Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thank you, for Loving Me

It is silly, this waiting for love in a parlor,
when love is singing
up and down the alley,
without a collar.
-Helene Johnson

I had the chance to walk the beach over Thanksgiving break. The wind was cold and the rain was heavy enough to mat our hair and soak our clothes but like always, I was grateful just to be there. I stood at the edge of the water and breathed deeply with a kind of starry-eyed wonder. I am continually moved by the beauty of it; the microcosms hidden below and the symbiosis of light on sea. To catch a glimpse of this world is profoundly humbling to me. It is good to remember that I am a tiny speck in a very large, very complex creation.

As we walked together along the shore, Cole found a piece of blue sea glass that Maya proclaimed to be 'very rare'. I added that sea glass is actually broken glass that has been smoothed down by the ocean itself. Starting off as discarded trash, the waves of the ocean, the tumbling of sand and sea, create the smooth frosted glass we held in our hands.

Nature is teeming with allegory. Behind every creature and sunset there is a greater truth waiting to be unearthed. The message of the sea glass, for instance. I rolled it in my hand and remembered the girl I used to be before I met Paul. How the hopeful parts of me rose up to meet him; hesitant to believe that this gift was meant for me alone. How his friendship came and eroded some of the sharp edges of doubt and distrust. How loving him changed me and, met with his consistent acceptance and grace, made me softer. Starry-eyed wonder, my falling in love with Paul.

There is a snapshot of the two of us, laboring in the hospital with Maya. I had be
en delicately advised to visit the bathroom because apparently (and no one thought to tell me this before labor) when you are pushing out a child you might expel other, less dignified, matter. So the picture shows me, on the toilet, and Paul leaning in, our heads together. I remember word for word what he was saying to me, "I'm sorry about my breath. I had onions for lunch". And I looked at him, raggedly incredulous and laughingly muttered, "Paul, I am going to the bathroom. In front of you. I don't care about your breath!" Our marriage conceived an ease I had not experienced before. His love had freed me to be myself with full disclosure of the best and worst of me.

The extensive route his love traveled has left behind an emptiness that continues to cripple me. But the irony is this: were it not for the depth of that love, I could not miss him as I do. The challenge now is to embrace equally the stinging pain of loss and the exquisite gift of love. I had hoped the pain would run its course; now I know suffering and joy must find a civil way to coexist.

As I cried aloud one night this summer over dinner with our good friend Sarah, she asked a question I revisit often. "Heidi, If God had told you in advance that Paul would die when he did, would you have chosen to walk this road with him"? What I answered then is the same answer I would give today.
Absolutely. I cannot advocate the type of reckless careening into love which marked my earlier relationships. But I can say assuredly that even safe, just as you are kind of love, requires risk. It takes courage to fully unveil ourselves to another person, but what reward could be greater?

Would I choose it again, knowing what I know now? There's simply no question. Loving him was the best thing I've ever done. I am immeasurably better because he loved me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Are you there God? It's me, Heidi

I have often heard people recount a moment when they experience God for the first time, or in a new way, and it changes the direction of their lives forever. Certainly I have experienced several significant moments of awakening to His presence. More than one particular moment though, my relationship with God has felt like a continuous unfolding, a kind of treasure map of experiences which ultimately lead me into greater wisdom or empathy or growth. My well-worn prayer has always been: "God, let me not be full of crap" and "Help me to give over everything to you. Don't let me hold anything back". So it stands to follow that I eased comfortably back into His arms in those dark nights of our hospital stay. And I had a steady confidence (not arrogance, but a hopeful expectation) that we would be the recipients of a bona fide miracle. After all, I reasoned, hadn't all I ever learned about God-His favor to those He loves, His power to save them-prepared me for just this moment?

So I prayed. Quietly; in whispers at night. Publicly; in front of doctors and nurses, family and friends. Collectively; with the few allowed to see him, and the hundreds gathered at home. Continuously; not slowing or losing heart when things looked bleak. Passionately; pouring all of my hopes and fears into each plea. Assuredly; knowing who I was praying to and being certain of His ability to rescue us. My faith was, pound for pound, a good deal heavier than the mustard seed, but my mountain wasn't budging.

Desperate is the word that best describes our eight week hospital stay. Brutal is a close second. The mountaintop highs, the desert lows. The 'cautiously optimistic' pronouncement followed soon after by a visit with the Palliative Care Team. The extremes were exhausting, heart wrenching and, it seemed to me, bitterly cruel. But even when I saw the blood and heard the echo of his doctors saying a second GI bleed would surely kill him, I believed a miracle would come.

I asked for signs and looked everywhere for answers. Riding the elevator up from the cafeteria one day, the hospital priest asked how I was doing. "Happy to see a man of God," I said, dodging. "We are all children of God," he said pointedly. And I stopped to take it in, to believe it was true. Because as such, even as Paul's breath became shallow and quickened, I held out a persistent hope that God would intervene.

I have read about devastating loss and suffering and the men and women who continue to lift eyes and voices heavenward. After Paul's death, I had hoped I would follow in their leading. Instead, I find my fists are clenched instead of folded and my prayers seem more accusatory than conversational. I don't doubt God could have saved my husband, it simply breaks my heart that He did not.

I find myself now revisiting those seasons of great faith in my life, holding on desperately to what was so certain then. Through my raging and pain I still seek Him. And maybe that is enough, for now.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Our Father, Who Art in Heaven

I am standing in the hospital room side-by-side with Paul's father, his mother and brother. His Uncle Bob, who has no children of his own save for these adopted sons, keeps vigil with us. We've been called in to say goodbye.

I listen to Glen-his voice breaking and hands clenched-tell Paul how much he loves him. His father paces. His mother weeps and rubs his hands. "Paul, you've been such a good son to me", she says, over and over and over again. And I am thinking, between shock and nausea, how much longer Paul? I need to get home to the kids.

The night he died, I tucked our children into bed and climbed in next to them a few hours later. Paul's mother slept down the hall. Around 10 p.m., the nurses called me back in, "We've increased to three blood pressure medications, at full dosage, what would you like us to do from here?" I got dressed, walked down the hall, and gently woke my mother-in-law. "It's time, Memere" I told her.

In the night, my mother changed shifts with us as we five (six if you count my brother, who set up shop in the waiting room nearby) converged at the hospital one final time. And though I watched every labored breath, took note of every calculated decrease in meds, I never forgot what lay before me when it was over. They would need to be told, and I wanted to be the one to tell them.

Much of it is a blur. The kids were excited to see me still home when they woke. After eight weeks, they had become accustomed to my prolonged absences. I held them close for a bit, slowing the inevitable. And then I began the explanation I'd rehearsed (preventatively, God Forbid) for weeks. "Guys, remember we talked about how sick Dad had gotten? Remember how I told you Daddy's body was working really, really hard to get better? Well...his body just couldn't fight any more". Maya's face, the oldest and most savvy, registering instant horror and disbelief. "He died?" And me, nodding, saying softly, "We're still a family" and trying desperately to believe it.

What we did best, Paul and I, was love our kids together. We supported each others' decisions regarding them or disagreed quietly, separate from their hearing. We stratagized solutions to their particular challenges. We passed knowing looks in wonder of them. We protected them at every turn; our arguments, scary movies, bullies at school, bad news. And then...

Now it is the first day of school and the Dads are driving captain in their minivans and the Moms' cameras are clicking. This is the one day a year Paul cheerfully left late. No matter who it was, what their ages, it broke my heart to see them off to school. He stayed for them but more appropriately, he stayed for me.

And then it is Open House and I am writing a note for Maya to find and remembering how Paul had written last years missive-the sign for I Love You and Love, Dad written below. Now I scribble, "I am so proud of you and Daddy is too" and rush out amid tears.

And then Anna turns five and our friend Howard calls to tell me he's coming over to make her some chocolate chip pancakes. And I am grateful, thankful for him, and yet...

When you lose someone you love, you grieve the many facets of your relationship, the countless roles they played. He was my best friend, my co-parent, the fixer of broken things. He was our provider, the dish washer, bill payer. He was my lover, trash collector, the driver for trips long and short...the list goes on.

Maya, Cole and Anna have lists as well. He was their after-dinner-wrestler, the snowball maker, late night lifter into bed. He was their coach, candy smuggler, gentle teaser, teacher. And then there is the list of what they will miss going forward, too extensive to detail here.

There was speculation in the hospital, as Rhabdomyolosis rendered Paul's body all but immobile, that he wouldn't want to live in a wheelchair. But how can we be sure? Were you to ask Paul on May 2nd for that decision, I believe his answer would be vastly different than it was just two months later. Given the choice between seeing his children grow to become adults, or dying at 33...I believe the fight he showed for eight weeks gave us his answer. He had a lot to live for, and the three of them inspired his fight.

Perspective is a funny thing, in the end.

And now I am faced with the impossible task of doing this alone. And it is both the loss of a father and the loss of their father, that grieves me. Our friend Claire said I had lived with and loved Paul long enough to anticipate his response and 'know his mind' some. And though I would parent without him, I could be sure that Paul's voice-his beliefs and perspective-would stay with me. I pray this is true. His shoes are big. Their loss is bigger.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Precious Porcelain

If you knew him at all you knew words were primarily useful to him, seldom abundant. He wasn't the sitting around, share your life story, kind of guy. (Surely you recognize the irony of me blogging about that). What got him to talking was an afternoon at the beach, or sitting on the back deck of the cottage. A few beers often coaxed some sharing, as the ease of that particular spot always brought out the vacation in him.

The mistake you might make (and I did, more often than I care to admit) was thinking his quiet signaled indifference; that his reserve implied detachment. The truth was, he was an observer and what he saw, he saw wholly-with his mind, his intellect and his heart. I came to truly trust his gut, even when I could not fully trust my own.

When you spend your time with someone whose words are, well, sparse, what is shared inevitably carries greater weight. There is a sort of leaning in to catch it and a clutching to the chest when it's through. I once remarked about the exuberant way he entered the house each night. Pulling into the driveway, getting trampled by the kids, it would begin. Daddy's home! Hugs and kisses all around! After which I, slightly rivaled, then asked, "Why don't I get that kind of greeting?" To which he replied (pause now, for emphasis...think Mr. Miyagi to Daniel-son) "Heidi, it's easy to give your love away when someone comes running towards you with open arms." Ouch.

Four months later, do I have regrets? Every. Single. Day. I regret fighting with him the night before his race. I regret not begging him to come with us that weekend. I regret presuming I knew all there ever was to know about him, instead of remaining curious. Most of all, I regret not making more of our life together. We human beings feel so damn entitled to time! It renders us careless, irresponsible...

Lest you think I am altogether mired down in 'what if's', I recently discovered a pardon. Last week I found a Valentine's card I had written several years ago. It was an extensive list of all I loved about Paul. I suspect there will be some regret lacing every memory I have of him, but this list helps me remember that I did what I could do. I loved him as well as I was able. In the end that is all any of can do, this side of heaven...

Here's a sample:


Thinks I am just as beautiful at 5 a.m. as 5 p.m. (most of the time lies convincingly)
Let's me be myself
Believes in his own abilities and skills
Rubs my back even when he doesn't want to
Goes outside in the cold with Maya so Mom won't have to
Makes perfect egg sandwiches
Is worth waiting by the window for every night
Cleans up after parties without being asked
Has a good and pure heart
Thinks of me at the grocery store
Holds my hand in public
Is quick to apologize when he's wrong
Politely refuses telemarketers
Forces me to do things that are good for me
Let's me off the hook sometimes
Is good to my family
Gives me directions whenever I need them
Never cringes at my stretch marks
Believes the best of people
Knows things will work out okay in the end
Doesn't quit when things get hard
Can do nearly anything he sets his mind to
Is not the same man I married...he's better

Someone once told me we should hold onto each other like valuable china; beautiful yet delicate and highly fragile.

So make your own list. Then give it away. Hold close your own precious porcelain.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Drama Queen

Reasons to Blog:
I am writing because Leigh told me to. "Everyone will read it!" she told me. And I wasn't sure how to take that.

I am writing to remember: Paul and our life together, the hospital stay, his death itself, life (raw and brutally unrelenting) in the days that followed.

I am writing for evidence-justification when the kids land on the proverbial couch. "Look! Under "PLAGUES", there were snakes! In the basement! I had to remove them MYSELF!" and so on.

But mostly, I am writing to purge. In recent days, I find myself shamelessly over-sharing: spilling out every which way. Here's an example: Jim calls and asks, quite harmlessly, "Whatcha up to?" to which I respond, "Cleaning out my dead husbands closet, how 'bout you?"
Apparently I may be a smidgen much for the general population, even beloved brothers. Hopefully writing might alleviate this verbal surplus some. At least in person.

So here goes. My foray into the blogging world in what I promise will be a honest, tearful, acerbic but hopeful peek (see title) into this god awful first year. Thanks for being brave enough to follow along.