s getting colder, Dad, almost time to decorate for Halloween.  I saw the decorations at Target already!”
“I know, buddy.”
“I really like it now.  The trees get so pretty and the leaves are all kinds of colors.  Don’t you like it when the trees change like that, Dad?”

I realized that Noah had never really had those memories.  I smiled and looked at him and said “You guys jumped in the leaves last year.”
“Yeah, we got all muddy, but we took a shower afterwards!”

It was then I realized that we’d made our own memories.  Fall was still our time, but instead it is our time.  Sure, I have all those amazing memories from years past, but without realizing it, day-by-day, we’d made our own way.  The Fall is still our time, but it’s all of ours now.  I love the fact that the kids, feeling the bite in the air, see excitement, not sadness.  They look at their Mom’s birthday coming and look forward to having a cake and celebrating her, not missing her.

The bite in the air may be a bit cold, but it’s not a time for sadness it’s a time for introspection and for forethought.  I can see that the very things that made this time of year so great for me are still there.

I just have to change the way I look at things.

Into the Light

Our 1,000 cranes

I realize that I have a tendency to reflect a lot here, but the point of the blog, when I started it, was to give voice to things I just didn’t have the ability or the company to say out loud.  I didn’t go to therapy, I know everything I’m going through, or seem to know.  I know what I feel guilty about.  I know what I loved about my wife.  I know how hard the last year and a half have been, I didn’t really need anyone to tell me how it wasn’t going to be easy.  I knew my kids might need it, and some did.  I knew they needed me to be less the gruff, hardened Dad and soften more than I normally might have been.

But there is light.  The reason this whole blog didn’t start until October . . . when Andrea passed in March . . . was because I wasn’t sure I was seeing any of the light.  I had four kids and I loved them more than anything.  I needed to get to the point where I was in a routine and able to take care of them.  I started when the routine started to settle and I realized that I still hadn’t come fully through the veil of grief that had enveloped me.

The other reason is that we had fallen so far that I didn’t think it was possible to get back up.  The dark was black as ink and I was nearly swallowed by the deep pull of it.  It’s easy to fall into that place, it really is.  Just losing your wife can be the worst thing in the world.  I lost her, our home, was facing a pay cut, was facing moving out of California in order to survive.  I couldn’t keep Abbi in her school because tuition was too much.  Basic survival, those were the things that were swirling around me.  When I thought it couldn’t get much worse it did.  I wasn’t sure at all that we’d come through the other side.

Until we wished on those damn cranes.  I know I wrote about this before.  There’s a point here.

There’s a Japanese tradition that if you wish on 1,000 paper cranes your wish may come true.  When we had fallen my Hannah’s class folded 1,000 of them and gave them to us.  They folded more and made a piece of art for us.  While I know that I’d been looking as hard as I could for work that would help me stay, that I applied for Social Security for the kids, that I was looking for a home . . . none of it seemed to be working.  But a short time after I was offered a job.  We got a home and then we got the kids’ social security.  Our wish?  Help us stay here . . . the kids’ home.  I never really thought of it as mine, but it’s really the longest we’d stayed anywhere.  They needed one stable thing – one piece of land to dig their toes into that wouldn’t change.

I’ve been in the darkness.  I would say it’s not a good place – and it isn’t – but it is easy to let it envelop you.  I don’t think a lot of people understand how much you want to feel this.  The hurt is so bad and there are waves, almost like a riptide, that folds around you and pulls you under.  In the beginning it’s hard to fight.  You hate this but you accept it, too.

But at some point you see the light.  It’s not a “walk into the light” thing, at least it wasn’t for me.  It’s more like driving through a fog and it starts to burn away.  You don’t really notice you’re not there anymore until it’s grey . . . then it’s spots of grey . . . and then you see the sky.  This isn’t just grief, it’s all of it.

I know this, and two people I care about are now going through this.  One lost her job, her husband taking a massive pay cut.  They have kids.  They care for others.  What do you do when that much comes onto your shoulders at the same time?

You give the cranes away.  We made it through to the point where the grey is fading.  It’s not all light, no, but there’s more light than dark.  For them the inky darkness was looming.  They needed a glow of some sort.  I kept the picture, the extra cranes, but I spoke with the kids and we gave away the cranes.  It wasn’t that we knew it helped us or that it was a sure thing.

It’s that we got the thoughts, support, and love from people around us.

So I gave away 1,000 cranes.  I can only hope they still have some magic left.