Thursday, June 26, 2014


     It's been five years today.  Five years since a midnight phone call from the hospital brought us to his bedside one final time; his labored, shallow breaths of carbon dioxide silencing any last hope for a miracle.  It's been five years since Glen, my brother, and I, walked into a Paul-less morning and talked about what everyone else in the world was talking about: Michael Jackson.  "Thanks for waiting for him to go first, Buddy" Glen said.
     It's been two hundred and sixty weeks since Peg, one of our favorite nurses, asked me how I wanted to say goodbye to him.  "Shut off the beeping." I told her, and that beautiful, compassionate woman muted the machines, dimmed the lights, and let us do death our way.       
     It's been 1,825 days since Paul's death.  This year, I ran the race he never finished, asking Glen's wife, Erica, to run alongside me.
     At the YMCA the day before, I grabbed my t-shirt and picked up my bib.  "Double check the information on this sheet." the woman at the registration table told me.  
     "This says I am 38.  What kind of bullshit is that?" I joked. 
     A man in line behind me laughed too, "I'm Eric Torgersen," he told me.  "We have mutual friends.  I know what tomorrow means for you, and I just wanted to tell you...I'll be there, cheering you on."  
     The morning of the race, my phone erupted with texts of encouragement and support, and then this one, from Erica: "Maddie's really sick.  I won't be able to make it today.  Know I'm there with you, in spirit." 
     I started the run with butterflies, not dragonflies, no ethereal signs to spur me on.  But soon enough I passed by some cheering friends, just before entering the McLean Game Refuge where, according to other runners that day, Paul first started to teeter.   
     Mile five, turning onto Rt. 10, I ran by Skip Allerman's house, the man who helped petite Sue Davies as she lowered my near-unconscious husband to the ground. From that point on, I knew I was running a part of the course he hadn't and my legs grew miraculously surer, more determined.    
     I've begun to say my goodbyes here in Granby. Today I ended-at least for the foreseeable future-my weekly visits to my beloved therapist, Dr. Jeanne Folks.  "You're going to be fine, Heidi," she told me, in her trademark soothing tone. "When I cut my finger, I don't have to tell my body to begin to heal. Immediately my platelets mobilize to mend my skin. Our bodies always seek do our spirits."
     On the sixth and last mile of Paul's run, I crossed the final intersection and saw my friend Jenn, scanning the road, waiting for me. Soon Eric Torgensen, my new buddy from the day before, joined her in running me in. As I got closer, my friend Katy found us, bringing Maya and Cole and Anna, too. My cheerleaders, cheerfully assembled.
     It wasn't lost on me, not then, not now, just how symbolic it all was. Whatever race we're given-illness, divorce, betrayal, abandonment, death-it's ours alone to run. But always-and everywhere-there is Love cheering us on, bringing us home.
     I crossed the finish line by myself that morning, no one beside me, as were the rules. But up ahead and to my left and right, were a small crowd of people who love me, welcoming me home...Just the way I imagine Paul's own welcoming committee received him, when he finally finished his race, five years ago today.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cole's Gift

    As beloved as our Anna is today, my pregnancy with her caught Paul and I by surprise.  We were doing well enough financially, but I was grossly overwhelmed with the needs of my then three, and one and a half year old.  Most days, a good shower was my only barometer of success.  "Why are you crying?" Paul asked, when I showed him the positive test, "This is good news!"  So I chose to overlook the beads of sweat dotting his brow and joined in his optimism instead. 

     When I woke up later that night, I found a construction paper heart on the bathroom mirror.  "I love you're so beautiful" he'd written.  I walked into the kitchen, shaking my head and giggling in sheer, unexpected delight.  This was a man who traditionally scribbled "Love, Paul" on the bottom of embossed greeting cards.  Turning on the light, I found another heart.  And then another.  The entire kitchen was decorated in paper hearts.  "I love you're so fertile!" said one.  "I love you because...the third times a charm!" read another.  And on and on they went. 

     The holidays are always hard when you're missing someone, and 2013 doled out terrible suffering to some of the people I love most.  But while the world has felt dark and hostile lately, I vowed to keep it from my children.  Waking early on Christmas morning, I saw Cole's room lit up and him, bustling.  "What are you doing awake?  It's 4 in the morning!" I asked him.  "I know Mom, I set my alarm!" was his matter of fact reply.  So I did what my son instructed, returning to bed so he could finish up whatever scheme he'd begun; delighted as much to see his excitement at giving it, as for the present itself. 

     Later that morning, after a reading of the First Christmas, after stockings and cinnamon rolls, after my daughters had presented me with paintings and tea and bath scrub, it was Cole's turn to give his gift.  Had I known what waited for me, I probably wouldn't have dropped to the bed, weeping unabashedly.  But what would you do if you saw entire closet doors covered in construction paper hearts?  Like his father's, Cole's hearts were funny, "I love you think I'm handsome and you're the only one who says that to my face." And sweet: "I love you comfort me when I am sad."

     I've made several resolutions for 2014.  Drink less wine.  Run more.  Spend time with people who make me better.  One of the most important things I could do this year though, is simply to remember what Cole wrote on his last purple heart.  It said: "I love you because you are very, very, very, very, very, very, very, Important."  On this, the first day of this brand new year, it is my prayer for you as well.  May you always remember how very important you are.