Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dreamy or Dazed or Simply Absent

"Mommy, remember when you let us sleep with you sometimes when it's morning and you're not up yet?" asks the little voice standing beside my bed.

I answer without opening my eyes.  "Yes.  But it's too early, buddy.  I need my bed."

"But you let Daddy sleep with you."

"That was... different."

"Please, Mommy?  It's scary in there."

I hesitate, gauging my strength to fight this back-to-bed battle.

"Please, Mommy?  It's 7-2-1."  He reads the digital clock.  He knows if that first number isn't 7 or higher, he doesn't stand a chance.

"Okay.  You can."

"Yes?  Did you say yes?  You said yes?"

"I said yes."  And this inconsistency is no doubt why we continue to have this battle at all.

He climbs in.  His brother follows shortly behind.  I am sandwiched between a dozen knees and elbows.  There's really nothing settling about this way to start the day.  It's just so abrupt.

Tucker peels open my eyelid.  "Mommy, are you dead?"

"No, I'm not dead."

"Oh.  Because you looked like you were dead."

"I'm not."

They are leaning across me, arguing over something insanely important to them.

"Let's get up.  I'm making muffins."  I decide.

"But I don't like muffins."

"Then you can have a PopTart."

"I want two PopTarts."

"You never finish two.  You may have one."

They pause at the top of the stairs to question if the alarm is on.  They are like Pavlov's dogs: they know this trigger, and they are not about to step into the range of the motion sensor unless I can guarantee a controlled environment.

We make the muffins.  Half blueberry, half chocolate chip.  They help, which really means twice the prep time and twice the dishes.  But in the end, the offender decides he'll eat some after all.  But only the chocolate chips ones.

They play MarioKart while I pay a stack of bills.  I'm tired of receiving anything - anything - in Robb's name.  Extra points to anyone who has taken his name off our record in their system.

After much grumbling and complaining, losses and findings of mittens and gloves, we embark on the day.  First stop: the bank.  I need to get a page notarized, one more detail that involves a death certificate.

The woman behind the counter mistakes it for a marriage certificate.  Her eyes light up and she nearly congratulates me.  No.  It's not that.  It's the end.

She had almost been cordial, but now she's afraid to misstep.  So instead she becomes entirely procedural.  I want to scream inside the bank, stomp my feet and shout like a toddler wanting a lollipop. I want everyone to look and notice. I want to say, "Do you know that he mattered to me?  Do you know that he was more than a stack of paperwork and signatures?"

I cry in the car.  I do this a lot.

We have packed up their motor scooters, the Christmas gifts from their Chicago grandparents, Robb's mom and dad.  We find an empty parking lot, and they do their do.  Tucker with amazing balance and tricks, Tyler with careful and slow steadiness.

I take videos and I nickname them Speed Rocket and Blazing Flame.  They pretend they are in the circus, a team of daredevils.  I teach them how to ride with one leg elegantly extended behind, like a ballerina on wheels.  Only I don't use that analogy.

We have lunch.  They disobey.  They want root beer.  I give them apple juice.  There is kicking and bickering.

This day is going so slowly.

It is 12:10.  Arthur's Christmas begins at 12:20.  If we hurry, we can make it.  We hurry.  We make it.

(Assigned seating is stupid in a movie theater.  There's no reason for it, I say.  Especially when we have narrowly arrived before the movie starts, the lights are dimmed, the previews are rolling, my children are distracted by the silver screen, and I must diligently look for Row H, seats 3, 4, and 5.)

I bank on the hope that nobody else will arrive later than we do, and I claim three seats in the back row, tippy top.  (Hidden motive: if the movie gets too, you know, underwhelming, I can discreetly read the book in my bag.)  The boys and I settle in.

By the way, they have spent this day in costume: Spiderman and Optimus Prime.  One has a cape, the other has a mask.

The movie ends.  It's only 2:00.  For real?  This is the longest day in the history of mankind.  I'm sure of it.  Some kind of solstice must be on this day.

I tell them we are going home, I need to rest for a bit, and these are their options while I am sleeping.  Tucker whispers, "Yes!  We can do whatever we want!"  And so I list the options again.

I wait until everyone is captivated by their favorite something, and I fall into bed.  I am uncomfortable falling asleep while they are awake, but I simply cannot finish this day without a break.  I pray for their safety, and I wonder if I reminded them that they absolutely must stay in the house... but I don't worry too long.  Because I am too sleepy.

"Mommy, can I have a popsicle?"


"Mommy, can my brother have a popsicle?"


My phone alarms.  My hour is up.  Just ten more minutes?  Can't I have ten more minutes...

In I-don't-know-how-many minutes, an iPod is blasting on my bedside table.  Tyler has awakened me to music.  And also, he is standing on my hair.

I don't want to be angry.  I wanted to sleep so I could be more patient.

I come downstairs.  Spiderman is throwing snowballs into the kitchen, through the open sliding door.  There are swimming pool toys all over the living room floor.  (Pool toys?)  I find a purple popsicle laying (melting) on my coffee table.

I sit at the dining table while they play with bungee cords.  I know not where they found them.  But they are giggling at their masterful creativity with them, pretending they are go-go-gadget arms.

My parents swoop in and save the day, my children, and me from each other.  Tyler and I are scheduled for a date tonight.  He opts out.  He would rather be with Grandma and Poppa.  He makes a reference to me being Miss Hannigan.

That's fine.  I don't have much 'date' in me tonight.  We'll reschedule for a time when we like each other.

My parents leave with the boys. I leave with no intentions.  I drive, drive, drive.  I am nearly to the mall before I realize I don't want anything to do with the mall.  I drive, drive, drive back from whence I came.

I settle in at Niccolo's, the pizza shop around the corner.  (Maybe in another life stage I'll eat things other than pizza.)  I sit alone.  I wonder if I look dreamy or dazed, or simply absent.  I don't really care.

I bring a book with me; Elizabeth Berg makes me want to write.  Her storytelling makes for excellent conversation with myself.  Just my pace.

I order the alfredo pizza with mushrooms and onions.  Robb and I had an honest-to-goodness fight over this pizza when I was pregnant.  He hates mushrooms and onions, and I was craving them both.  I felt entitled and thereby became irrational.  I truly did.

Tonight, I eat it alone.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Lace Up Those Skates

Let me let you in on a family secret:
My dad taught me to rollerskate when I was five,
and he taught me the magic words that keep you from falling.

Hibbidy.  Hobbidy.  Hoobidy.

If you say those three words, you won't fall.
It's true.
And it works on ice skates, too.
By the end of the day, the boys were teaching this trick to other little skaters.  
Moms were saying to me, "What are those magic words again?"

"You guys are doing a good job getting back up again..."

They are old enough to remember the first time they went ice skating.  
Someday, they will know we did this on December 23, 2011,
on that first anniversary.

A lump caught in my throat as I was lacing Tucker's skates.

"Mommy, why are you crying?  Oh, wait... I know. I just forgot for one second.  
Mommy, just for one second.  I know you miss daddy.  I know you do."
Someday they will fathom how much I love them.

"Girl, you are hard-core determined to make room for joy in your life." 
~ my friend, Melanie O.

(Indeed, I am.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Twenty Questions

It was a late night ride to the airport.  Jammies on (almost) everybody.  I was banking on them falling asleep. 

They even warned me as such: "Mommy, we might fall asleep."  No worries, kiddo.  Rest your weary head.

A few miles down the road, one of my sons asked, "Mommy, why did daddy die?"

"Because he got really sick really fast, and the doctors couldn't save him."

"Yes, I know that part." He has heard this answer before. 

"But why, Mommy?"

His brother joined the inquisition with solidarity.  "If God is powerful, why didn't he save our daddy?  If doctors couldn't heal him, why didn't God save him?"

An important question, my little men.  When children have encountered this degree of tragedy, they are not assuaged by simple, pat answers.

"I don't know, guys.  I really don't know why God didn't save him."

"Did God want Daddy to die?"

Okay, God.  I'm going to give this my best shot.  Please speak through me.  Only you know the answers.  And my kids are asking.

"Honey, God didn't want Daddy to die.  I don't think God wants anybody to die.  I think he wanted us to live in a perfect place where nobody gets sick or dies.  He created a perfect world - do you remember who lived there, in his perfect garden?"

"Mary and Joseph."  A good guess.  Another biblical couple, much more at the forefront of our minds this time of year.

"No, it was Adam and Eve."

They pipe up to tell the story, their words and impatience tripping over each other.  It's hard to differentiate who knows which part of the story.

"And God forgot to tell them they couldn't eat from the tree, and the snake said they could, and all snakes are bad and want us to do bad things, and they ate the apple because Eve said so."

Um, sort of.  Give or take a few important details.

"Well, guys, God didn't forget to tell them not to eat from that tree.  He told them.  And he asked them to obey.  But the snake tricked them, and they chose to eat the fruit even though God told them not to."

"They didn't obey, Mommy."

Ah.  These are terms we understand.

"Right, kiddo.  They didn't obey.  And as soon as they took a bite of the apple, God's perfect world wasn't perfect anymore.  Sin came into the world when they disobeyed, and sin has been hurting people ever since.    Daddy didn't die because he sinned, but he died because there is sin in the world.  Sin makes us sick.  It makes us sad.  It makes people die."

"Did sin make Jesus die?"

Oh, these questions.  Where is a theologian when I need one?

"Well, Jesus died to rescue us from sin.  But God didn't save Jesus from dying, and he didn't save Daddy from dying.  God let it happen."

"And two other men died with him." 

"With Daddy?"

"No, with Jesus."  Someone has been looking closely at the pictures in Sunday school, I see.

"They did.  And one of them said right then, right before he died, that he believed Jesus was saving the world.  And Jesus said, 'Okay, then, I'll see you soon.  When you die, you'll be with me in heaven.'"

"And so that man is in heaven?"


"And so is Daddy?"


There was silence in the car.

"Okay, Mommy."

Thus concluded twenty questions that countless people invest their lives studying.
(And I had thought the little boys would fall asleep.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Listen (...again).

It has been a year since I said these words, spoke them to an audience of hundreds, with my wedding handkerchief in my hand and my brother at my side. 

As I listen, I feel like it's someone else talking.  Who is that girl?

It's good for me to listen again.
To hear my voice,
to hear the scripture,
to hear the poetry,
to hear the truth.

Perhaps you heard this a year ago.
Or perhaps we have met since then.

I invite you to listen (...again).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Victory: A Whole Year Of It

I feel tremendously victorious today.

Morning after,
just finished a marathon,
dance the speakers off the wall,
conquer the world,

The first year is finished.
I did it.
A whole year of it.

I am not naive to say this next year will be a cake walk.
In fact, I have heard and expect that in some ways the second year is harder because the heart begins to thaw, the soul begins to feel, and one begins to wake up all over again.

But, in the past year, I have woken up each day and wondered how I would do it, get through it, make it back to bed at the end of the day.  The year's holidays stockpiled against me, one on stop of another, threatening me with their mocking dates with every turn of the calendar page.

I don't have to worry as much about those, because I've met them once already.  Now I know what to expect for Valentine's, birthdays, anniversaries, and seasons.  This doesn't mean I love it.  It just means I've smelled the dragon's hot breath, and I can withstand the heat.

And now I know that every single day, the best and the worst, only lasts for 24 hours.

Today, I feel victorious.  I did it.  A whole year of it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Unnatural, Unspeakable

I cannot explain it.  It is unnatural.  Unspeakable.  Beyond human logic.  Entirely supernatural.

I am doing okay.  I really, truly am.

I have delighted in the music, the festivities, the wrapping and the giving.  My heart is light and full.  I'm smiling.

What is that old adage? "Shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow."  I have felt the measure of this equation in my deepest moments this week, when my heart could breathe because someone else (many someones) carried my load.

The anniversary of this week feels dear to my heart, but not crushing to my spirit.  In some moments, it has felt as though I walked with someone else through the loss of her husband a year ago, not that I lost my very own.

(Disassociation?  Perhaps.
Effective cocktail of meds?  Perhaps.
My name on the breaths and prayers of the invisible, anonymous you?  Most certainly.
Sheer grace of God?  Absolutely.)

"May it be unto me as you have said."

"Emmanuel, Emmanuel.  God incarnate, here to dwell."

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

Go tell it on the mountain: we have had a Merry Christmas.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Not to be Afraid

The God of love who gave us life
sent his only Son 
to be with us at all times 
and in all places,
so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles
but always can trust that he walks with us ....

Christmas is the renewed invitation 
not to be afraid and let him -- 
whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend -- 
be our companion.

~ Henri Nouwen

Saturday, December 24, 2011

King David and Joni Mitchell

Confession: I have been waiting for a Christmas miracle. 

I didn't know I had this hope in my heart until I awoke this morning, the day after The One Year, and my heart still hurt. 

Shouldn't I be able to think about other things? 
Shouldn't I be able to write about something else?
Shouldn't there be more joy, less sadness?

I mean, after all, I made it. I survived the year.  And many, many people walked, carried, prayed, and survived it with me.

Isn't there some kind of refreshment on this side of the finish line?


It's coming near Christmas,
they're cutting down trees.
They're putting up reindeer,
and singing songs of joy and peace.
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on.
I wish I had a river so long
I could teach my feet to fly.
Oh, I wish I had a river, I could skate away on.

~ Joni Mitchell, River


"Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest -
I would flee far away and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and the storm."

~ David, Psalm 55:6-8


Joni Mitchell. 
King David. 
They both wrote songs of lament,
O, to escape it all. 

I sing with them both this morning, on Christmas Eve.

Paper and Tags

This morning after The One Year is also Christmas Eve.  In so many ways, this feels like the first Christmas without him.

Did you know Christmas Eve was his favorite day of the year?  He most loved being a dad on this day, every year.  We stayed up late, putting toys together.  We had a gift-wrapping assembly line: he wrapped, I tagged and bowed.  He was the practical; I was the pretty.

I haven't wrapped a single gift yet.  Wrap without him?  I haven't done that in twelve years. 

Wrapping without Robb: that is the metaphor for anything good that's lacking the very best part.

And yet, two little boys are sure they've made the Nice List and Santa is bringing some amazing things.  Indeed he is.

Mommy needs to wrap them.

Friday, December 23, 2011

And so, it has been a Year.

Months ago, I began reading Henri Nouwen's book, The Genessee Diary.  

It is his published journal from inside a Trappist Monastery; he felt his life had become too mechanized, too secure, too predictable, too busy, too much writing about prayer instead of actually praying, too much thinking about theology and not actually worshipping, so he stepped away for a season.  He became a monk.  And he wrote about what this was like, what he learned.

In an ironic turn of the pages, he finished his seven months in the monastery just as I am finishing my first year as a widow.  Both he and I had sidestepped our lives as we knew them, reluctantly embraced a new season, and now together we embark on the end of the year.

(Never mind that he took his journey in 1981.  When I read your writing, your story becomes my present day.)

Henri, as I like to call him since we are now dear friends, wrote in his journal:

"I will have to ask myself what these months have meant to me.  I am still in it, but I see the end and the slow moving away to new experiences."

I set down the book with pause.  The same is true of me.  What has this year meant to me?  I am still in it, but I see the end.  And I see the turn of 2012 bringing new experiences.

I want to say I have learned nothing.  I want to say Robb's death was without meaning, these months have been empty, and I am bitter and angry because I got screwed hard out of everything I had planned for the rest of my life.  I want to say these things, boldly, with the strength that only comes from vindication.

But those things are not true.  I have learned much; these months have been sacred.  I have long said, if I will tell this story, I will tell the truth.  

So, here are my thoughts.

I have lived an entire year of winter.  There were sunny days that peeked through on occasion, but my heart stayed cold, bundled, protected.  Still, there are things to enjoy only in winter: good books, shorter days, enveloping blankets, and isolation.  I have relished in these.

In January, when I began speaking to God again, I made a deal with him: if he would just get me out of bed and safely to Starbucks, I would visit with him there.  I might not talk, but I would listen.  My mornings have been my sacred hours.  Starbucks has been my sanctuary. 

God has met me there.  My journals are filled with schizophrenic psalms, from temper tantrums to triumphant praise.  His companionship has been nearly tangible, certainly a presence I could feel strongly enough to know I wanted more.  In reading the Psalms, again and again, and again and again, I have let the psalmists cry out on my behalf, when I had no words left.

There's a reason why Psalm 88 made the cut into the final manuscript.

I have learned that there's no one way to be a perfect mother.  But there are a million ways to be a good one.  And, with God as my witness, his grace as my strength, I have been a damn good mother this year.

I have been willing to learn this year.  I have trudged ahead with my eyes open, insistent that this wrenching pain would not be wasted.  I have written a million words, unafraid of anything that might show up on the page.  I have found honesty and the beauty of saying things out loud.

A friend of Robb's recently wrote to me.  He said, "Tricia, when Robb talked about you, he always said you were an amazing woman who could handle anything."  My precious husband... he knew me well.  I never imagined the strength inside this frame.

I have learned firsthand that love is greater, stronger than the grave.  No matter what happens next, no matter the path I take or who walks beside me, I will forever love Robb Williford.  

This year has been the closing chapter of our marriage: I honored him, even after death parted us.

I choose to borrow some words from Henri, because great words should be shared, and because I can't say it better.

"For me, this is the end of a most blessed and graceful retreat and the beginning of a new life.  A step out of silence into the many sounds of the world, out of the cloister into the unkept garden without hedges or boundaries.  In many ways, I feel as though I have received a small, vulnerable child in my arms and have been asked to carry him with me out of the intimacy of [this place and] into a world waiting for light to come. 

Why was I here?  I don't know fully yet.  Probably I will not know fully before the end of the cycle of my life.  Still, I can say that I have a most precius memory which keeps unfolding itself in all that I do or plan to do.  I no longer can live without being reminded of the glimpse of God's graciousness that I saw in my solitude, of the ray of light that broke through my darkness, of the gentle voice that spoke in my silence, and of the soft breeze that touched me in my stillest hour."

Thank you, Henri.  You write my heart.

Thank you, Robb.  You hold my heart.

Thank you, God.  You heal my heart.

And so, it has been a year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

And So I Will Write

As I write this story, it can take days, weeks, months for me to verbally construct the most important scenes of my story, the moments before and after the hingepoint of my life.  A draft of a complete chapter is the product of dozens of hours of writing and - what's more - a thousand vivid revisits to my bedroom on the morning of December 23.

Let me tell you, this process can lay patterns and pictures in a girl's mind that can begin to shape her days.

And so, I've been counseled, advised, and requested to please put such writing on hold.  At least until I live this season.  Live it, then write about it.

Except in living it, I'm remembering, recalling it, putting words to it.  Every single day.

And if I'm remembering it, I can't let it go.  It's how artists work: the idea simmers and stirs until it twists and starts, bursting to breathe.

I can't very easily put a lid on this pot.

After and throughout such a tragic crisis, many people have said, "I just needed to get back to work.  I needed to do my job, engage the routines of my mind, and do the familiar."

Writing is my work.  I am writing this story.  

In the early days of this year, people, kindly and wisely, said to me, "You should wait 3-6 months before you see a counselor, before you begin therapy."  I guess there is a theory that one's mind should recover from the trauma before healing can truly take place.

And yet I thought, and said to them, "But what do I do until then?"  Do I just sit in this until somebody sets me free to start putting the pieces together?

No.  I began therapy right away.  This has been one of my best decisions this year.

And here I am, faced with the questions: to write or not to write?  To revisit the trauma with words or only in my mind?  To get through this month or to write through it?

But how do I get through it if I don't write through it?

The final verdict, from the therapist who holds my deepest respect and all of my story: 

"Tricia, get writing.  Trust that need like you trust your appetites.  Just like you eat when you're hungry, please write when you're stirring.  When you feel like you've written enough, or if you feel like you're writing too much and pushing too hard, then give yourself a break.  If it's helping you, lean into it.  Get writing, girl."

And so I will write.  

Through sunshine and rain, 
Christmas lights and Christmas carols, 
silver bells and jingle bells, 
holding on and letting go,

I will write.  And this is how I will live.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Let Every Heart

Joy to the world,
the Lord has come.
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing.

I am realizing that I always thought of this lyric as my reminder to set aside the wrapping paper, shopping lists and bows, to slow down with the glitter and the ornaments, long enough to make room in my heart - for even a moment - to remember that this season is about so much more.

I know now: sadness will take up every inch it's allowed.

This Christmas could easily pass with my heart wrapped entirely in grief and gray.  As I listen to this song, it causes me to think differently.  

To make room in my sadness for joy.  
To allow my darkness to be soft enough to be aware of the light.  
To let sadness step aside sometimes.
To remember - for even a moment - that this season is about so much more than death, loss, and heartache.  

(Because I could very easily give my holiday to those three.)

May my broken heart prepare him room.

* * *

"May his light shine in our darkness and may I be ready to receive it with joy and thanksgiving." 

~ Henri Nouwen

Sunday, December 18, 2011

And They are The Greats.

Ann Tyler says, "If I waited until I felt like writing, I'd never write at all."

Margaret Atwood says, "If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word."

And so I raise my glass: here's to untimely imperfection.

Cheese Cubes and Orange Jello

I made an iPhoto slideshow, photos of Robb at Christmas.  I paired it with Sarah McLachlan's WinterSong, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and Song for a Winter's Night.  These are the lyrics and melodies of my heart this season.

Dozens of pictures.

Robb hugging me in falling snow.
Robb teaching Tucker how to unwind the lights to hang outside.
Robb giving them their Christmas jammies that Santa always brought early.
Robb holding Tucker in the Baby Bjorn while he ironed the red satin bows for our Christmas tree.
The Christmas when Tyler was the bump inside my belly.
Tyler with a big, red bow on his noggin.
Robb teaching Tucker how to run the remote for the Christmas train, the one that circles our tree this year.
A picture of four Starbucks cups lined in a row, our treat last year before we drove around town looking at lights.
Robb playing his trombone at our church's event last Christmas, days before he would die.

I showed it to the boys tonight.  I wanted it to matter to them.  My expectations were perhaps unfair.  They wiggled and squirmed.  They had the attention spans of a four-year-old and six-year-old.  Imagine that.

"Look, boys.  Look.  Look.  Look!"  I became exasperated as I watched pictures go by - one of Robb helping Tucker play the trombone, another one of him wearing matching Santa hats with Tyler.

Please, boys, look.  I want you to know that this happened.

"Mommy, are you crying because we were so cute?"

"No, I'm crying because I miss Daddy.  I miss him."

"Mommy, I want my hot chocolate."

"Mommy, I want my blanket."

"Boys, I don't want to talk right now.  I don't want you to talk.  I want you to watch.  Please watch."

I wanted them to see the proof.  I am terrified they are forgetting.  I want them to know it happened.  It happened, boys. He was here.

The movie finished.  I was furious.
Furious that they didn't watch,
furious that my heart spills into my lungs and makes it hard to breathe,
furious that he isn't here.
Tears streamed down my cheeks.  
I held a tissue over my face to hide 'the ugly cry.'


"Yes, Tuck."

"I love Daddy.  And I miss him."

"Me, too, Tuck."

"But, Mommy?"

"Yes, Tuck."

He whispered, as if he were telling a shameful secret, "I'm just not sad right now."

Well said, my little man.  I understand that.  "It's okay, buddy. You don't have to be."

Tyler brought to me the painting of the panda Tucker made in kindergarten Art Club.  "Here, Mommy.  This will cheer you up."

I set it on the coffee table, amidst my wads of tissues.

They didn't need the movie tonight. I did.
They didn't need the reminders.  I did.
They are not forgetting him.
We talk about him everyday.
They haven't gone a year without looking at him.
His pictures line our walls.
He is alive in their minds.  Very alive in their minds.

And someday that movie will be a keepsake for them.  Proof: it really, truly happened.  He was really, truly here.

Tyler ate cheese cubes and orange jello for breakfast because I couldn't get out of bed this morning.  I couldn't get out of the damn bed.

And tomorrow waits for me.  And I'm pretty sure there's another day after that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

One Week Left

Dear Me on this day in 2010, 

You have one week left with him.  
Soak it up.  
Breathe him in.  
Study everything.  
Remember, remember, remember.  
And go on that morning coffee date.  

With love and sadness, 

The Changed You in 2011

The One I Learned to Know

It's great to be known.
There is a dance in knowing - in the pursuit of the dozens of details.

The lyrics that matter,
the way she takes her coffee,
the way he likes his eggs,
what it means when she smirks that way,
what it means when he clears his throat that way,
how she taps the steering wheel with two fingers,
how he gestures when he's most emphatic,
the way her face changes when she doesn't want to cry,
what he's thinking across the room,
when it's time to leave the party,
yellow roses or white daisies,
lemonade or iced tea,
beach vacation or mountain getaway,
when to speak and when to listen,
what matters most and not at all.

I learned to know Robb,
the million lines that connected his dots.
There are a million I never learned.
Our rough patches popped up when we stopped finding each other interesting,
when we thought we had learned it all.
Then it was time to leave town and let a new environment teach us a few new things.
Now, as I wait to see him again,
I feel like I am learning him all over again.
In some ways, he makes more sense to me than ever.

I learned to know Tucker.
As he grew inside me,
folded in half, sitting in my pelvis,
his head bumped into my ribs.
He got hiccups every afternoon.
When he was born,
I knew the roundess of his head,
I knew those hiccups that still came every afternoon.
I had learned to know him.

I learned to know Tyler,
active as a litter of puppies swimming in my stomach.
The pointed chin on the ultrasound screen,
the pointed heels in my sternum.
He folded up when he slept.
When he was born,
I knew that chin, I knew those heels.
I held my folded, sleeping bundle.
I had learned to know him.

Waiting is a period of learning.
long distance friendship,
Waiting is learning.
The longer we wait, the more we learn.

Henri Nouwen writes,
"Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting,
so Jesus can be born in my life slowly and steadily and be received as the one I learned to know while waiting."

May he be the One I learn to know.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Disassociation in the Final Countdown

It is the final countdown.  Only a matter of days until Robb has been gone for a year, until Christmas will happen around me, until we will wrap a neat and tidy bow on this neat and tidy year.

How do I feel, as the clock ticks?


Afraid of 2012.  Afraid that the one-year-mark will somehow lead others to believe I am stronger than I am, that this matters less than it does, that time heals all wounds.

Deceived.  Like I'm in the homestretch, the last lap, the end of the journey.  Like December 23 is some kind of finish line.  I am near none of those things.

My therapist says, "Tricia, time to nestle in for a long winter's nap.  Please consider hibernating.  Say no to as much as you can, and stop asking yourself why you can't keep up." 

My doctor says, "Tricia, you are absolutely normal.  And if you wake up tomorrow and you can't get out of bed?  That will be absolutely normal."

I find myself thinking and writing in third person.  I'm learning that it is far easier to think about how to write about this season than it is to actually live it.  It is far easier to think about the story of a widow at Christmas than it is to actually be one.

The professionals call this dissociation, a crucial survival mechanism that protects you during a crisis and afterwards. It helps you stay on task so you can protect yourself. If you are able to function without fully experiencing the emotional impact of an event, you can accomplish tasks until it is safer to face your emotions.

And so I attend Christmas pageants and sing boys to sleep and teach Christmas carols and shop for gifts and hang stockings and fold laundry and live and breathe and do this thing.  And perhaps I will think about it - really, truly think about it - later.

How do I feel about this final countdown?

Fine.  Fine, I guess.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Always A Parent

When we stayed in Ohio for Thanksgiving, we became a veritable bed and breakfast, overflowing with cousins, aunts, and uncles.  My parents, the boys, and I took over the downstairs rooms, sprawling across a futon, a couch, and a pull-out sofa.  We were lined up like a slumber party.

We all do a lot of things in our sleep, we learned.  We gave each other a report each morning.

My children wander to find me.  They are very momcentric, especially in their sleep.

I stroke my own arms like I'm playing the violin.  (This is news to me.)

My dad, a therapist by profession, gives thorough lectures - complete with extensive vocabulary and nearly everything except PowerPoint.  "We all want to live exquisite lives," he tells us in his sleep. 

Indeed we do, Dad. 

In the midst of his midnight ramblings, he said with crystal clarity, "How are you feeling today, Tricia?"

I sat up from my side of the room. 

"I'm okay, Dad."

My mom said, "It's okay, honey.  He's sleeping."

My sweet dad.  In the midst of the sleeping work day and the lectures he's conducting in his dreams, his emerging thought is, "How is my girl?"

Once a parent, always a parent.  Even in slumber.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Algorithm

I landed in the ER again a couple of weeks ago: severe dehydration.

This was completely unrelated to panic or anxiety. (Dehydration is not the result of my life's season.  It's not that I forget to eat or drink because I'm a widow.)   In fact, I made it through the entire experience without any dips into the unconscious, without any meds to lower my blood pressure.

It was the flu.  I couldn't keep anything inside me.  Pardon the graphic details, but in case you discover that your lips are cracking from dryness, you haven't been able to pee in 14 hours, and you vomit from digesting ice chips, head on over to the ER.  They'll be waiting for you.

What is my deal this year?  I've been in the emergency room more times this year than I have in my entire previous three decades combined.  The good news: I think I've met my deductible.

It turns out, the part of my brain that responds to trauma is also the part that manages my immune system.  When my mind senses trauma (or a triggered memory of trauma), it throws all of its energy into helping me survive the moment.  It is forced to decide which is more important: emotional survival or physical strength.  Emotional survival wins this month. 

Someday, I will realize the toll on my body as my soul kept pushing forward.

Also, it turns out, this same part of my brain is the control center for all the symptoms of aging.  This is why I don't recognize myself in pictures - why those sad, crinkled eyes look unfamiliar to me.

Connect the dots however you like.  Trauma is grief is illness is aging.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


For a too brief moment in the universe the veil was lifted.  The mysterious became known.  Questions met answers somewhere behind the stars.  Furrowed brows were smoothed and eyelids closed over long unblinking stares.

Your beloved occupied the cosmos.  You awoke to sunrays and nestled down to sleep in moonlight.  All life was a gift open to you and burgeoning for you.  Choirs sang to harps and your feet moved to ancestral drumbeats.  For you were sustaining and being sustained by the arms of your beloved.

Now the days stretch before you with the dryness and sameness of desert dunes.  And in this season of grief we who love you have become invisible to you. Our words worry the empty air around you and you can sense no meaning in our speech.

Yet, we are here.  We are still here.  Our hearts ache to support you.

We are always loving you.

You are not alone.

~ Maya Angelou

Friday, December 9, 2011


Andre Malreaux remarks in his Anti-Memoirs that one day we will realize that we are distinguished as much from each other by the forms our memories take as by our characters. 

I am wondering what form my memory is taking.  It seems that this depends a great deal on myself.

I have little to say about events, good or bad, creative or destructive, but much about the way I remember them - that is, the way I start giving them form in the story of my life.  I am starting to see how important this is in my day-to-day living.

I often say to myself:

"How will I remember this day,
this disappointment,
this conflict,
this misunderstanding,
this sense of accomplishment, joy and satisfaction?
How will they function in my ongoing task of self-interpretation?"

~ Henri Nouwen,  
The Genesee Diary

Best Christmas Pageants Ever

The boys are pros at the Christmas Pageant scene.  

Two years ago, we had a cow and a (self proclaimed) pig.  Tyler wasn't really in the pageant at age two, but he was convinced he should be.  He even stepped up to the microphone afterward and said, "Merry Christmas.  I'm Tyler.  I'm a pig."

Last year, we had a 'shepherd' and a 'long road.'  

Tuck was so delighted to see his daddy sitting with me in the second row - he cried when he saw Robb.  "My Daddy!"  It was the first time I saw my son cry tears of joy.  Robb scooped him up and said, "Of course I'm here, buddy.  Of course I'm here."

This year, I cheered for the wiseman.  He delivered his line flawlessly.


That's sacred space, next to those Christmas trees.

Well done, little wise men.
It's not just a role to play.
You are my heart's joy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Nothing Everything

"Did you know Jesus was born in a hay house?"

"Yes, and the word for that is 'stable.'"

"Because there was no room at the hotel.  No room at the inside."

"No room at the inn, yes."

"I just made a hay house with my cheese."

"Mary and Joseph rode in their car.  For real."

"Well, they didn't have cars yet.  Do you know how they got there?"

"On a horse.  Or a goat."

"Or, a donkey."

"Katie is Mary in the Christmas Pageant.  Charlotte is the star."

"Do I have to eat one bite of chicken or two?"

"You can choose: one big or two small."

"We were playing batman.  Tucker was the daddy and I was the baby."

"Except it's almost Christmas, so the daddy will die soon."

We flit in and out of these conversations: the nothing and the everything.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Third Culture: A Follow-Up Piece with 5280

In this month's issue of 5280 magazine, Robert Sanchez highlighted my journey in his article, Wife Interrupted.  They received a large response from readers wanting to know more: how to live inside the grief, how to walk alongside someone whose heart is broken.  They asked me to write a piece in response, and they have posted this online.

These are my words.

I belong to a third culture. I am neither a whole, healed woman, nor will
I wear black and grieve forever. I belong in this nebulous, in-between

We are a growing demographic, the broken-hearted us. You might
belong on this team roster, or perhaps you are walking alongside
someone who is. If you are wondering how to help someone in this
place, let me tell you what I've learned.

If you don't know what to say, simply say, "I'm so sorry." Or even
better, "I am so sad for you." Don't try to explain or offer a lofty word.
There is no explanation, so free yourself from trying to find one.

When you ask how we are, we may say, "Fine, thank you," or "We are
doing okay." Try with all your might not to press further. The pleading
eyes or the prodding voice that says, "Really? Come on, really? How are
you, really?" We can't answer that question. It is all I can do to speak. I
answered you. Puncture this surface, and I might spill everywhere.

I, personally, have needed acknowledgement that nothing was normal
anymore; that everything has changed for me. I have needed a “free
pass” from anything and everything on anyone's calendar. I have not
been able to step into what was, sit at a table where Robb would have
been, attend a party where he would have been a guest.

It’s natural for anyone who has gone through this to want to proceed
with “life as normal.” We may not want a public display of any kind.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is to be present and patient. When—
and if—we are ready to begin the journey of uncovering the tragedy, we
may remember you were one who was present and patient. And we may
trust you.

This journey brings along a monster named Burden. He whispers dark
secrets that make us think we're exhausting you and your resources. If
you can give without waiting for a wish list, you can slay that dragon for
us. We may not know what we need, but we usually know what we don't want. Respect the word "no."

There is a difference between wanting to give to us and wanting to give
for you. The motives are thinly veiled, and there is grace and space for
both. Try to know why you want to help. Is it because you know this
family well, you see a need, and you can fill it? Or is it because you feel
overwhelming compassion—perhaps even a sense of guilt that your life
hasn't fallen to pieces—and you simply must-must-must respond in a
tangible way?

If you are giving for us, then just do. Step in. Don't wait. It will mean the

If you are giving for you, then give in a spacious way: gift cards, notes,
surprise gifts. It will mean the world.

If you are one of us, stuck in the in-between, third culture of grief, please
let me tell you what I have learned. The rules have changed.

If you are hurting, if you need help, say it. Others don't know what you
need, but so many want to help. If you know what you need, say it. And
if you know what you don't want, say it. Be honest, and don't let pride
exhaust you. Save that energy for getting out of bed in the morning.

Be alone as long as you want, as much as you want. Isolation is normal,
I have definitely learned. In other centuries and cultures, those with a
broken heart and a ruptured world have been sent to live in seclusion for
as long as they needed. Allow yourself the freedom to clear the calendar,
to say no, to be alone.

Check your mailbox. And on the day the mailbox is empty, don't be
deceived: It doesn't mean the world has forgotten about you or the one
you love.

Give yourself a break on the thank-you notes. All the rules are different
now, even the formalities of courtesy.

You can't always predict an emotional toll. What you fear with all your
heart may come more easily than you expected. What you thought you
could conquer may bring you to your knees. Go easy on yourself. Go to
a party if you want, and leave five minutes later if you must. If laughter
finds you, pull up a chair and invite her to stay. Don't worry about what others might think—tell them you're taking the day off from sadness.

God is good and antidepressants aren't bad. Get help.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Under the Wise Man's Robes

Our mornings are scattered and frenzied, so when the boys opted to flip-flop the routine, I wasn't opposed.  We're not exactly a well-oiled machine around here, so maybe an upturned schedule is what we need to make it out the door without mutual frustration.  Maybe they're on to something.

Usually they must get dressed before they come down the stairs, but today we decided to start with breakfast.  I laid out clothes on the coffee table, flipped the TV on to Dinosaur Train, set the timer to guide them, and reminded them to get dressed as soon as they finished their PopTarts and hot cocoa.  The guideline: "Please be dressed by the time I come back downstairs."

Right.  Sometimes my optimism gets the best of me. 

It didn't happen that way.  By the time I learned my lesson, we were running behind without time to recover.  One thing remained consistent: I watched the clock and called out reminders and pulled out my hair and scooted them out the door.

I have read "there is no grace in hurrying."  And yet I cannot seem to get my children to school without a large measure of both.

When Tyler and I arrived at his morning PreK, the classroom was dark.  Oh, that's right: today is the dress rehearsal for Wednesday morning's Christmas pageant.  We hung his coat in his cubby and put his boots on the shelf - that's when I realized he wasn't wearing any socks. 

(It's two degrees in Denver today, and my son isn't wearing socks.  I did not authorize this.)

With bare feet inside his shoes, we scuttled off to the auditorium.  We found his classmates in the dressing room, an environment of controlled chaos as they all put on their costumes. The room abounded with cows, sheep, angels, and chickens.

Tyler found his costume: he is a wise man, complete with velvet robes; a braided, golden belt; and a bejeweled crown.  As I helped him transform into the Magi, I learned that the missing socks were the least of our problem. 

One wise man is commando this morning.  (I did not authorize this.)

Tomorrow, we return to our regularly scheduled morning programming.  Frenzied though it is, everyone makes it out the door wearing underwear.  Generally.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Learned and Yet to Learn

I find it very difficult to let a friend or beloved go into that country of no return.  I answer the heroic question, "Death where is thy sting?" with "It is here in my heart, and my mind, and my memories."

I find relief from the questions only when I concede that I am not obliged to know everything.  I remind myself it is sufficient to know what I know, and what I know may not always be true. 

When I find myself filling with rage over the loss of a beloved, I try as soon as possible to remember that my concerns and questions should be focused on what I have learned and what I have yet to learn from my departed love.  What legacy was left that can help me in the art of living a good life?

Did I learn to be kinder,
To be more patient,
And more generous,
More loving,
More ready to laugh,
And more easy to accept honest tears?
If I accept those legacies of my departed beloveds,
I am able to say,
Thank You to them for their love
and Thank You to God for their lives.

~ Maya Angelou,  
Letter To My Daughter

Planting Seeds for their Wives

The boys and I began our Saturday morning by removing a hair clog from my bath tub.  We're talking serious family fun, right there.  I earned some significant points for the gross factor and my cartoonish, monstrous sounds as it emerged.

Buzz Lightyear even came to watch.  Then he needed to spend the day on the couch to recover, Tyler explained. 

The boys thought I was doing them some great favor by letting them watch. 

The truth is, they will be husbands someday.  And it will be great if they enter marriage with the notion that this task is exceedingly cool.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

We Trimmed a Tree

New tree,
new ornaments,
not a thing we've used before.

Tyler helped put the star on top, since they both remembered Tucker helped Daddy do it last year.

We did it.
Somehow, it seems like our most beautiful tree yet.


Someday soon
we all will be together
If the Lord allows.
Until then, we'll have to muddle through 

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.


Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full on his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.

It is likely that I never would have wed these two songs.

And yet they are the perfect marriage
of my right hand and my left,
my heart and my mind,
my hurt and my hope.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Merry Christmas."

I always loved to say, "Merry Christmas." 

To anyone who crossed my path, I wished them this greeting or farewell.  They really are beautiful words, melodic every time.

I heard someone say it yesterday, in thanks for his red Starbucks cup.

I thought, 'I'm not saying those words this year.'

Something in me felt entitled to stop saying it, to scratch those words from my vocabulary.

It's perhaps the same root of entitlement that led me to stop talking to God for most of the month of January. 

Then and now, I gently realized I was only robbing myself.

So, I said it today.  "Thank you, and Merry Christmas."

I've been robbed of enough.  No sense in being my own thief.

Merry Christmas to you.