Monday, January 31, 2011


I spent some time at the airport in the last couple of days, as my sweet girl came from Arkansas to visit me.

An airport is a great place to watch people. I hope to publish a novel someday, if the Lord wills and publishers agree, and I do believe some of my best fodder will come from airport meanderings. The conversations. The clothing. The mannerisms. The quirks.

People are funny. But this time, I didn't watch for funny. I watched for emotion in the two common happenings: Goodbyes and Hellos.

I watched couples linger as long as possible, his hands on her hips, her fingers on his lapel. Looking for more things to say, more promises to make, before the final boarding call.

I watched mothers kiss their daughters on the cheek. I watched sons wipe the kiss away with one swift movement.

I saw people treasuring their last. I saw people talking on a cell phone on their way out.

I watched confidence, worry, too much baggage, disguises of many varieties.

But I saw some pretty beautiful hellos.

Flowers. Balloons. Tears. Momma's home. Giggling babies. My favorites were the running hugs, the scooping up, the twirling. I loved watching them breathe each other in, the scent of remembering.

The remembering. The together.

I wonder if this journey is all a little bit like that. The tears at the goodbye. The joy at the hello.

I think we'll run to each other. He'll scoop me up. He'll twirl me. I know he will.

And then he'll show me around. There's nothing Robb loves more than knowing a place inside and out, giving the grand tour.

Together, someday. I wonder if he'll smell just the same.

~ ~ ~

I miss you, babe.
And I'm wearing your sweatshirt.
The one you loved.
OSU Rose Bowl.
Your favorite.
The one you didn't share well.
Can't take it with you, kiddo.
I'm wearing it tonight.

Chick Fil A

"Welcome to Chick Fil A, ma'am, may I take your order?"

"Yes, I would like a #1 meal with Polynesian sauce, and two kids' meals with 4-piece nuggets and fruit."

"Will that be all for you today, ma'am?"

My husband died.

I hear this in my head, and my eyes well with tears. How can this be?

"No, that's all, thank you."

"My pleasure, ma'am."

This happens a million times a day. This newsflash in my mind: Hey, Tricia, everything around you is happening as it did six weeks ago. Except for this one thing.

How can this be.

(I didn't put a question mark. There isn't an answer I want to hear right now.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Digital Era

Tucker got a (kids' version) digital camera for his birthday in September. Really, he just wanted to be able to snap pictures and see them on the screen.

Today, he was scrolling through some pictures on there, since we've never deleted any. Who knows the picture journey that camera holds?

With a gasp, he ran to me. He showed me a picture of Robb, with his back turned, standing at the sink and washing dishes.

Tuck had seen that as memorable in the moment, and he snapped a picture.

"Mommy, look! It's Daddy! He was alive then."

"He sure was, kiddo."

"I miss him, Mommy."

"Me, too, kiddo."

"But now he's in heaven. All fixed."

He sure is.


Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions themselves.
Do not now seek the answers,
which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, January 28, 2011


"Welcome to Starbucks, ma'am. What can we get started for you?"

I stared blankly at the menu. It's the little decisions that overwhelm. Seriously, the smallest of decisions.

"Um, a salted caramel mocha, please. Decaf."

"You bet, ma'am. Coming right up."

We exchanged a few common pleasantries.

And then I said, "Could I tell you something that will seem intensely vulnerable, and yet I just need to say it?"

His hands were still and he looked intently at me.

"Yes, ma'am. Of course."

"I'm a writer. I come here often to write. I sit in that corner booth; perhaps you've seen me?"

He smiled and nodded. "Oh, yes. Yes, ma'am."

"I lost my husband, quite suddenly, very tragically, a few days before Christmas. This seems to be the only place I can come on my own, your Starbucks. This one. I've written here before, and I'll write here again. In fact, I'm here to write today. I just wanted you to know. I can do that here. Thank you."

His face softened.

"You're welcome, ma'am. It's an honor to have you. And may we buy your drink today?"

Yes, please. My husband would love that.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Heart of Depression

I know firsthand how it feels to be Tricia - not because of losing my husband, but because of not being able to carry on with my life.

I remember how it felt not to be able to stay out of bed, how it took every ounce of energy to get myself dressed, the sadness that enveloped my very being, and how afraid I was to go anywhere by myself.

I feel such compassion for where she is right now. I know that it will all come together, but as each day goes by, she feels no improvement in her being.

At the end of a month, my husband would point out to me how much longer I had stayed out of bed, how many more times I'd gotten dressed. But I didn't see it. Another month would go by, and he'd point out again how much better I was doing, but I didn't see it.

But gradually, I began to see it myself. I could feel myself becoming my person again.

It's such a struggle, this emotional stuff, but really, it takes no longer than a broken bone. People see your cast and realize you can't walk, and they allow for that as long as you have that cast, or lean on those crutches, or walk with a limp.

No one can see emotional pain, so when you laugh, they think everything is better, everything has returned to normal for you.

Tricia has that cast on right now, and she is healing very slowly - so slowly that nobody, not even she, can see or feel it.

Give her a few months.

She'll have the cast off and will be walking with crutches, still reeling from this loss, but able to move along a bit. A few more months, and she'll be walking with a limp, and it will finally heal.

But the X-rays will always show that broken bone.

~ a friend

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I registered Tucker for kindergarten today. Kindergarten.

Robb and I had talked long and hard about the decision of which school to choose, a decision that is new to parents of our generation. Back in the day, so I'm told, your elementary school was entirely dependent on the map of your city, and only the wealthiest made choices outside the natural option.

Now, there is public, private, charter, open enrollment, homeschool, co-op... the list goes on and on. We had decided weeks ago, for many, many reasons, that we would send our sons to the school around the corner, the one three blocks away. We looked at all our options, and we felt confident in our decision. And I love that we decided together.

Today was the day.

I was a teacher before my kids were born, and I taught kindergarten, specifically. So I confess, I may have entered with a slightly askew list of expectations. Not that my way is the only way, but I did have a brief checklist of items that would meet my approval.

Our new elementary school hit a homerun.

Warm. Open. Inviting. Organized. Colorful. Kids' artwork posted everywhere. Print-rich environment. Registration happened in the Media Center, a room filled not only with stacks and rows of books, but also art sculptures, paintings, couches, and pillows.

Sign me up. Or, rather, sign him up.

I came prepared with the dozens of papers required for this entrance into the world of real deal school. I thought I was all set.

"Ma'am, it looks like we're missing one. We'll need you to fill out just this one more page."

A basic page of info.


"Does the child live in a one-parent household or a two-parent household?"

Oh. Oh, my. I never planned to give this answer.

It's these little shocks that bring me to my knees.

I completed the form.

I registered my son for kindergarten.

It is the first real step we've taken to plan for the next season. The belief that the next season will come.


I didn't want to do this without his dad. In a one-parent household.


Recently, I listened to a friend tell of an evening with his dad, of grabbing a beer together, talking sports scores and drafts.

And I thought to myself, that's the pay off of the hard work of these early years: grabbing a beer with your son. Becoming peers. Fearing less for his decisions because they are solely his. Enjoying adult conversation. Becoming friends.

I wept over my boys that night. They were sleeping, and I knelt over them and wept.


I cried not for the little milestones along the way, although there will be millions of those. Father/Son Camping Trips. Tyler learning to ride a bike. Baseball teams. Marching band. Grabbing a beer with their dad.

I cried over the magnitude of it all. Of the giant piece they don't have, the pieces they don't even know they are missing.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," I wept over them.

~ ~ ~

"You are the helper of the fatherless."
Psalm 10:14

Monday, January 24, 2011


I make funny faces when I put on mascara. (And I challenge the world to introduce me to one girl whose mouth doesn't hang open in contortions while she's painting her lashes.)

Robb used to sneak up behind me and mimic my face in the mirror. Then he would put his arms around my waist and watch while I applied the details of my face for the day.

And then he often reminded me that there was really no reason for makeup, that I should only wear it if I wanted to. (But I always wanted to.)

I remembered that today. I can't quite remember his voice, but I remembered that.


Sunday, January 23, 2011


"Mommy, I had a accident," Tyler called from the bathroom at my parents' house.

Poppa, ever the hands-on Grandpa and my hero, said, "I'll take care of it."

Seconds later, Dad called from the bathroom, "I'm gonna need some help in here. Extra hands, please." A little more than he'd bargained for.

Well, turns out, poor Tyler didn't make it in time. Almost, but just not quite. There was a yucky, poopy mess down the back of his jeans. (Forgive me for graphic details, but it's just how it goes.)

The plan was for Dad to lift Tyler, and I would slide his clothes off as smoothly as possible.


As Dad lifted him into the air, Tyler started kicking. I think he believed it would be helpful as I tried to get his pants off. But since his jeans were covered in poop, his kicking sent it everywhere.


Gives a whole new meaning to 'the sh*t hit the fan.' Picture every degree of flinging. Poop. Everywhere. In giant, flying gobs.

Dad and I laughed until we cried. We didn't know where to begin to clean up this now-much-bigger mess. We were doubled over, and laughter poured out of us.

Just when we had gathered ourselves for the task at hand, Tyler said, "Poppa, there's more poop on my leg."

And Dad replied, "I know, Tyler. Mine too."

More laughter, rolling in waves.

If you asked God to give me laughter today, he sure was creative. And man, it felt so good.

~ ~ ~

Today is January 23: Robb has been gone for one month.

I have survived and breathed through this first month of being a widow, this first month of life without him. I slept through most of today, perhaps 18 of the last 24 hours. I simply couldn't bring myself to do anything else. Today's joy was hard to find.

He has been gone for one month, and still my heart beats.

Sorrows like sea billows roll, and sometimes laughter comes in with the tide.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Step at a Time

I went for a walk today. The first time since I lost him.

I strolled the sidewalks of our neighborhood. I took our after-dinner route. By myself.

Memories danced around me.

Our family of four, with our dog on her leash, walking the paved path with the mountain view. Years ago, just two of us. Then we added a stroller. Then a double stroller. Then we upgraded to a wagon. And most recently, we all walked together, and everybody had a buddy.

Often, Molly peed in every yard while Robb tugged on her leash, embarrassed and hoping the neighbors weren't watching. Tucker collected rocks, tossing and trading them for shiny shapes he liked more. And Tyler's energy and interest never lasted the entire stroll. He always landed on someone's hip or shoulders. Sometimes we skipped or sang. Sometimes the boys ran ahead. Often, Robb and I held hands.

Today, I walked by myself.

Sometimes I walked slowly, my head down, my heart heavy with remembering.

Sometimes I walked faster, wanting to finish, my heart racing with remembering.

I walked in the shade, a grief cold and mean.

I walked in the sunshine, a warm and gracious sadness. Sometimes I stopped, just to breathe.

It is good to cry with my face to the sun. It feels sacred and promising.

One step at a time.

Words with New Meaning

Single Mom.
35 years old.
31 years old.
Dust to Dust.
Too Young.
New Day.
New Mercies.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thinking Out Loud

"Grandma, I dreamed about Daddy. I dreamed he came back."

"Well, Tyler, that sounds like a very nice dream. Did he play with you?"

"He was getting ready for a trip. And he gave me a big hug."

"That sounds like your daddy."

"Grandma, did Daddy get any presents for Christmas? 'Cause he didn't get our presents."

"Oh, I'm sure he did."

(Joyful gasp.) "What did he get?!"

"Well, I don't know, but I know God loves to give gifts. So I'm sure Daddy got something wonderful for Christmas."


"Grandma, is Daddy still sick?"

"No, Sweet Pea. Daddy is all better now."

(Joyful gasp.) "So he can come back!!"

"No, buddy, I'm sorry. Once someone goes to heaven, they stay there. He's not coming back."

"So he's living in the house Jesus is building for us?"

"He sure is."


"Grandma, when Mommy dies, will you and Poppa take care of me?"

"Oh, Tyler, Mommy will take care of your herself. Mommy isn't sick. She's not going to die anytime soon."

Suddenly, his voice became very serious.

"Grandma. When Mommy gets sick, will you and Poppa let me come live with you?"

Mom realized the true question at hand: not whether or not Mommy will die, but whether or not Tyler will be loved and cared for if he loses the one parent he has left.

"Yes, honey. We sure will. And you have so many people who love you who would step right in if you needed them. You'll never have to worry about that."


"Grandma? Does Daddy watch me?"

"Maybe he does."

"I don't think he's watching right now."

"Okay. Maybe not right now."

(I think Tyler would like to pick and choose what Daddy gets to see.)



"I think I need new mittens."

And that's that. Every once in a while, he lets us inside his sweet little mind that's working so hard to make sense of a tragic mess. And just as quickly, he moves on to other things.

Oh, the resilient minds of my children.

God, may it ever be so.

At the End of the Day

"Courage doesn't always roar.
Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day
that says I'll try again tomorrow."

~ Mary Ann Radmacher

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Like a Newborn

There are side effects I could not have predicted.

I only feel safe at home. As soon as I step outside, I feel vulnerable, exposed, on the defensive. The sun is too bright, the sounds are too loud, and everything makes me jumpy and unsettled. Everything is too much. Sensory overload. Overstimulation. Like a carnival fun house.

It's an unsettling place, this new reality of mine.

I have become severely introverted, and I only want to be at home. Even more, I only want to sleep. There are times when I leave the house, as frightened as I am, just to make sure I stay awake and out from under the covers.

I push myself for as long as I can, until the stimulation, sounds, lights, and life send me racing back to safety.

(This lens of thought is very difficult for the mom of two small boys. They need me. I must function. And yet, my body seems terrified even of sunshine.)

A friend explained to me today: I am in the process of learning my world all over again. Think of a newborn, fresh from the womb. Everything inside is cozy, comfortable, warm, and familiar, and this sudden, abrupt entrance into a new world is a serious shock to the baby's system.

So how does a newborn respond? She sleeps 20 hours a day.

She wakes for a while, eats, looks around, takes in as much of this new place as she can, and then she goes back to sleep. And soon those wake periods stretch to a few hours, and the naps become shorter as life becomes familiar and predictable. Eventually, she can make it through the day without needing sleep at all. She will learn her way again.

But until then, a newborn must sleep and sleep, to allow her body time to understand and respond to a new world of stimuli that seem foreign, unknown, and intrusive.

Even sunshine.

I learned that my heart has undergone a trauma that is equivalent to a head-on collision. Had this happened to my physical body, I would have landed in the ICU for weeks. So it is no wonder that my heart cannot keep up with the demands of the day, or even the decision of the moment. Small decisions can incite panic to a debilitating degree.

I lost my husband. And let's please not forget how he died. Nobody called me on the phone to tell me how it happened. I was there. I'll tell you how it happened.

And now my world seems slanted by 30 degrees. Uneven. Not right.

I have to learn it all anew.

~ ~ ~

Like a newborn baby, don't be afraid to crawl.
And remember when you walk, sometimes you fall.
So fall on Jesus.
Fall on Jesus.
Fall on Jesus, and live.

~ Untitled Hymn

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"You are Amazing."

"You are amazing," they say. I hear this quite a bit.

An amazing woman. Amazing mom. Amazing wife. Amazing believer.

I assure you: I feel far from amazing. And truly, I am not the one who should amaze you.

It's just that I serve an amazing God, who is equipping, empowering, constant, and gracious.

This amazing God is the one who gave me courage to hold Robb and listen to his final breath, to hold on to that sound in my memory for as long as it will stay.

This amazing God is the one who gives me life and breath, who holds it in his hands and shares it with me.

This amazing God gives me strength and words to answer my children when they ask honest questions about who we are, what we will do, where Daddy is, and what happens next. Only God knows.

This amazing God is no less amazing when I cannot speak, cannot open my eyes, cannot stop shaking, cannot get out of bed.

This amazing God will let nothing separate me from him, even my inability to love him back. Because right now, it is all I can do to let him love me. And still he does.

This amazing God is showing us all that there is life after your worst nightmare comes true, that he is faithful to bring a sunrise the next day. That he loves his daughters and cares for them.

It's my God who is amazing.

May he be glorified, magnified, exalted, and known as he leads me through this valley.

"I Am That Hero."

Tyler's clothing has been narrowly defined for the last 28 days. He would allow only two outfits, and one was pajamas. He welcomed only footie pajamas with a picture of Lightning McQueen, and a summer t-shirt of Buzzy Lightyear and Woody.

We had a small victory last night: he chose a new t-shirt to wear to bed.

Still tied to old habits and conversations, I actually heard myself say, "Tyler, you did such a great job putting jammies on, but silly boy, you didn't choose a pajama shirt! That's a school shirt, silly goose!"

And then I realized how ridiculous I am. Let the sweet child wear anything he wants, Tricia. He was brave to believe his world wouldn't crumble if he wore a different shirt to bed. I quickly altered my response: "Way to go, kiddo. I am super-duper proud of you. That's a great shirt to wear to bed."

I woke him this morning in time for preschool, and he said, "Oh, good. And I can wear this shirt to preschool."

And my first thought was, "But you just slept in that shirt."

And my second thought was, "God, thank you for granting him courage to believe he is brave to conquer this world in something new, albeit last night's unpajamas."

And my first words were, "You sure can, kiddo. You sure can."

Appropriately, his t-shirt says Mommy's Super Hero.

~ ~ ~

He got a Larry Boy Mobile for Christmas (two actually, one that broke on Christmas Day, and another from his doting aunt in Texas who couldn't bear for him to have a broken heart and a broken toy all in one week).

Every time he presses a certain button on Larry's mobile, Larry shouts in his distinguished voice, "I! Am! That! Hero!"

Many times I have smiled as my boys have played together, this declaration reverberating through our home.

You are, sweet boys. You are my little heroes. Strong and courageous, every single day.

~ ~ ~

At preschool today, Tyler made a paper craft that involved gluing marshmallows to a paper mug of hot chocolate. He ate the marshmallows on the way home, while the glue was still wet.

He said, "Oh, Mommy, I ate the marshmallows, and the glue was just delicious! I love glue! I must eat more of it!"

I was too numb to argue.

Mommy's little Super Hero eats glue, apparently.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


There is a certain hopelessness to this. A hopelessness that is certain.

Don't get me wrong. There is not a hopelessness to my life; there is no hopelessness to my husband and my joy in knowing where he walks, talks, breathes, and lives. Where I will one day live with him.

But there is a hopelessness to the finality of my days here with him.

I wake in the morning, and there is a sweet second or two when I have forgotten. But it is always short lived, followed quickly by the nauseating rush of reality that leaves me quaking in my bed. Every single morning.

I didn't get to see him today. I don't get to see him tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next. Or the next.

I don't get to see him. That's a whole lot of not seeing the man I planned to do my life with. The man who listened well and cared much, served well and loved hard.

I do not grieve as those who have no hope, but still I grieve.

I do not get him back. And that brings a certain hopelessness.

My heart hurts.

A Coupon for Everything

In today's mail I received a coupon for $100 off a tombstone.

A tombstone for a man who was cremated.

Or $200 off, in case I'd like to have my name added as well.

Also, the coupon was only valid in Ohio, just in case I'd like to have a marble/granite tombstone shipped across the country.

I'll give that some thought.

At least the whole thing made me laugh out loud. That, I can go for.

Monday, January 17, 2011

On the topic of Marriage

Tuck had given it some thought, clearly.

"Mommy, when I grow up and I'm a daddy, I think I'll marry you. Because you don't have one."

"Well, that's very thoughtful, kiddo. But you should marry someone just for you. Like maybe Isabelle."

(Isabelle is his ooh-la-la favorite girl in Sunday School. She's a darling little firecracker in pink cowboy boots. I've been told they snuggle in the book corner and he plays with her hair during story time.)

(Robb had a special place in his heart for Isabelle, too. He loved that little girl.)

"Isabelle? I could marry her."

"You sure could."

"You'll be okay, Mommy?"

"Yes, Tuck. I'll be okay."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Between Two Worlds

I am in an oasis right now, suspended between two worlds.

Ten days ago, I brought my children and my parents (or rather, they brought me), and we traveled to the family across the country who know how to love us, feed us, and swallow us whole. We gathered our thoughts, our lives, ourselves.

In retrospect, it seems the trip has been divided into thirds: 1) funeral and public grief, 2) private mourning and quiet recovery, and 3) rest and strengthening. And tomorrow, we begin our journey home.

I cannot fathom what awaits me.

His death and the days that followed were such a frenzied blur of trauma, grief, and tragedy, and then we whisked ourselves away. I couldn't feel yet while I was there. Even now, it seems like I've simply left him behind. Like perhaps he'll greet me at the top of the escalator at the airport. With flowers and balloons. Because he would have.

I left the house where my husband died. I will return to the home where he no longer lives.

Ready or not, I am about to create this new life. A new normal. A new us.

I didn't want to let go of the old one.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Sorrow never entirely leaves the soul
of those who have suffered a severe loss. . . .
but this depth of sorrow is the sign of a healthy soul,
not a sick soul.
It does not have to be morbid or fatalistic.
It is not something to escape but something to embrace.
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
Sorrow indicates that people who have suffered loss are living authentically
in a world of misery, and it expresses the emotional anguish
of people who feel pain for themselves or for others.
Sorrow is noble and gracious.
It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of
mourning and rejoicing simultaneously,
of feeling the world's pain and hoping for the world's healing at the same time.
However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.

~ Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

Thursday, January 13, 2011


It was the morning of Christmas Eve, while other families are wrapping gifts and scrambling with the hustle and bustle of last minute details. Not this family.

We sat around my dining room table: my parents, Robb's parents, my brother, Robb's brother, my pastor, a precious best friend of mine, and the funeral director.

There were details to discuss: calling hours, funeral plans, cremation or casket, details, details, details.

Details one shouldn't discuss on Christmas Eve. Details one shouldn't discuss at her age of 31.

I needed to read and sign so many things, and my heart and mind were blank. Empty. Yet decisions awaited. Decisions only the widow could make.

The funeral director placed before me a pricing list. (Let's take a moment to acknowledge the uneasy presence of the funeral industry. And yet, I assure you, it is one. And everything has a price. Thankfully, everyone approached me with class and respect. But these were no less services rendered.)

At the top of the page, just in case our timing were different and we were here to 'plan ahead,' there was the option to 'lock in todays pricing.'

'Lock in todays pricing.'

My eyes went straight to the typo. That possessive noun needs an apostrophe. With my pen in hand, I corrected his pricing sheet.

Everyone around the table smiled. Two of them reached for their phones to post a Tweet or Facebook Status about the irony of the moment. Even in my grief, I know grammar.

My brother looked at the gracious funeral director. "I'm sorry, sir. My sister's a writer and editor. She can't help it."

Turns out, on a shaky and uncertain day, there is humor and comfort in the rules of punctuation.

I always suspected that could be true.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wall of Blue

In the hour of Robb's greatest need, our bedroom was filled with at least eight men. Police, firemen, paramedics. Heroes.

They escorted me from the room, and they went to every length to try to rescue my husband.

One of them came downstairs, amidst the frantic efforts. "Excuse me, ma'am, but I believe there may be a child awake upstairs."

Oh, God. It's Tyler.

I jumped from my chair. "My son - I'll get him."

With great authority, he pointed one finger at me. A forceful, "No. No, ma'am. Not you."

With my hand to my heart, I lowered myself back into the wooden, kitchen chair.

My mom said, "Let me. Someone must get that baby." I couldn't let him wander out into the hallway, awakened by foreign sounds, to find his daddy... to find his daddy.

"Yes, ma'am. You may go."

She quickly climbed the stairs to the bedrooms, and she tells me that if she had wanted to (which she did not), she could not have captured even a glimpse of the frenzy happening in my bedroom. Several men stood in the doorway, shoulder to shoulder, an impenetrable wall of blue. She retrieved a frightened Tyler, she carried him straight to me, and she never saw a second of the medical intervention. They simply would not let her.

As fervently as I prayed for Robb's life, I also prayed for Tucker to stay asleep. I knew I would have enough of a journey to help the boys through this loss that was not yet confirmed; I could not fathom the damage of any memories they would carry of the scene.

By God's grace, he stayed asleep. Until all was said and done, he slept soundly. But then we needed to wake him, to quickly send him home with a friend. I needed to grieve my husband. I needed to be fully wife, and as long as my children were in the house, I could only think as their mother.

Together, my parents went upstairs to wake Tuck and bring him down. And once again, they found the impenetrable wall of blue. There were no cracks in this fortress of men; they would not be moved.

Much later, after the coroner had arrived and confirmed the end of my husband's life, it was time to carry him from our home.

This time, the men stood between my kitchen and my living room, forming yet again that wall of blue. Shoulder to shoulder. Carrying a man's body from his home must be neither easy nor smooth, and they would allow no memory into my mind. With the same fierce authority as if someone were threatening us with a gun, these men stood their ground. There are some things a girl simply should never, ever see.

They protected my heart.

And as they left my home, each one of them came to me. Each one shook my hand, looked deeply and sincerely into my eyes, and tearfully said, "God bless you, ma'am. We did all we could do. I promise you, we did all we could do."

With their hands and their hearts, they did all they could do.

I wish I could remember their faces. They are my heroes.

Search and Rescue

We went out for lunch today. The first time in 19 days. Wendy's.

It was a bumpy lunch, but we did it. Their new style of french fries are food for the soul, I promise you.

On our way back to the car, Tucker dropped his kid's meal toy in the parking lot. It rolled under a car.

He stood there in the snow, frozen in shock, his eyes welling with tears. "My toy."

I knelt in the gray slush, and I crawled under the car. My knees and gloves were soaked. The toy was barely worth a dime.

But I reached it.

We couldn't bear to lose one more thing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Poison Ivy

The summer before tenth grade, I got a horrible case of poison ivy. For some summer bucks, I weeded my parents' side yard, which turned out to be a healthy patch of poison ivy. Intent on a summer tan, I did it all in my swimsuit. So I spent the better part of too many hours feeling my way through leafy poison with almost no protective outerwear.

I was covered. Covered, I tell you.

It was the worst, most consuming itch. Something itched, always. Always. And everyone around me - everyone, everyone - reminded me not to scratch.

"Don't scratch. Oh, Tricia, don't scratch that. Remember: don't scratch."

Finally, I hit my limit. I said to one well-meaning well-wisher, "Here's the deal: my entire body itches. I wish to crawl out of my skin. It itches always. So if you happen to see me scratching the inside of my elbow ever so carefully, please know, it's not because I forgot I'm not supposed to. It's because I honestly, truly can't stand it for one more minute."

I have remembered that scene many times recently.

Once again, all of me is uneasy, in a wholly different way. I am not myself; too much has been stolen. Familiarity is long gone. And many, many people around me are reminding me to be strong.

"Stay strong, Tricia. Don't give up. Don't give in. Don't let it swallow you. Stay strong."

Here's the deal: All of me aches, all of the time. I am jumpy with anxiety that makes me want to crawl out of my skin. My heart is pierced and heavy. My children are grieving, angry, asking, and confused. I have two gauges: sad and numb. I wish to feel less, feel more, feel at all.

Mostly, I am deeply sad, all the time.

So when you see me indulge in the darkness, ever so carefully, know that it's not because I forgot what lies ahead of me. It's not because I gave up.

It's because I honestly, truly couldn't stand it for one more minute.

Monday, January 10, 2011


On Monday, December 20, I sat quietly in my favorite coffee shop. I had several writing deadlines to meet before Christmas, but I find that my writing is always much more focused and productive when I read my Bible to begin. I read Hosea 2:19-20.

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you
in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.

'Read' is a loose word for what happened in my mind. I pored over, meditated, absorbed. My mind would not allow me to leave these verses. I was intrigued by the promise of betrothal, of being engaged.

I thought of when Robb and I were engaged, when we were betrothed to be married. There was a sparkly diamond on my hand, and I was in love with this man. I couldn't get enough of him. We planned our days around our time together; we hungered for one another. He was my priority. I honored his time and his name. I honored him. I was his betrothed. I couldn't get enough of him.

That is Betrothed.

And yet, I thought, if I am the bride of Christ, and I know undoubtedly that I am, then why do I not chase after his love the same way?

As I thought, I was further intrigued by the promises within the bethrothal: in righteousness, justice, love, compassion, and faithfulness. And quite suddenly, I needed to write. Not for other people, but I needed to write for me. I had deadlines to meet, people waiting for polished, finished words. But they must wait. I needed to write.

This happens sometimes to writers: this overwhelming, screaming need to write. It's like an itch. One must scratch it.

I didn't know what words would flow from my pen, but I simply knew they were begging to breathe. I picked up my journal and my favorite pen, and without revision, careful intention, or pause, and the following stanza flowed.

~ ~ ~

I am betrothed to the Lord forever.
I am betrothed in righteousness,
for he has made me holy and whole.
I am betrothed in justice,
for he will create me as he intended.
I am betrothed in love,
for he holds me in his heart.
I am betrothed in compassion,
for his eyes look gently upon me.
I am betrothed in faithfulness,
for he never lets me go.

I will acknowledge the Lord.

~ ~ ~

In one fluid breath, I wrote.

And then I held my breath, nearly stunned with a holy, sacred awareness. These words were not mine; they simply flowed through me, a vessel. And yet, there they were, in my handwriting.

Betrothed. In that moment, I could not know how God was preparing my heart.

And in the days to come, as words find me, I will tell you the other pieces my God placed in my hand as he prepared my steps into this valley.

I wrote these words, and they sang me to sleep. Three days later, my sweet husband - my betrothed - slipped from my hands.

But these words were written on my heart, just days before.

I am betrothed to the Lord, forever.
I will acknowledge the Lord.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bits and Pieces

Tucker is playing with cars, driving and crashing them all over my aunt's living room.
As he plays, he says, "But where is the husband? Where is her husband?!
He is gone. There is no husband."
~ ~ ~
I helped Tyler with his shoes and socks, when suddenly he gasped.
"Mommy! Daddy didn't take his shoes! Do you think he needs to come back to get them?"
~ ~ ~
These little moments... there are millions of them.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


The envelope was addressed to just three of us:

To Tricia, Tucker, and Tyler

And I thought to myself, "That's strange. Why not all of us? Why isn't Robb's name on the envelope? Why not all four of us?"

And reality came crashing back.

Because it's not for him. There are three of us now.

Tricia, Tucker, and Tyler.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Three weeks ago, Robb was standing in the bathroom while I was doing my hair. (Believe it or not, this mane does not tame itself.)

We chatted about this and that, and as I applied mousse evenly throughout, he said, "Now what's that stuff do?"

I smiled. In all our years together, he had never asked about hair products.

"Well, it keeps my curls under control. Keeps me from being frizzy. Keeps me cute."

"Keeps you cute. I like that stuff," he said.

In the distraction of our conversation, I didn't quite coat every strand. I missed a spot in the back. And sure enough, the absence of product left me with one frizzy handful in the back of my head.

He played with it all day. "You missed a spot," he said, making it exponentially worse with his tangling fingers.

Everyday after, including his last morning in my life, he said, "Hey, be careful there. Don't miss a spot." And he always tugged on one curly tendril as he passed by.

~ ~ ~

Hey, Robb, I missed a spot today.
(Perhaps you noticed.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

An Easier Path

It's easier to think about the magnitude of how sad this is, than to go anywhere near the actual sadness of this.

I find myself comforting others.

"I'm sorry you lost a buddy."

"I'm sorry you lost a friend."

"I'm sorry you lost your brother."

"I'm sorry you lost your son."

I say these things, and they look a me with an odd expression, as if I am so selfless to look at the loss of others. But the truth is, it's easier to think about their sadness.

Because if I go anywhere near the cliff of this gaping hole in my life, I truly cannot breathe. I don't even know how to feel the depth of it, how to begin to measure its impact.

So it's easier to think about what he meant to other people, about the loss he left behind in their lives.

I will learn to live without him. What I fear most is the moment I will truly realize that I must.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Mommy, could you email Daddy? Just tell him I'm ready for him to come back."


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Final Hours

My husband died on the morning of December 23, 2010. The following is my personal account of his final hours, the story I must write. Please be advised, these paragraphs are graphic, detailed, personal, and mine. Read with caution, respect, and care.

These words hold my very heart.


"I can't stop shaking," he said in a text message. "I can't stop shaking, and my sinus cavities ache."

"Bummer, love," I wrote back. I sat at a Starbucks table, scrambling to think clearly and finish a writing deadline. "Need me to come home?"

"No. Just wanted you to know. I think I'm sick."

I went back to my work, clicking away at my keyboard. I went home an hour later, I greeted my children, and I rounded the corner into the living room. There lay my husband, piled under blankets, shaking uncontrollably. Tremors. Rygers. Chills. Whatever they are. Violent is what they seemed.

He didn't have a fever. He had no runny nose, no cough. No nothing. Just these awful, horrible shakes.

His parents had just arrived into town from Chicago, and we were to meet them for dinner that night. Well, obviously we couldn't go. Or at least he couldn't go. Ever the party girl, I was not quick to give up the plan. Still, I called his parents to let them know we may need to amend it ever so slightly. I told his dad the plan, the symptoms, my mild concerns.

"You need to take him to the ER. I'll meet you there," his dad said. "I'm on my way."

Moments later, my mom arrived to watch over the boys, and as quickly as we could gather ourselves and mobilize his trembling body, we were in urgent care. Robb's dad met us there, and Robb explained his symptoms with great clarity. We waited for answers, but they gave us few. His vitals were fine. Pulse-Ox: fine. Heart rate: fine. Breath sounds: fine. A quick nose swab confirmed Influenza A, the only name for the dark cloud above us.

The doctor said, "Well, I'm sorry to tell you, your holidays won't be much fun. Robb, the worst of this will last about four days, and the whole virus takes 10-14 days to run its course. You won't die, but you'll feel like you're going to."

(Please read that sentence again. Because I've heard the words at least a million times.)

They sent us home with instructions and prescriptions. Robb lost his spleen in a sledding accident in high school, so he was at greater risk for complications. He was highly at risk, highly contagious, and to be highly quarrantined. Lock him in the bedroom, let nobody near him, and ride out the storm. He'll be better by 2011. Promise. If he has any trouble breathing, call 9-1-1. But really, he should be fine.

Is what they said.

His dad took him home while I went to the grocery store to fill the prescriptions and stock up on comfort foods for my sweet, sick love.

Influenza. The flu. Quarrantine. Isn't that so 1800's? Isn't there something they can do to get him better by Christmas?

I cried in the pharmacy department, amid the cold and flu meds. You see, I'm a party girl with big plans for a big holiday. Cancellations fell into place, plans fell to the floor, and my heart fell with disappointment. I suddenly came face to face with the heart of traditions. The meaning of Christmas runs deep and immovable, but it manifests in the traditions of a family. When you take those away... well, for better or worse, traditions and meaning are closely wed.

And I cried over the confusion of it all.

I got home to find him just where we had planned: safely in our bed, snuggled on his side. The lights were dimmed, football was on the TV, and he lay perfectly still. I came beside him to give him some meds, and he said, "No, no, baby girl. Stay away. You can't get this. I'll be okay. Check on me in a few hours. And please, sleep downstairs. I'll text you if I need you."

As I handed him his dose of medicine, he wouldn't let his fingers touch mine. He said, "I cannot explain how this feels. It's the worst pain of my life. You can't get this. Please, go downstairs."

His last living act toward me: protection.

Let me tell you this little secret... 12 years ago, when we first wrapped our hearts around this consuming love we fell hard into, we established an I-Love-You code.

Three hand squeezes: I. Love. You.
Two hand squeezes: You. Too.

At the time, I thought to myself, this may come in handy if ever he cannot speak. I can still tell him; somehow, I'll still tell him.

I checked on him throughout the night. He never, ever opened his eyes. But one time, as he sensed me near him, he weakly lifted his right hand. He patted the bed three times.

I. Love. You.

Around five in the morning, my phone rang beside me on the couch.

"I need you."

I raced up the stairs, and I found him sitting up on the side of the bed.

"I can't... I can't... I can't.... slow down. I can't slow down.... my... breathing.... I can't..."

"Oh, God. Oh, God. I'll call 9-1-1. I'm calling 9-1-1, baby. It's okay. It's okay."

I speed dialed my mom: "Mom. I'm calling 9-1-1. Come for the boys. Hurry."

I dialed 9-1-1.

"9-1-1. What is your emergency?"

I scrambled through my dresser drawers, throwing on clothes as I spoke. "My husband. My husband. He has Influenza A, and he cannot breathe. Please send help. Please send help. Please help me."

"Of course, Ma'am. What is your address?"

As I told her, I saw him fall off the bed into a heap on the floor. I screamed to him. I screamed to her. I screamed. "Please! Please help me! He's not conscious! Please help me now!!"

"Ma'am, please stop shouting. Please listen to me."

"Tell me what to do! God help me! Help me! He's not breathing!" I knelt over him, screaming.

For a moment, he opened his eyes, and in a valiant, courageous effort he pushed himself to a sitting position. He leaned against the wall, rested his head back... and he found me with his eyes.

His eyes found mine.

And I watched the color drain from his face. With his eyes on mine, his face turned gray.

I screamed for him, over him, to him. She told me to lay him down, this woman in my ear who talked me through. I tried. I really tried. But he's a big man, that husband of mine. I laid him down as best I could.

She told me to clear his airway, to make sure nothing blocked it. Just as I had learned in eighth grade health class, I cleared his airway with two fingers. And he bit me.

I pulled my fingers free, screaming for help, screaming, screaming.

"Feel for air from his nose," she said. I felt only stillness.

"Feel for a pulse," she said. His neck was a stone.

"Begin chest compressions," she said. I pounded on his chest, with everything in me. He was gray and unmoving. Still, I pounded.

My mom walked into my bedroom to find me kneeling over him, pounding. "I think he's gone, Mom! I think he died!"

"No. No. Don't say that. The paramedics are here. In here, gentlemen, in here."

They came in with a fury, these men on a mission. In no time at all, my bedroom was filled with at least six men, maybe eight, getting to work.

I jumped out of their way, and I jumped in the air. "Please fix him. Please fix him. Oh, God, please fix him."

"Ma'am, you need to leave the room please."

They ushered me downstairs, safely out of their way. My parents paced in the kitchen and made phone calls all over the country. "Please pray. The paramedics are working on him now. We don't know. We don't know. We don't know."

I gathered my Scripture cards, the hand-written 3x5 companions I've carried in my purse for more than two years. And I will tell you, here and now, the Lord quieted my heart with a peace that passes understanding.

I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
your Protector will not slumber.
Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep.
The Lord protects you;
the Lord is a shelter right by your side.
The sun will not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all harm;
He will protect your life.
The Lord will protect your coming and going,
both now and forever. ~ Psalm 121

Again and again, I read those words. Long moments passed. So many. I heard the sounds of rescue upstairs. The sounds of great efforts. The sounds of courageous men doing all they could do.

An officer came into the kitchen. He said, "Are you his wife?"

"I am."

"Ma'am, we've been working on him for forty minutes, and we're doing all we can. But there is no heartbeat or breath sounds, and there have not been any. We're going to need to tell you he has passed."

We're going to need to tell you. As in, not yet, but soon we'll need to. I have since learned that they said it this way to ease the news. Just in case I may fall to the floor and they would have a second patient on their hands, they wanted to break it gently. We're going to need to tell you.

My wise and brave mom looked to him and said, "Is that the final word? Is he gone?"

The officer looked to me. "Yes, Ma'am. I'm so very sorry. He's gone."

Have you ever wondered what you might say if a police officer tells you your husband has died? I never imagined it this way, but I simply said, "Okay."

And I looked at the hand-written card in my hands.

I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He is gone. Okay. My help comes from the Lord.

Robb's dad and brother arrived, swooping into the house with the urgency we all felt. They looked at me... I shook my head. "He died."

They bolted up the stairs. The police stopped them. I could not see them, around the corner in the stairwell. But I heard them. And it is the sounds of mourning that do not leave my mind.

I listened again when his mother arrived. There are no words for these sounds, I assure you. And if there were, I would not write them.

The officer came to me. "You may see him now, Ma'am. You don't have to if you don't wish to, but you may if you would like. And I must tell you, this is your last chance."

Of course, I will see him. Of course, I will see him.

His dad traveled the stairs with me, and together we entered my bedroom, now an absent scene with remnants of urgency, panic, and medical intervention. My bed was wrecked; pillows were strewn all over. The carpet was wet. Medical paraphernalia was scattered all over. In the midst of it all, there lay my husband. He was intubated, with my bed sheet covering him from the chest down.

I was carefully instructed not to lift the sheet, and I absolutely obeyed. They had done all they could, and I am confident my bedroom was an operating room. What hid under that sheet need never enter my mind.

I knelt over him, and I wept. I cried for many things, for his life, for his death, for his sons, for his wife, for his dreams and mine. I cried for things I don't even know yet. My father-in-law held me and said, "I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I'm so sorry, sweetheart."

I didn't wish to look at Robb's face. It didn't look like him. But I looked just long enough to confirm one thing: he looked just the same when his eyes were locked with mine. He died with me.

He died with me.

I rubbed his prickly head, the shaved cut I loved so much. And I thought to myself, Remember this. Remember this. Remember this.

I held his hand, the only part of him that still looked like him. His fingers were cold and white; his fingernails were purple. But it was his hand, the very hand I held on our first date, on our wedding day, as we prayed over each meal together, as we sat together in church, as our sons were born. I kissed his palm. I slipped his wedding ring off his finger and onto my thumb.

I kissed his forehead.

"I'll love you forever, Robb Williford. I'll love you forever."

There are many things I do not understand, and there are many questions in my mind. But I am confident of three things:

1. He died fighting. He pushed himself up, he leaned against the wall, and he fought to stay alive until his eyes held mine.

2. He died knowing I was fighting for him. He heard me screaming for him, to him, for God, to God. He knew I fought for him, with his dying breath.

3. I know where my hope and my husband rest: with the Lord Jesus Christ. I may have no idea how to walk the path of tomorrow, this week, or next year, but my hope is sure. I will see my husband again. And in the meantime, I long to dream of him. I'd love to hear him laugh.

He died in my arms, and I will love him forever.

My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Final Words

I had the honored privilege of speaking at my husband's funeral on December 23, 2010.

Please listen.