Tag Archives: grief

When Do We Stop Touching the Street?

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Abbi at 6, realizing she may be small but is a giant inside!

I took this photo probably ten years ago, maybe more.
I had just bought a medium format camera, a Yashica, from a colleague for a decent price and I was experimenting with the camera.

As I was staring down the top of the little box, watching the reflex prism and getting used to the strange counter intuitive movement I heard “Daddy! Look at me! I can touch the street!”

As I turned around Abbi was standing next to the concrete steps that led up to our little home on 50th street in Omaha. Her arms were up, and she was giddy that she could look at her shadow projected in perfect position so it looked like she was touching the street. With the hand rail, steps and her shadow, the lines were just perfect to snap a photo.

The thing is, she was a tiny little girl, the kind of kid Andrea and I both needed for our first.  When Andrea got pregnant with Abbi, she wasn’t happy.  She wasn’t indifferent.  She wasn’t even pensive, much like I was for both Hannah and the boys.

She freaked out!  I mean, catatonic, hair on fire, a hare’s breath from falling off the ledge freaking out.  You know what, I got it, even then.  We were only 22/23 at the time.  We were young, stupid, and married only a year.  We had amazing plans, travel we wanted to do, and a whole life that wasn’t planned out, but we weren’t ready to be parents.  Still, she was freaking out, and even though I wanted to freak out too, one of us had to be calm.

But something happened after Abbi was born.  She was this adorable little thing, hungry, helpless, and the strangely perfect combination of the two of us.  Sure, she had problems.  As a baby her GI tract was so messed up she had vomiting episodes that make the exorcist look like and episode of Sesame Street.  She needed handmade formula because she was allergic to EVERYTHING!

But she was also the best kid, which was what we needed.  Sure, we had our battle of wills.  We had our crazy arguments.  But she always was this smiling, bright little star that made both of us beam.  While Andrea swore that Abbi was distant from her because she was so anxiety ridden through the whole pregnancy, she would be heartbroken to see how much her daughter misses her.  Abbi doesn’t have breakdowns, doesn’t burst into tears.  But I can see the missing pieces when I talk to her.  When she has a problem with her math homework, when she’s having boy problems, when she can’t get a date for Homecoming.  Still, there are times when she does something silly, not the adult Abbi she sees herself becoming, but the goofy, funny little kid – the same silly things that her Mom would do that made all of us love her so much more than we already did.

And I’ve noticed something, being the only adult in a house full of children.  They have this amazing ability to look at the world with amazement.  They can see their shadow and say “hey, I can touch the street”.  When I walk with the boys they see a rock in front of them and they kick it.  They don’t run, in fact they keep the pace, moving slowly right or left to meet up with the path of the rock . . . and kick it again.  I get that it’s a rock, but it’s still a great indication of how they keep imagining the way things should go.

It’s made me think of something.  The best times in our lives, the ones that we remember, laughing, falling over giggling, and loving every minute of it are the ones where we suspend our reality to look at the world through their eyes.  It’s why we love going to theme parks.  Take the analogy further – it’s why we ended up on the freaking moon!

Now Abbi is 16.  I see some of that imagination wane.  The small twinkling of that brightness comes back sometimes, and I see it: when she’s singing in the choir; when she’s dancing with the iPod in her room (and thinks I didn’t see her); when she gets an invitation to a party some popular kid is throwing and other people didn’t.  I realize that those horrible ’80s movies we all watched as teens aren’t popular because they were amazing films.  I mean, look at Ferris Bueller. Like he could jump on a parade float, get the crowd singing and get away without one bit of police brutality?  But what made them golden – what makes us keep loving them – is that suspension of disbelief.  We never thought Molly Ringwald would end up with Andrew McCarthy, but then, Ducky never lives happily ever after either.  But we have just enough of that little kid left in us to still think those are the greatest moments ever.

I’ve realized it’s OK to think that, too.  Why kill the one thing that keeps us from falling off the cliff ourselves?

I wish I knew when we stopped trying to touch the street.  I’d stop it, and challenge us all to reach for the moon instead!

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Andrea’s Airplane Music . . .

I had mentioned an old mix tape before thought it might be fun to list the tracks for you. Some are as subtle as a 2×4 and others…well I don’t know what my mind was thinking 20 years ago.

Rush : Dreamline
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Couldn’t Stand the Weather
ERic Clapton: After Midnight
Steve Winwood: One and Only Man
ERic Clapton: Forever Man
Doobie Brothers: Dangerous
ZZ Top: La Grange
Eagles: Victim of Love
Joe Walsh: All of a Sudden
Led Zeppelin: Ten Years Gone
Pink Floyd: On the Turning Away

Side 2
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers: Made Me Wanna Go
Allman Brothers: One Way Out
The Who: Magic Bus
Robert Cray and the Memphis Horns: Consequences
STevie Ray Vaughan: Tightrope
Vaughan Brothers: Telephone Song
Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same
ZZ Top: waiting for the bus/Jesus just left Chicago
Eric Clapton: just like a prisoner/behind the sun

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Isn’t It a Pity

I started writing this blog for a couple reasons.  The first, of course, was selfish.  It’s helping me, giving me an outlet to sort through everything that’s going on in my household and my head.  I talked with Andrea about everything, so when you go from having that adult who shares all of your thoughts, feelings and helps you decompress from the day.  You have no idea how important that is and how much you miss it when the most intelligent conversation you have is with four children and not with another adult of similar ilk.

Another reason is to try and touch, if just a little, the memories and history of the first half of my family’s journey.  I have to do this now because I can see the small pieces of her falling away, disintegrating an atom at a time, the memories flying away like pieces of pollen in the wind.  I hope only to retain some of those particles so that they don’t disappear altogether.

The last reason, and the one that pushes me to connect with others via this blog, is to remove the lid from this box that some people (emphasis on SOME people) want to throw you into.

There’s a tendency to ask someone like me how you’re doing, which is fine.  But the next step is always to say “it will get better,” or “you’ll heal, you will meet someone, you will find another person . . ” insert your own cliche’d moment here.  The reality is, it won’t get better, nor should it, and I don’t want it to.  This is what people just don’t seem to understand.  We have such a need in society to want everyone to be OK, but not actually face the things they are going through.  I don’t want to think you will be sad, depressed, stressed out, or even hurting.  I don’t want to face that you might be alone, so damn the consequences, I’m telling you that it will pass and you will get better and you will fall in love again and the world will be bright, full of rainbows, sunshine and unicorns.

Isn’t it a pity.

If I touch even one person to face reality . . . I feel like this has been worthwhile.  Here’s what I want everyone to face, and this isn’t easy for me to write, but if I can face this, I think you can, too.

After Andrea took a turn in the ICU I went into a frenzy of panicked activity.

I spent the next two days talking until I was hoarse.  I took so many phone calls I couldn’t handle it.  I eventually forced people to look at my Twitter feed because my phone kept dying.  I started reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” out loud hoping that I was just so annoying that she’d wake up and tell me to shut the hell up.  I hid in the corner of the room, behind the curtain, hoping they’d miss me and I would stay for longer, maybe the entire night, in the hospital.  I asked her what she thought we should do for our anniversary, what I should bring to her here in the hospital.  I needed her to stay around for our anniversary, it was 18 years after all.

We got married young, and we were stupid.  We were still kids at the time, and I was just so insanely paralyzed by shyness, brought on by a paralyzing lack of self-confidence, and it translated to most people that I was awkward, even uncomfortably silent.  But she never saw that, she saw the person I was at home, the guy that could be normal and boisterous and emotional when he was behind a microphone with a guitar.  She saw that, even when I wasn’t hiding behind the Stratocaster and tweed amplifier.

She made it to 18 years.  Barely.

This is a long setup, I get that, but it tells you what I was going through when the world started trying to shove me into a box.

Saturday morning, March 26th, 18 years to the day that I wiped the emotional tears from Andrea’s eyes as we told each other “’til death do us part”, the hospital called me and said Andrea was “in some distress”.  No big deal, right?  That sounds pretty basic.  I was already on the way and they didn’t sound like it was a big deal.

Until I got to the hospital.  When I buzzed the doors, they got strangely quiet and I heard the nurses scrambling, saying “it’s her husband” in the background, unsure what to do.  The doors opened and I walked into the most chaotic, insane situation I’ve ever experienced.  3 nurses were taking turns pumping up and down on Andrea’s chest, injecting medications to the Y-shaped connector where the IV tubing that snaked its way to Andrea’s arm.  They were doing that CPR count as they pushed, her chest caving in with each compression.

Everything around me started to swirl.  You know how people say they actually see everything turn red when they’re really angry?  Mine went white.  Don’t ask me why, it just got covered in a milky white haze.  The doctor was calmly shouting commands to the nurses.

If all you have seen of this type of scene is what’s on TV, it’s just so inaccurate.  The room had a flurry of activity, but it was oddly quiet, which was even worse.  As they worked on Andrea I could hear one of her ribs break.  I was a mess, begging her to stay with me.  I was in a mad-dash panic and all I could think was “stay with me, please!”  As each piece of medical equipment ticked away, I was thinking how I can’t do this.  I can’t break my kids’ hearts.

Then the doctor came over and told me they’d been doing this for more than half an hour, maybe longer, and that even if they kept going they didn’t know how much oxygen her brain had been deprived of.  He’d keep going, but it was really up to me.  I reached up, held her foot, and saw every horrible thing that was happening to her.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Here’s where the lid of the box opened.

The hospital chaplain too me into another room, as I nearly hyperventilated in emotion.  I haven’t cried in years, but I was a mess.  Here I thought they were going to help me, try to give me tools to move forward.  Instead, they literally overwhelmed me with crap.  I had to start looking at decisions.  I had to pick out a mortuary.  I had to look at a string of things that needed to be taken care of.  It wasn’t an hour since she was gone and the hospital told me I had to start making arrangements.  The kids didn’t even know their mother was gone yet.

Then came the string of phone calls.  Lots of them were really sincere, helpful, and seriously emotional as I was.  Others gave me awful platitudes and talked to me only so I could make them feel better.  This is what I’ve dealt with, a metaphorical version of the hospital.  Get the person out of this room, make the room look empty, make this go away.

Where I’m comforting my kids and trying so hard to keep daily life just daily life, many people just don’t know how to handle that.  Why doesn’t he just stay in the box?  It makes them feel better to think that I will get over things, that the wound will heal, I will move on, the world will get better, and everything is perfect.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.  God help me, sometimes I wish it did.  The kids just don’t have a Mom.  No other woman will be their Mom.  No other person understands me the way Andrea did.  This isn’t life the way it had been, it’s a new life and a new story.  People cannot seem to accept that for right now we have to do this without her and have a hole in our lives.  It’s easier to try and tell us that “all wounds heal” and “everything will get better”.  I’m sorry folks, it won’t.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do it.  We don’t lose the pain, folks.  We learn to live with it.  I don’t crave the day that I don’t think about Andrea all the time, I dread it.  This woman was one of the greatest part of our lives, so why would we want to make it disappear?  Yes, right now it hurts like hell.  But we also have amazing memories and wonderful fondness for her.  It bothers people that we can have both.  People want you to fit the mold.  A mom and a dad.  Parenting the kids.  This isn’t a diatribe about single parenting.  Divorce still leaves two parents.  If you have a problem you can still call that other parent, whether you are friendly or not, because the greater good of your children is there.

But people just can’t seem to handle that life is so complicated.  We just don’t fit in the box.

I know this is the second post in as many days to use music, but to use a former Beatle’s line: “Isn’t it a pity.  Isn’t it a shame.  How we break each other’s hearts.  We cause each other pain.”