Tag Archives: grief

A Lesson in Pacing

IMG_5657

A Lesson in Pacing

I had a long discussion with my daughter this evening about pacing.

She is in a film history class so she has taken to having long discussions about movies.  When we visited her sister in college, the sister’s good friend is going to school for film so they had a lot to talk about.

Tonight, though, in the wake of having watched Citizen Kane as well as a number of other films she informed me that one of her advisers dislikes the film.

“She thinks it’s too slow.”

Kane

I rolled my eyes which caused a long discussion of how I somehow, without using the words, called the adviser an idiot, classless, and probably a whole lot of other things I didn’t remember having said (because I didn’t.)

The whole thing came after I informed my kids that I got to see a Delorean on October 21st, the day Marty McFly went to the future in Back to the Future II.  

But the whole thing comes down to a discussion I’d had with an actual film director and with others in the industry. Films today are being edited, directed, and written by a post-MTV generation. The number of edits on every film is vastly different from a film cut even twenty years ago. So is the music, the pacing, and the freneticism of it.

But then . . . we also have an age when Hollywood is filled with comic book movies. I don’t dislike comic book movies, by the way, but I do leave them with a bit of exhaustion sometimes.

“So this same adviser probably hated Lawrence of Arabia because it was too slow,” I ask?  This was met with eye-rolling from her part. It was warranted, I was trying to elicit a reaction.

The thing about this entire discussion is not a generational thing nor is it cultural nor industrial.  This is just what some of these movies call for in the editing process.  The Avengers, by Marvel, would not have long, sweeping landscapes.  Yet as much as they liked that movie, Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which had those long shots, sweeping landscapes and slow moments wowed them more. “This movie deserves and Oscar,” my son said as we left the theater. I agreed.

So why do I write this? When I sit with the kids and watch an old movie, which is often – that’s our kind of habit/hobby – I don’t let them spend the whole time on video games or phones.

Citizen Kane I made my daughter look at the scene that Wells dug out the floor to put the camera low to the ground and explained – it may not be modern now . . . but it literally was groundbreaking. When directors of photography told him he couldn’t do something, Wells said “why?” Then he did it anyway.

When I bring up The Third Man, they realize that an old episode of Pinky and the Brain is completely modeled after that movie . . . and succeeds in paying homage and lampooning it at the same time.

Sure, we don’t have as many epic movies. Ben Hur would be a miniseries, not a movie. Spartacus turned into a bloody spectacle of a show, alternative to the Kubrick version.

Life is quick today, so it’s obvious that media, movies and everything are reflective of that.

But then . . . we sat and watched Back to the Future this evening, on the same day the Marty went to the future, and this was not an edit frenzy. It was pretty amazing, though, and complicated, and tackled a lot of issues and made you pay attention to the story in #1 and #2.

This after they loved Shaun the Sheep, which wasn’t quick, either. It was paced out and funny and sweeping in its small model way and they loved it!

Slower isn’t necessarily worse . . . and quicker isn’t necessarily better.  My daughter walked away, smiling, because we’d come to the conclusion together that the answer to this debate was, like so many things, somewhere in-between.

Advertisements

Amazeballs!

IMG_5572

Amazeballs!

(Yep, I did it. The uncool Dad thing of saying the current slang that was added to the urban dictionary. Deal with it!)

When’s the last time you did something amazing, spectacular, jaw-dropped speechless for your kids?

I don’t mean “I am (insert butler/maid/launderer/chef) for my kids” kind of thing. We all do incredible amounts of work for our kids. I don’t mean the daily grind. I also don’t include soccer practice, baseball, sports competitions, swim meets, school plays . . . none of that. I’m talking about something totally unexpected, off-the-map, hard to do, hard to find, hard to accomplish kind of thing?

I actually managed that this week. I have my share of real life. Guitar lessons on Saturdays. School clubs, student council, field trips, all of that. My daughter had an adventure for Homecoming that had me playing chauffeur for two days.

This weekend I loaded the four smaller Manoucheris into the car and drove up to Portland, Oregon. It’s not because I like rain or the show Portlandia. (Okay, I like Portlandia, but I digress)

You need some back story here. Not Disney Phineas and Ferb backstory. There’s no “stand outside and be a lawn gnome” business going on here. (There’s actually a Wikipedia page of Heinz Doofenshmirtz’s backstories. Amazing! Google the lawn gnome, it’s worth the digression. We’ll wait here for you!)

………….

(Okay you’re back…)

My son has a soft spot for what is called stop-frame animation. He grew fascinated when I was watching a documentary one day on the director Ray Harryhausen. He is the man behind Clash of the Titans and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. My son sat, at age 10, and watched two full hours of the history of Ray Harryhausen. He has a scale model of the Jason skeleton as well as a t-shirt bearing homage to the late director.

JasonAndtheArgonautsSm

The technique is called stop-frame because you make a model, or puppet, or what have you and you move the model a fraction. You shoot a still frame of film. You move it a little more . . . and a little more. It takes 24 of those pictures to make one single second of a film.

My son decided to start doing this himself. Last Christmas I got him software that came with a web-camera that lets him shoot stop-frame cartoons. I do believe in all sincerity that making these little movies was a boon to my son’s mental health. He was having a really hard time dealing with the grief of losing his mom. The meticulous nature and attention to detail funneled his creativity and helped I am sure of it.

Some amazing movies are made with this system. One of the biggest studios now, a studio my son knows and loves, is called Laika. They have made the movies Coraline as well as The Boxtrolls, and ParaNorman. My kids love and have seen all these films.

Coraline, courtesy Laika Films.
Coraline, courtesy Laika Films.

I reached out to the folks at Laika and told them exactly what their films and what this kind of animation has meant to my son, and to all of us. I simply wanted to have my son meet an animator or talk to one or see the inside of their building, anything would be great. To my astonishment and utter delight they told me I could come up and see them and they’d give us a full tour.

Thus the trip to Portland, the city where Laika has their headquarters.

I kept why we were going a secret, other than telling them we were visiting their older sister. When we pulled up there was no indication where we even had arrived.

“Dad, this looks like an insurance company,” they told me, knowing full well it couldn’t be.

I cannot tell you what we saw. That’s part of the deal. No photos, no phones, non-dicslosure all around is the theme of the day. None of us cared a lick. We were happy to sign it.

My son asked a million questions, enthusiastically and almost giddy. The answers he got had the same level of enthusiasm and imagination. The fact that this little 12-year-old was on the same wavelength seems to have connected with the employees who took us around.

There is nothing to compare with that starry-eyed look of astonishment and excitement when your kids are truly youthful and imaginative and seeing something they’d never thought in their wildest dreams they’d experience.

So why do I tell you this? Am I looking for the “Coolest Dad Ever” award or something? No. This is my lesson to every parent because I learned it well: our kids work really hard not just for themselves but for us, too. When my son was grieving he tried to keep it from me or he tried to work it out even though he was terrified to face it and didn’t want to deal with it. It caused him terrible problems which hurt him and made me hurt as well. I couldn’t fix this problem. Some are just too big for a dad to tackle.  Yet he found this amazing thing that let him work out his frustration and grief and he worked it out as much for all of us as for himself.

So when the thought hit me that if I took the family up to visit their sister, we could stop in Portland maybe they’d let us say “hello.” Instead, this wonderful group of people at a major studio told me to come in and we’d get a tour. We’d not only get to see someone who works for this company . . . we’d see them in action.  I got an event that all four kids will remember for a lifetime. We saw magic – not film magic, though that is there. We saw imagination turned technical turned artistic turned . . . beautiful.

IMG_5573

“This would be the coolest place to work . . . ever,” my son whispered to me during the tour. I can’t disagree.

The folks at Laika told us “we need box office results in order to get the money to keep making these so we’ll need you to go see this film. Maybe see it twice!” It was a joke . . . but little do they know we were at Boxtrolls on opening day and we’ll be seeing Kubo and the Two Strings, their new film (I am allowed to tell you the title) next year, too.

Poster for Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika films, coming out next year
Poster for Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika films, coming out next year

Amazement. Sure my kids showed their amazement, slack-jawed, eyes glistening and floored at the imagination.

I’m not amazed at that. I’m amazed that a group of people who had no need to show us around simply said “come on in!”  I’m amazed at how lively and excited they were with us and the others getting a tour that day.

I’m amazed at the love and humanity of other human beings. That is truly wonderful.

(Yes…I resisted the urge to say “that was truly amazeballs!)

It Hurts Me Too…

IMG_4882

It Hurts Me Too

“Get some sleep…”

It’s a credo used by every parent. I don’t care what language you use, either.

“Etwas zu schlafen”; “duerme un poco”; “a fhail ar roinnt codlata”

The meaning is the same. You’re driving me nuts, you’re too exhausted, you’re going to get sick which will in turn get your siblings or – worse – me sick. I don’t have time for that.

Get…Some…Sleep!

As parents, though, we don’t think about the turnabout of our own words.

This happened last night to me with my middle daughter. I’ve had a particularly stressful and difficult project to contend with at work which, in turn, caused many late nights. I’ve managed to get dinners pre-prepared for the kids and given them the contingency plan for when I’m inevitably late. This isn’t an issue.

Yet when I get to work early and leave late only to come home and have to wash the PE clothes, clean the kitchen, and make lunches and prep dinner for the next day, it’s just not a good combination. My stress also caused me the last few nights to awaken in the middle of the night in a panic with video clips running through my head. I can’t shake off that feeling quickly so the sleeplessness continues.

In the middle of all this walked my middle child.

“You look exhausted,” she told me.
“Glad I don’t look better than I feel,” was my response.
“You can’t do that, Dad. We need you around.”  I looked at her, threw out a “yeah, I know,” and she didn’t let up.
“You need to get some sleep,” was her response.

She did all but quote the old Elmore James tune “when things go wrong with you, it hurts me, too.” But there you have it. She got the gist of it out.

The kids have already seen the loss of one parent and they became keenly aware, unfortunately, that we aren’t immortal. Parental immortality is supposed to last at least until they graduate high school, or that’s my theory. Mine disappeared in 2011 with the loss of their mother.

So here my child sits, worried about me instead of the other way around.

Still . . . I took her advice.
“There’s Mac and Cheese in the cupboard,” I told her. “Think you guys could do that for dinner tomorrow instead?”
YES!” was the unequivocal response from the 3 kids in my home. It doesn’t always take much to make them happy.

Here I fixed lunches, looked at my daughter, and at a rare 9:30pm informed her “I’m going to bed.”

I slept like a rock.

The next morning I was just as exhausted, but not as beat down as before.

It’s not often you get advice from your kids, particularly your own advice, but when you get it, it’s best that you take it. They are right. When things happen to me they worry and there’s not point in making them worry. That just makes things harder on all of us.

It’s ironic, though, that I take their advice and as I sit here . . . they fight going to bed tonight tooth. . . and . . . nail.

Lost in the Bottom of a Suitcase

Lost in the Bottom of a Suitcase

It’s been easy to recount tales of the times when my kids had two parents, when things were bright. Holidays and a tiny house in the Midwest and moving to a larger home in Texas. Those all seem just such easy things to recount and such amazing things to remember. It’s also therapeutic to talk about events as they unfold in our lives and how we’ve had to adjust.

One thing I hadn’t thought about was the fact that, now more than four years removed, that things will spring up as memories from those first days after losing someone you love. It’s easy to understand the melancholy of memories from a song, a scent, or even a taste. You don’t think about what comes in those days just after since you lived them.

Recently, though, I stumbled on something I’d totally forgotten from the first few months after my wife passed away.

Cleaning up the remnants of a trip to visit my family I reached into the side pocket of the suitcase my sons used and found two envelopes. Neither of them was from our trip so I was a bit confounded to find them. Inside were two greeting cards, ones sent to my sons from me during the summer of 2011.

You have to have some context here: my wife passed away in March of 2011, causing unbelievable grief and uproar in our home. In that same stretch of a month or so I changed jobs, we lost our home, everything was a mess. In order to actually concentrate on the work and setting up our rental home my parents volunteered to take all four of my kids back with them for the summer. As needed and appreciated as that was the times at home alone were maddening.

After a few particular conversations over the phone I sent greeting cards to the boys.

IMG_5297I know I sent them to all four kids, but these had IMG_5298been lost to the recesses of their suitcase from the trip to the Midwest.  The boys had worked for the newspaper for fun and inserted ads in exchange for some small change. The paper is run by a relative and “worked” is a bit of a misnomer, but it was the same. The boys had said they didn’t get to do the work that week and I had an idea.

IMG_5299My new job had a vending machine that dispensed dollar coins, the kind that look goldIMG_5301 and had Sacajawea on them. I got four of them and taped them to the cards. I also wrote notes to each of them, promising to visit them before the summer was over and come back home with them. I made good on that promise, by the way.

IMG_5300

 

I had forgotten the cards, and maybe I had wiped it clear for a reason. The notes are hopeful and talk about how much I loved them and would see them soon. What they don’t reveal is how much of a panic I was under and how I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. Regardless, though, I couldn’t show panic or worry to my kids.

My oldest daughter said something once, and I’m likely quoting it wrong, but the gist is there: as a kid growing up you live with your parents and it’s like living with giants. But losing their mother it was like seeing the giants fall and you can never raise them up again.

They’d already learned their parents were mortal. They needed to cling to the hope that their father had an idea of where to go next, even if he really had no idea.

So reading these notes brought back the heartache for me and how difficult that first 3-6 months was for our family.

My sons? They looked and said . . . “HEY!  I forgot these were in here. Now I have two bucks!”

The Moment She Realized

IMG_5154

The Moment She Realized

It started tonight with Whitesnake.

Wait, wait . . . stay with me! I know, it’s a hair band from the 1980’s and the embarrassed icon of all that is excess and every boy my age in that era was able to sing (badly) along with David Coverdale.

Having tucked my sons into bed and cleaned up from the night’s culinary creation I sat down for the mere half hour or so of television I had available to me only to find that, with more than 500 channels, there was just nothing on TV. It was in scrolling through the guide on this weary evening that one channel had Whitesnake Live.

I chuckled as I said it aloud: “Whitesnake live!”

My daughter looked up with a smile that I realized, having raised her this past 16 years, was trying to be sly but was, in fact, completely faked.

“You don’t know who Whitesnake is.”
“Uhh…nnnno?”

I belted the next line out.

“...and here I go again on my ooo-oh-own….
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known!”

She had that look of cognition that was filled with both enlightenment and horror.

“Oh! That’s Whitesnake?!”

Before she could say “geez, Dad, why would you even know that song?” I looked at her and said:
“Yeah, they were a bit cheesy then…and accused of trying waaay to hard to copy Led Zeppelin but every boy loved them for the songs, the cars, and the girls in their videos.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Say what you want,” I sarcastically told her, “but David Coverdale, their singer . . . he had some pipes, my girl.”

She looked skeptical.

So I played her a different song. In the 1990’s, when the world was itching for Zep to get back together, there seemed no hope. Then out of the blue, after Jimmy Page had made disparaging remarks about Whitesnake he joined up with David Coverdale. It was as close, at that time, as we’d ever get to something Zep-like.

cp

I played the first cut off the record Coverdale/Page, Shake My Tree, for my daughter. She was transfixed.

“I’m weirdly into this song! It’s not metal, but kinda, and it’s very Zeppelin, but . . . not . . . oh my God, I like it!”

It was here my memory started to finally kick in.

“It was interesting when this record came out because it’s a moment of realization for your mother,” I told my daughter.

The kids all knew that their mother didn’t want to be married to a touring musician, and that’s okay…I wasn’t really one anyway. It was part of why it wasn’t hard to relegate the guitars to the back room. But my wife also, in the beginning, saw music as a phase, a thing that had little hold on me or little talent holding onto me.

That was, you see, until Coverdale/Page came out.

I put the album on and we listened to that first song, Shake My Tree, and when it was over I picked up the guitar I’d just gotten – from her, by the way – a Gibson Firebird. My wife was in the kitchen of our apartment. I started playing the opening riff, that maddeningly fast, sort of off-kilter line and my wife rounded the corner.

“Are you really listening to that first song over again…”

And she stopped dead in her tracks.

“How many times have you listened to that song,” she asked me, her mouth slightly agape.
“Once, just when you heard it here with me.”
“Aaand…you just started playing it.”
“Yeah…”
“After hearing it once.”

I honestly didn’t understand her confusion. It was a little hard to hit that off-kilter note here and there but once you had the muscle memory, I didn’t think much of it. It didn’t dawn on me – and I swear it’s not ego talking – that it was anything significant. It was just learning the song.

Andrea walked over, absent-mindedly put her hand on the back of my head, and said “I just never realized you really could play like that . . . that you could just . . . figure it out. That’s . . . ” (pardon all the ellipses, but it is for effect) she trailed off.

She kissed me, full-on, love of my life kissed me.

“I never told you how talented you are. This just drove it home.”

It was a great moment for a musician to know the person he loves now supported something so important in his life. We would have more arguments about music and more conflicts over my playing a night here or making a bunch of money on a Valentine’s Day there…but Coverdale/Page had driven home I was more than just some minor hobbyist noodling around on his guitar.

My daughter, hearing the fun story about her mother, no more than an anecdote, smiled and then looked up to see the guide still sitting on the TV screen.

Regardless…we still did not watch the Whitesnake concert.

 

Boxes…Everywhere Boxes

Embed from Getty Images

Boxes…Everywhere Boxes

Boxes.

You may never have realized the importance of boxes until, quite frankly, you become the parent in charge of said boxes or, like me, you are a single parent.

I had never quite realized how many boxes, tubs, containers and storage items my own mother kept around the house until I became that sole person, Dad, in the home. It’s not hoarding, though you might consider that the case if you looked into my own closet. It might just bear a slight resemblance to the old picture of a UK shoestore up there.

I don’t have a ton of shoes, certainly nowhere near as many as, say, my wife or my mother did.  Bear in mind, though, guys tend to have a pair of black dress shoes, brown ones, tennis shoes and maybe some work boots. That’s about it.

Yet I went to the store a number of weeks ago and bought brand new Adidas shoes.

shoes

 

Bright red Adidas, as a matter of fact.

Yet when I was in my closet this morning I realized, just purely out of a habit I’d acquired from the last few years, that the Adidas box, along with a box for dress shoes was sitting on my closet shelf. This wasn’t because I had some affinity for boxes or thought, now weeks removed from the purchase date, that I might need to return them. No, I have these boxes up on the shelf for one specific purpose: school projects.

Noah Barleywater Project
Noah Barleywater Project

These are the kinds of things, when you have two parents and Mom is generally the one to be home when the kids get home from school, that Dad doesn’t contend with. Plus, Mom usually has shoe boxes in abundance. (I know that’s a stereotype, but c’mon…it’s really kind of true, right?) So when I bought shoes for my oldest daughter, my middle daughter, myself, even the boys as their feet grow to adult proportions, I kept the boxes.

It’s self-preservation.

Self-preservation, you see, because you don’t hear about school projects until the last-minute. Particularly with boys. So when they come to you the Friday night before the project is due obsessing about the fact they need a shoe box . . . well, you have one. Or two, as is the case for my needs.

But boxes abound for other reasons. My oldest was only home a month before heading back to work on a grant for college. A large number of items left behind need to be sent to her back at school. This is where leftover boxes from moving, guitar purchases, Amazon.com or other areas come in handy.

But I also picked up a habit from my own mother. Storage containers (not big storage unit kind of things, like Container Store tubs) are great for kids’ items. I have file cabinets full of artwork and grades and report cards, things that I think are the history of my family. My mother had one of those tubs for each of us . . . of course mine ended up unceremoniously dropped on my doorstep last visit, but it was a fun walk down memory lane. Some of it . . . well, let’s face it, was painful to remember. Some made no sense whatsoever.

There’s also a box upstairs that I kept but I never open.

Inside a small purple box still labeled “Decorator Items” from the move from my last home, is a box full of materials dated anywhere from March 26th through the middle of April, 2011. Every sympathy card, dozens of homemade cards from the kids’ school, notes, paperwork, everything from the week my wife passed away is in there.

I didn’t bury it, there’s no hiding from those events, the days still burn in the recesses of our brains. Yet there’s no need to post a shrine to the days, either. I remember the last items I placed in there. Just days after the funeral I had to pick up the last of my wife’s personal effects at the hospital. Sitting on the top are three get-well cards that, even today when I think about them, are heart-wrenching.

I don’t open that box. I haven’t in four years.

Yet that box is really the start of our story. It may be the actual spark for the beginning of our story. It’s where we put the past, keeping it safe, not buried, not invisible. We see it, we may open it and reminisce when the mood strikes us, but it’s there.

It’s necessary, just like all those shoe boxes that sit on the top of my closet.

Only this box has never been empty.

The Memories of a Night Out

Embed from Getty Images

The Memories of a Night Out

I did something the other night that has become, literally, the most routine and common occurrence in our household. I wouldn’t normally have thought twice about it.

I took my kids to the movies.

I grew up loving to go to the movies, my brother took me to see Revenge of the Pink Panther at the old Royal Theater in my hometown. I saw Ghostbusters and Back to the Future and even 16 Candles and probably every other John Hughes film in my hometown. I loved them then. I love the movies now.

Tonight, though, I walked with three of my kids into the theater and it was different somehow. We went to see Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland.  There was nothing in the film that startled me. I wasn’t driven to tears by it (well…much). I just started down this emotional road and, like watching a train wreck, I couldn’t stop moving toward it.

Kids at Movies

As the film wasn’t boffo at the box office like Jurassic Park or Inside Out we went to one of the older theaters in the area. It was walking around the corner into the darkness of the theater that I was overcome. Inside the darkened room I realized what was getting to me. The upper balcony, the near dollar-theater feel . . . it was like the old dollar theaters from when I was younger. That reminded me of my late wife. I hadn’t been this awash in melancholy in a very long time.

When I was first married I was broke – far more broke than I am now. It’s not that we complained or worried about it, we were broke, knew it, bemoaned it, but still managed to enjoy ourselves with it. Even after our daughter was born we’d spend the money on a babysitter and then go to the dollar theater to see a movie that had been out so long it was probably already on video. We were cheap dates, only a buck to go to the movies was a bargain.

As the lights darkened in the theater this night, approaching the end of the movie trailers and heading to the start of the Disney Motion Pictures logo I took a deep breath and sighed. Loud.

AndeI always sat to the left of my wife. I don’t know why, it just always was where I sat in the theater. It’s an odd fact that I’d never thought about before but it was all I could think of at this moment. Why on the left? Why not the right?  I don’t know…it felt weird to think about that, even now.

I looked down at my arms and turned them over, top to bottom. My left arm, as far back as my memory goes, has always had a slew of scars that covered it. The remnants of burns I don’t remember from when I was a mere 12-months-old. It remained the same.

My right arm has one scar, about 3/4 of the way up the forearm, fading now in my fourth decade on the planet. The area above it started to get tender and I got goosebumps on my forearm. It wasn’t a ghost, I don’t pretend that the spirit of my wife was in the room with me. Yet her memory was there. I felt how she used to quietly, near subconsciously move her fingers over the skin of my right arm, sliding her fingers down and merging hers between mine and holding. I had this urge to reach over and put my hand on her knee even though I knew it wasn’t there.

Movies were date night for us. We might have dinner at some bad Tex-Mex place (because it was cheap) and no matter how bad the movie we would navigate around the arm rest and find a way to press next to each other. She would hold my hand through most the movie. She would lean her head on my shoulder only to lift it again because the seat just didn’t lend itself to that juxtaposition of her body.

I was distracted for the full two hours. It wasn’t the need for contact. I suppose I could get that if I really wanted. It was her contact that was missing. When the climax of the movie, the tearful most poignant part came and George Clooney shed a tear on the screen I could only take a shuddering breath and sigh out, stifling the same emotion.

I didn’t miss having someone. I honestly missed my wife. In the deep, buried in the membranes of your cells, tied to your DNA kind of way. I missed those silly, broke, insane days when just being together was enough. When going to the movies brought us together, just the two of us.

I was in this cold reverie of nostalgia when I felt a head on my left shoulder – the opposite side from my wife. I looked over and my son, blonde and growing and such a mix of my and his mother’s personalities had laid his head on me. I reached over with my right arm and rubbed his short hair. He looked up, head still on my shoulder, eyes lifting his top eyelids to their peak, and smiled only to return his gaze to the screen.

I heard him sigh and took that same cleansing breath.

As we walked out of the theater, the memories lingering behind as we moved toward the entrance my other son asked “how did you like the movie, Dad?”

I looked at him and simply said “I loved it.”

I loved everything about it.

The Different Paces

Andrea and Abbi . . . during the Pharmacy School era

The Different Paces

I hadn’t expected the day to be quite so hard.

That’s a harsh, abrupt statement, but it’s true.  Mother’s Day, for us, isn’t normally quite so hard, at least I didn’t think so. Today, though, was a reminder just how wrong you can be.  You can think things are moving along at one pace and realize…you’re not the one setting the pace for everyone.  We all move at different speeds.

We all grieve and recover at different speeds, too.

Since Andrea, my wife, passed away four years ago I have visited her at the cemetery.  This isn’t for everyone, I know it, and I don’t pretend it should be. I know people in my own family and some in the kids’ extended family that refuse to ever go to the cemetery, it just has too many terrible memories for them.

But I go.

It’s been the habit over holidays, birthdays, and the most particular one, my anniversary…which is also the anniversary of her passing.  It’s not an easy day, even this far into the story.

Today was no different.  It’s Mother’s Day.  I can’t tell you what motivates me, maybe it’s just the love that will always be there, perhaps it’s routine or maybe it’s just respect.  Maybe it’s something driven into me from years of studying history and respect for those who came before us but I always bring her flowers.

My daughter asked me, “are you going to visit Mom today?”  I wasn’t going to lie.
“Yes,” I told her. “It would probably be a good idea.”

There was a protracted silence.

“Can I go with you if you do?”
Her brother chimed in immediately after, though a bit more quietly: “can I go too?”

The day had a lot ahead of it. We had trips to the hardware store and my son had some money burning a hold in his pocket so we were at a videogame store, too.  But we stopped and got flowers for Andrea.

The kids had never asked to go with me before and I wasn’t going to force them to go. I just didn’t think it was right. For them, in particular, their mom isn’t there in the ground. She is inside them. When they smile, when they sing – badly, in particular – when they dance in crazy fashion…their Mom is there. They said it would be okay so I assumed it would be okay.

Cemetery 2

The boys split up the red roses, their Mom’s favorite – or maybe just the ones I always gave her, not sure which.  My daughter put the mix in there, with some sterling silver ones…the same flower I wore during our wedding.  I snapped a couple photos thinking I’d post here because they were so brave and so amazing to want to do this.

cemetery 1

But just seconds after I snapped this I noticed it. You might, too, the look on the middle boy’s face.

This is the point right before the dam broke.

I go here, I contend with the loss and I foist the routine each day and I’ve come to terms with this for the most part.  I don’t have the moments where the loss still overwhelms me to that point.  Sure, there are moments.  When a woman at work leaves a trail of perfume that is the same scent Andrea wore, I’m thrown for a loop.  When something comes from left field, like a line from a movie or a food or a picture you never remembered…that hits you.

But the kids were not here.

My son couldn’t take it any more.  It is proof, yet again, that I may be observant but not observant enough.  I saw the glass form on the bottom of his eyelid and then the gates burst forth. His sister grabbed him, more, I think, because she wanted to cry, too, and she didn’t want it to seem like she was.  Comforting her brother was a good excuse.

I kissed the top of his head, commenting that I got more of a mouthful of his sister’s hair than his scalp and he laughed.

This is still fresh for them.  For weeks society has told them to love and cherish and remember to tell their Mom that they love her on Mother’s Day.  I think that was part of wanting to come to the cemetery…it just was hollow to know that they could say it…and while all their classmates and friends got tears of love and joy and soft hugs…they felt nothing but the breeze on their cheek up on the hill, underneath a crepe Myrtle tree.

I was reminded that while I dealt with many of these issues, mine are different issues. I don’t have a wife, sure…they don’t have a Mom.

We left…I took them home, we ate lunch…and I did the only thing that works: the routine. Stability. We ate, cleaned, folded laundry, and then went to the park after dinner.  We tackled each other, played football, and then I had them up and in bed.

I read a chapter from their current book and hugged them a little tighter tonight.

We don’t ignore the day. They called their grandma and their aunt and celebrated like everyone else. I don’t regret going up to her grave, either.

But I regret that I hadn’t noticed they need more time, if they are ever ready to come up there.  Days like this are when they miss her the most…it’s my job to know that. I didn’t handle that job so well today.

But tomorrow…tomorrow we go at it again.

A Spectacular Day

2015-03-26 19.49.12-1

A Spectacular Day

How do you spend a day that everyone assumes would be really difficult?

I suppose, like I did, you’d take the day off just to be there for your kids and to handle whatever emotional time bombs might be resting in the wings, waiting for you to get close.

But this day started like any other. I got up, made breakfast, and took the three kids to school.

The only indication in the beginning that this was the day my wife, their mother, had passed away was the fact that I bought a dozen roses and put them on her grave.  I did it alone, after dropping the kids at school.  They don’t like going  to the cemetery anyway. It was beautiful morning. The cold breeze was blocked by trees and the sun was warming just the perfect spot by her stone on the row. I talked to her, in a private conversation I won’t recount here, and went home.

I spent the morning and early afternoon with my oldest daughter.  We had lunch, eating at a cafe near my house, and talked about school, movies, her friends, my work, like any other conversation.

This could have been a hard, terrible, sad day.  But when I asked my daughter if she’d seen video of her mother when she was a TV anchor she said “no.”  We brought up the video and she marveled at how she looked, how she was the very age my daughter is now…and the scary fact that her voice sounds a lot like her mother’s.

“It’s so funny, though” my daughter added, “because it doesn’t sound like her. She had a TV voice going.”  When another clip hit, one pre-recorded with her voice deeper my daughter’s eyes got brighter and she added “there’s the voice I remember!”

There were no tears, no glassy eyes, nothing.  She just smiled and liked seeing a part of her mother’s past she hadn’t seen before.

I made BBQ, cornbread muffins, and we ate until we were bursting.

Then we went to the carnival.

2015-03-26 19.43.42

We rode the Ferris Wheel three times.  We spun around and around. I rode a glider ride with my daughter.  We played games that are obviously fixed so that we lose and didn’t care.

2015-03-26 19.36.30

We rode a carousel . . . just because.

2015-03-26 19.35.04

Went down the super slide at breakneck speeds.  My son got queasy after riding something called the “Thunderbolt” too many times. I heard my oldest daughter screaming in delight constantly and smiling so hard her face hurt.

2015-03-26 18.06.57

 

We played, laughed and hugged and it was just . . . fun. It was going out late on a school night.

We rode the wheel again and watched the orange horizon turn to purple and electric blue and meld with the lights from the carnival. We bought cotton candy, caramel apples and licorice and went to the car . . . sitting and grinning as we went home.

It is a perfect, living metaphor, you see, for what our lives have become. We look at the woman we all love . . . for we still love her. That will never change. We don’t really get over losing her, we live with the memories. Those memories were painful, stinging us four years ago with every daily remembrance. It’s a tribute to the love we have for her that those memories now are fondness, remembrance and caring. We smile in her honor.

But those memories are what we have left. While she remains where she is . . . we continue to live. It’s the best thing in the world, by the way, life. Sure, it’s just a local carnival . . . but I dare you not to smile when you hear the screams of delight from four kids all shouting at once.

If you listen close enough . . . you can hear the delight in their mother coming through when they mix together.

 

Someone You Should Meet

97220025

Someone You Should Meet

I have someone I’d like you to meet.

It’s difficult, though, because you can’t talk to her.  You can’t really touch her or smell her or get the full sense of who she was.

That’s where I come in.

Meet Andrea Andrews:

When I met Andrea I was nineteen, skinny, shy, reserved, nervous, angry, and nothing like the man I am today. Much of what I have become rests in the wonderful and beautiful arms of the woman you see there.

IMG_4441

What you see, though, is the surface. She was so much more than just the person who was there in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She seems reserved, a bit staid and youthful in her delivery. She’s got the late-1980’s hair and the shoulder pads.

Still, she was gorgeous. There’s just no getting away from that.

Andrea was not just the Entertainment reporter who became a daily news reporter and then anchor on the small cable television outlet. She saw me in a newsroom full of people and decided that I was someone she wanted to know better and on a night in the middle of all that we went out drinking, talking, and ended with the most warm and inviting hug I’d ever had.

It took me forever to gather up the nerve to finally ask her out. When I finally did she looked relieved, like she’d been waiting forever for me to get off my duff and finally do it. What she didn’t realize was that I was scared to death that she’d never say ‘yes.’ I just took one look at her and thought she was out of my league.

She was playful. When I would curse and use foul language over the headsets while she was on a studio camera she wouldn’t take direction until I apologized. It drove me nuts, she knew it, and she loved it. When I would refuse to dance or go to a party or leave a table she’d just take my hand and make me do it anyway.

She loved her family. Even though there were times when she clashed, almost violently, with her father, she still sought his approval and affection.

Let me describe her best I can. She was wistful, with a length of long blonde hair that she eventually cut short into the haircut up there.  She wore her sunglasses on the top of her head leading our production manager to call her “Hollywood” for no other reason than she was from California. She we boisterous, silly, flirtatious and full of energy.

I took her on our first date in the dead of winter and when she slipped on the ice I caught her. In her own sly, sarcastic way she accused me of staging the whole thing either so I could hold her or so she’d “fall on my ass so you could laugh at the California girl!”

She adored her sister. When we were officially ‘dating’ she could not wait until she was able to get me in a room with her sister so that we could meet. It wasn’t to be competitive she was in love and the first person she wanted to share that with was her sister.

I wish we’d been more mature and knew better to enjoy our wedding day rather than simply experience it. Two days before our wedding it snowed, scaring the hell out of us.  But then the 26th, our day, the sun came out and melted the snow along the sidewalk and cleared a path for us to walk the cobblestones to the church.

She was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful brides I’ve ever seen. I sang her a song and played music with my brother and she smooshed cake in my face even though she vowed not to do it.

We might have married too young. We certainly had children too young. She panicked when she got pregnant with our first child, something she regretted. When that little person was in the world, though, you could never have seen someone who loved another human being more. She dressed her up, took her on walks and called her adorable names that were completely nonsensical.

Andrea wanted to do something to help people and grew disillusioned with the media. That meant going back to school, something that was hard on everyone.  Still, she graduated, worked, even succeeded as a pharmacist and she was liked by her colleagues and co-workers.

Ultimately, we had two girls and twin boys. They stressed us, strained us, wore us down, and we loved them for it.  We were a pair, a duo, and even when others were angry that we banded together we did so for good or ill.  There was a lot of ill, but a lot of good went along with it.

Four years ago, today, she left us. It’s a short sentence, but it was a short and unexpected thing. She went in on a Tuesday morning. By Saturday, she was gone.

It was our wedding anniversary.

From the Beginning - kissing

Today we would have been married 22 years. It was no small thing. It was fitting tribute for you, if you’ve gotten this far, to understand that she held on just that long…waiting until we had crossed the line to that day, letting go only after I got to the room to plead her to stay with me.

Yes, four years later now, I am a different person. Her children are different people. Our lives continued while hers didn’t.  She remains forever the same. Some of it not so great, all of it with flourish.

It may be the hardest part of all that her story ended while ours began.

Still, you should know that while I live on, her children graduate and go on dates and party and hug the people around them, eventually falling in love and influencing lives themselves . . . now at the same age Andrea was when she met that shy, unassuming, quiet boy from the Midwest . . . we don’t forget her. We couldn’t.

She laid the foundation for what was to come.

It’s up to us to live while building on it.

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