Monday, December 21, 2009

Passing on.

What finally came to light as I procrastinated about the baby-proofing "project", paralyzed with the angst associated with organizing and clearing out our home - was that I needed to make space. And what festered underneath that simple concept were two, more emotionally loaded, thoughts: I needed to put more stuff in storage and more importantly, that some items needed a new home. The discomfort that had been overshadowing it all started to make sense. It was time for some of Alan's clothes to be passed on to others. Things which I had grown used to seeing in our closet, that comforted me whenever I opened the doors but which also nagged at me in the back of my mind for some time.

So finally the moment came.
I found the courage to donate Alan's suits.

His beautiful, tailored suits that I loved seeing him wear.
The horrendous truth rearing it's head yet again - he doesn't need them anymore. Some of his favorite clothes have been passed over to family members and it gives me joy and satisfaction to see their bodies warm with his touch, and donning his inimitable style. That's ok too, it feels good to have him close by. I will forever hold onto many of his sweaters and tees,it feels good to wear them. I held on to the ties, couldn't get "there" yet, but I knew he'd be annoyed to hear that I had even kept his suits for this long. He would have wanted me to donate them, to have someone else use them, to benefit from them, and so that is what I did.
Pieces of Alan, moving on.
Not an easy task. But it was the right thing to do. Having his suits won't bring him back and I hope, I dream, that he can see some of the doll size frocks and pants and sweaters and coats that dangle from tiny hangers, lovingly, in their place. If Alan could speak he'd comment humorously with his unmistakable, dry wit "Oh... Hmm.. Look at Sus, movin' on in with your clothes - the 'merry widower'" he'd tease me. And I'd say "Noooooo Alannnnn.... It's the baby's clothes... But if you think I should get some for myself....". He still makes me laugh. And cry. I have heard the second year can be harder than the first and all I can say is it remains fresh and tragic and scarring. But his spirit continues to move me with laughing tears and for that I am forever grateful.

Lily currently averages a few shirts each day, as she is regularly drenched with drool, and many of the clothes "on-deck" are hand-me-downs. It is heartwarming to see her wearing items that once clothed other babes we love - they are not only practical but carry with them their own history. I think, I hope, that as others enjoy Alan's clothes they'll sense that another special soul once wore them too.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Walking Flower

It seems that Lily is grown up at only nine and a half months. She is weaning herself, she is walking, she dislikes having her face washed and she has little time for stillness. This morning I awoke to her happy chatter, the past few weeks sponsored predominantly by the letter D and once she's up she's ready to go. I, on the other hand, woke up feeling lousy - tired and nauseous and our quiet in bed nursing snuggle gave way to, what she considers, playful bites and frustration that I'm not more pliable. And that is how our conversation goes. "No biting Lily, that hurts Mama", "Ouch Lily! No. No biting." And then we get a bottle. And later, "Where's Mama?! Here's Mama", "See Mama wash wash wash?" "Brush brush brush?" "See Mama's here! See Mama in the shower?" "Mama's putting socks on" "Socks go on feet" "Give to Mama, Lily" and on and on. Mama talk. Lots of it.

And now, Lily is walking. Quite early I might add. I am proud of her development but we/I could have waited.. a bit. She still prefers crawling but she moves with lightening speed and yesterday morning I went into the kitchen and after two minutes noticed "the quiet". I ran in to check on her and my nomadic roamer had pushed open what I thought was a closed bedroom door and was sitting in the bathroom hanging out with a sock. Thank god the cleaning products were recently relocated. Do racing hearts burn calories? Might be an advantage of sorts... But in the past month Lily went from crawling to walking with only a few breaths in between. Her steps are staccato, Frankenstein steps - a bit stiff and they come in clusters of three or four (or more whenever I am not present to witness) and she is quite pleased with herself. She is easily amused and often merely a good dose of standing will do - rocking forward and back on her toes a few times provides plenty of entertainment. When she crawls she enjoys taking a break to clap and look behind to contemplate the distance she's covered,and this morning I had to hide her alligator walker as it was just too early to rouse the neighbors with it's thunderous clap, caused by jaws that open and close to the rhythm of Lily's quickstep. My headache didn't need it either. Feeling sick on top of all of this is a test. Thankfully I had my mother-in-law for the early shift so I chose lying in bed over a shower and headed for work wearily, closing the door on a screaming, tired-sweet-baby-face and wondering if my strength would ever return. Gradually it does, mere thoughts of Lily help to curb the way I feel and if I can ever catch up on some sleep perhaps I'll nip this bug before it fully blooms. But when I feel like this my mind spins, how will I take care of her?, what if she catches it - we don't even have separate bedrooms and share very close quarters and I'm not ready to part from her for even a night other than sleeping on the couch in the other room. It's a desperate feeling because someone more important needs to be taken care of. I can and will do it, but emotionally and physically it can take it's toll. But Lily is resilient, I can even go so far as to say that she's tough. She has her delicate, sweet, soft moments but she is a girl on the go - all smiles, new teeth poking through, drool floodgates open as she glides across the floors and climbs among the furniture. Wipe outs are fairly frequent but she remains relatively unscathed.

Alan loved what I thought to be one of my sadder childhood memories - the day we made Native American drums in pre-k and all of the girls had already appropriated the "feminine" Indian names on the walls for their decor before I had gotten to pick one out for myself. They got the good ones: "Little Fawn", "White Deer" "Soft Cloud" - I don't know what - but I ended up with "Red Feather". My mom loved it, Alan did too - but I was disappointed. Still played my drum but never forgot the prettier names I could have had. Luckily, or unluckily, more serious issues dominate my trying moments. And I had a laugh yesterday as Lily stepped forward into my arms - her own drum name came to mind. "Walking Flower". I think Lily (and her dad) would be just fine with that, assertive yet delicate, just as she is.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How it goes.

To say that parenting is hard is an understatement of epic proportions. Being a single parent puts it over the top. The last few weeks I have been struggling to juggle my return to work with being a mother and my time, our time, is now beyond limited. I rush everywhere. Race to work, race home from work. Weekends are more of the same -and all that I can no longer do during the week now fills the list of things that ideally would be accomplished during what once were "days of rest". But the weekend rolls around and the work week continues - 6:15 wake up, 7am Lily breakfast, dress, play, 9am Lily nap #1. I crash on couch for as many winks possible while Lily sleeps. 10:15/10:30, Lily's up, snack, play, lunch at noon, play, nap #2 at 1pm. Again I try to nap or scramble to do things in the apartment while she recharges. 2:30/3pm Lily's up, play, play, fresh air until dark, 4pm snack, play until 5:30, prepare dinner, 5:45/6pm dinner. 6:45 bath, 7pm read, boob, bed by 7:30.
And then "my time" begins.
Or doesn't.
I'm exhausted, and despite the fact that Lily brings me immeasurable happiness and love, I am lonely, depressed and dead tired. I have limited energy for phone calls, bills, it's a miracle if I cook myself something. I know my story mirrors that of other single parents but knowing that has no effect on me. Because all I really want is Alan back. I want him here to see how Lily crawls with such enthusiasm that when she kicks up her back legs they sometimes throw her balance and she tumbles over her arms. I want him to hear her early morning excitement in the dark as she sidesteps along the crib rail to get as close as she can to the bed to wake me. I want him to witness how she shoves broccoli into her mouth catching it as it goes down her wrist with a similar style as the way he ate popcorn. I want him to see how she now gets her own instruments from the bin in music class and holds onto them with vigor should anyone attempt a grab. I want him to see how she stands front and center of class and rolls onto her tiptoes as she listens to the guitar. I want him to hear the clappity clap of her walker as she pushes it more and more quickly down the halls. How I wish her first steps had been into his arms.
I'd love him here to help raise her.
I do have help, and am grateful for it. I do use it so that I can attempt to accomplish the things that must get done. And thankfully they are people who love her with all their heart and she loves her time with them. But when I leave Lily, the guilt and longing remain. And I know it'd be easier if I was doing errands knowing that her other parent was with her. Alan and I were extensions of each other and how I wish that if I cannot be with Lily, that she could be passing the hours of food and naps and play with her dad. It makes my separation from her much more difficult.
And what makes it all most daunting is that the love I feel for her is almost unbearable. Now I understand why my mother always offers me her food if my dish isn't good, why she'd give me her last bite and say she isn't hungry, little sacrifices that run much deeper. Because now nothing else matters more than my daughter. It is an awesome, and frighteningly overwhelming, feeling and how I wish I had Alan with whom to share the love and fear.
Lily in all her zeal seems to miss nothing and for now, that's all that matters.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Save the baby.

I remember years ago a friend humorously being quoted as having said that her day, everyday, consists of making sure that "her boys don't die". I thought it so funny, I understood and respected the concept but only on a superficial level. Now I fully g r a s p the gravity, the deep dark truth of those words. Three days ago, I awoke and was amusingly surprised to see Lily happily sitting up in her crib, refreshed and bright-eyed after a good night's sleep, air conditioner remote control in hand. This morning I awoke to her happy babble and smiling face grinning at me in the dark, standing up excitedly, hands on the railing, eyes gleefully peering over. Jump, jump, jumping in place.
My daughter is mobile.
Months ago she was a skilled roller and even then I recognized that boundaries were in order; today, pillows against the console no longer do the trick. The days of her perched in full view on the bed - barricaded by pillows, entertained by animals and a shape sorter - are over. She established a game where she'd gradually climb the barrier every time I turned my back and giggled delightedly when I turned around and caught her in the act. It was our own version of Red Light Green Light. I know that when she's playing on the floor, while I prepare something in the kitchen, that three minutes of silence mean she's ventured into questionable territory. She can pull herself up, walk along side furniture, inch worm her way to toys and extension cords and enjoy a meal of postcard or board book. Often times Lily won't fold, she's on the go and is thoroughly enjoying her new found dexterity. She spent much of her afternoon nap today standing in her crib. I tried to minimize that fact by reminding myself that cows and horses sleep standing up. But the most daunting thing about all of this evolution before my very eyes is that it is time to empty the apartment. Move out the furniture, eliminate picture frames on shelves, barricade books, strap TVs to walls, pad the floors, latch the cabinets, lock the toilet, safeguard the oven, encapsulate power strips, fence the windows and on and on and on. The mission is well worth it but the endeavor is overwhelming. We have limited space as it is with a storage unit almost at capacity - what I would do for a walk in closet. One of my parenting books says that a cluttered apartment is good for a baby. It colors their world and is fodder for a curious mind - much more so than a minimalist environment.
I love that book.
But I love Lily more, and need to find that safe-happy-medium where she gets an eyeful without danger lurking. Apparently Alan said that the amount of money spent on storage could easily buy back any items you give away instead of storing. I love that man. But then how did he and I end up with an overflowing attic on 26th street? Perhaps it's time for it all to go to the curb. But that's no easy task for me, I am a sentimentalist and we both were nostalgic. So storage remains... But it's down to the details now. If he ever saw me wrapping presents on the floor he'd say "you can't leave the scissors there Sus when there's a baby" and when I'd forget something in the apartment as we were on our way out he'd dryly say "don't forget the baby Suuuus.." . Lily is impossible to forget. She is making her mark by the minute and she is precious. The innocence of babes is breathtaking and terrifying, they rely on you for everything and are far from grasping caution. That is what makes them so beautiful to watch, they embrace life without a care beyond the need of arms wrapped around them or carefully shadowing them as they explore the world. It is a unique phase, they are truly carefree. So while I worry and follow her every move, envisioning every disaster and tragedy imaginable, it is nice to know that in her eyes, everything around her represents nothing more than adventure and discovery,

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Strength in numbers.

This morning Lily and I had brunch with my support group friends from Gilda's Club. There were two other babes there and I hope Lily will know them for years, as they will understand what it feels like to know a parent through love that is present in a different way. I don't want her to ever feel alone, or self conscious of growing up under unusual circumstance - undoubtedly she will at times but if she has a bond with other kids such as these, as I do with my support group, she'll know that she is understood, that there is a place for her among others who are similarly so very special. It is oddly amusing to imagine how we all look, gathered around a long table in a diner - to the passersby, the other diners, we look like a happy, colorful group of people - perhaps connected through work - at one dinner we had, the waiter asked what the occasion was. When one in our group laughingly said something to the effect of "the death of our spouses" luckily he was able to roll with it. But it is surreal to step back from the table and to take it all in. We joke, we laugh, we cry, we confide. It is the only group with whom I can truly feel comfortable socializing - and little do the people around us know, that we are all connected by the deepest sadness - immeasurable loss, longing, despair, and the daily struggles of trying to live as productive, hopeful people again. I can joke freely with them, our sense of humor is dark - and it feels OK to laugh with them. Because I know they know how I feel underneath the surface, I know they understand the ache, I know their minds are haunted with similar memories, I know their daily hurdles mirror mine. We have dreams, we don't have dreams, we get the continuous comments. Recently someone told me, again, I needed to "move on". Ugh. A friend trivialized a routine I share with my daughter as though it were as base as taking the trash out. Recently someone complimented one of my group friends on her idea to wear her and her husband's wedding rings around her neck on a chain. The woman commented, "I can never get my husband to wear his ring - that's such a great idea". You have to laugh. It's too awful to contemplate if you don't. This world is full of people who cannot think further than "what's for dinner tonight" so introspection or heightened sensitivity of any sort is hard to come by. But we all ride the waves, and see the world with a different pair of glasses these days.

It is interesting to watch Lily develop as she doesn't need the glasses. Her thoughts are pure, she is open and loving to all that is around her. She takes it all in with no judgement, just delighted curiosity. Yesterday she gave me a round wooden circle. And later she gave me her spoon. She is beginning to grasp the idea of sharing. She has found another way to communicate. Lily is rarely still, the changing pad might as well be a hot plate, I am now struggling to change diapers as she attempts to crawl across the dresser. She was thrilled to be in a highchair next to another baby this morning, they held hands, Lily grabbed at her as they spoke with squeals. Gentle isn't part of her vocabulary yet, but it is refreshing and beautiful to see unfettered emotion, rooted only in the feeling that something, or someone, makes you happy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Lighthouse.

Lily is eight months today. She changes hourly so my arrival home from work cannot come soon enough. Thankfully she called me yesterday afternoon, to pull me through the rest of the day. She panted, screeched and giggled - I could just see her happy drool, squinted eyes and crinkled nose. I could picture her attempt to chew on the phone. She is amusingly animated and though she has no vocabulary, yet, she is an exuberant, loud, communicator. As difficult as it has been to miss her during the days, she is the most wonderful little person, truly my guiding light - and it is she that makes time away that much more rewarding when I'm home. Nearly crawling, she takes pleasure in banging objects together, enjoys dropping things from elevated levels, is charmingly vain in front of a mirror and possesses an overall happy spirit. She was sick for the first time last week with a fever that has since grown into a cold and despite her congestion she is energetic and excited by all that surrounds her. I suspect that she caught her bug from Barnes & Noble - a wonderful indoor playground but a petri dish as well. We went there on a rainy weekend and stalked other children. Lily does love a good board book but she is drawn to other kids and cannot contain herself at the sight of another child. She is an extrovert around children under seven, curious, chatty and engaging. So instead of reading "Go Dog Go" she chose to hit on a Cheerio eating boy named Max near the SAT prep books. She also shook hands with two young boys and had a staring contest with a girl who said she was two, three, four years old. It was a grand social hour, and I guess we brought some of it home with us. Hopefully her congestion will dissipate, enough so that she need not come up gasping for air after every four gulps while nursing. Poor thing needs a snorkle. Maybe tomorrow will be a dryer day. Regardless, her disposition remains sunny.

Alan said to me at our wedding that I carried him, through the days, and as I struggle to adjust to this step back into the working world it is Lily that carries me. Holding her in my arms has almost curative powers. When she gently contemplates the rings that dangle from a necklace that Alan gave to me, I sense that she is aware of him - there is a peacefulness that comes over her as she examines them and with that, what feels like his awareness of us, washes over me.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Search for a cure.

I actually read the front page of the paper today, drawn to it because of an article on MD Anderson - a mecca of sorts for cancer patients. Part of me was excited to read it, to learn of it's hopeful research and treatment, and part of me was fearful I'd learn of something experimental for hemangiopericytoma's that we had missed out on. In our research we heard mention of MD Anderson when we pressed for places that might have something experimental that was promising and while we wanted no one else to be plagued with the same disease, when it comes to a rare cancer, misery loves company - only for the simple reason that with disease, numbers mean funding and research. We knew MD Anderson had multiple cases of hemangiopericytoma (He - man - geo - peri - cy - toma) and that alone made it an alluring destination for a fresh set of eyes and ideas. But it wasn't an option. We had phoned them, I had a list of all of the reports and scans needed, but you cannot go unless you're a certain number of months between treatments and you cannot go while on any sort of regimen. The most excruciating aspect of the actual fight against cancer is the obvious: Time. And when you're fighting for your life, the thought of refusing treatment in order to attempt something else further down the line is a gamble with death. Pure and simple. I had spoken to the NIH, had information on trials, we went to Dana Farber in Boston for an opinion and MD Anderson was on my wish-list. Forget about the question of what you'll do about work, where you'll live or how you'll go back and forth to Houston, the concept of what might be there was worth it. The article was inspiring because it's entirely devoted to all things cancer, and they are at the forefront of critical research. It was also devastating because it acknowledges that there is yet no cure and positive results often mean extending one's life by months.

I was desperate to find a cure for Alan's illness. I would have gone to the ends of the earth to stop it's progression. And that is another struggle - you become obsessed with research and the quest for an answer and it occupies every sleeping and waking moment. Just the other day I used a purse I hadn't used in over a year and on a piece of scrap paper inside, was the name of a drug. Obviously I had read about it somewhere and written it down - the kind of note taking that becomes second nature when you're searching for any port in storm. When I came across it for a moment I worried I had neglected to look it up, to find out about it's potential for Alan - but I let it go, trusting that had it been an option, it would have been explored. Whether Alan would have benefited in Texas or not, I'll never know. Thankfully, what I do know, is that doctors talk. They exchange notes, share findings, and gather at conferences - Alan had excellent doctors thinking out of the box so I have to rest assured that no stone went unturned. We ended up at MSK because we were told that there was technology there that he needed that Columbia Presbyterian did not yet have. It took a selfless doctor to admit that, but thankfully, he did. Sadly bureaucracy and funding can limit even the finest hospitals.

I remember Alan cracking a joke during a visit to the radiation oncologist, having to do with Ted Kennedy being able to sail and live largely while top doctors scrambled to provide him with ground-breaking therapies. As it happened, they both ended up on the same chemo, and the Senator's prognosis (though a different tumor) wasn't any gentler. But it is exhausting navigating an uneven and poorly run health care system, insulting to consider that money or lack thereof could influence the length of one's life, and bottom-line, unfair. Health care is discriminating and Alan had strong opinions about it. He was furious at one point when we decided to move him to a private room because the nursing care was so poor on his floor - he felt it was unfair that he had that option. And yet he also felt it was fair for doctors and hospitals to charge what they did - the system had to pay for itself. But even with excellent insurance, Alan was cheated many times. He was repeatedly denied scans when he desperately needed them, hospital stays had to be fought for and when he did get scans the angst that went into getting them approved added insult to injury. Most of the time I was the one showing desperation, not Alan. He was the one with the sentence but it was I who openly and frantically sought the answers. He showed up to every treatment, surgery, scan and follow-up, he went to work and came home and loved and lived and did it all over the next day. That's the most admirable fight I can think of. So when I read of the patient who has shown up for sixteen, week-long stays within a nine month period, on the front page, my heart is glad she's getting some recognition from others beside her family and friends. And I hope she has years ahead of her.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Moving Forward.

I am going back to work. For the first time in over a year, I'll be rejoining the masses heading to a daily destination, and leaving Lily at home in the hands of a doting grandmother and a nanny who loves her. Despite the watchful eyes on Lily I miss her already and have my own set of anxieties surrounding my return to the position I held for many years until Alan passed away. It will be the same room, same desk, and I will be facing the same photo from our wedding of Alan and me together with my employers, arm in arm, on the happiest day of my life. I know from the occasional part-time days I worked during my pregnancy that the phone will ring and I'll jump inside, thinking for a split second that it's Alan on the other end. My Alan. That was the routine - my employers are also Susan and Alan - so when my Alan called and I couldn't get to the phone in time, my employer would. And I can just hear her calling me from the other room, "It's Alan! Your Alan...". I can hear his deep, rich, soft voice in my mind, "Hi Sus" he'd say, and then he'd maybe suggest getting theater tickets for a show we'd read about, or fill me in on his office's politics or have an idea about where we could meet for drinks or dinner after work. Or perhaps he was planning on cooking that night or he'd fill me in on a doctors appointment. Sometimes it was just to check in. How I miss his reassuring voice and his level headed perspective, his calm balance to my dramatic inclinations. His warmth always brought a smile to my face and my employer never missed telling me that he had called if I had been out. She knew how important he was to me, and there were also many hours spent, waiting to hear back from him if he'd gone to treatment without me. I was, and still am, a worrier, so if too much time lapsed between appointments or calls my heart would race until I heard from him. And there were plenty of calls when I could hear in his voice that something wasn't right - a headache too strong, a dizziness, or a sharp pain - and though he'd play it down, I'd rush home, knowing that in a few hours most likely we'd be in the ER. It wasn't a regular occurrence, but each and every visit was one too many.

I'm getting better at catching myself in those brief moments - whether it's a phone ringing or a silhouette in a window. But the fantasy still remains. Just yesterday I had a daydream where I envisioned telling my Super that Alan was back. Explaining to him that there had been some mistake and that Alan was still here, and he had returned, and he too agreed that there was something wrong with the radiator. It was a fleeting thought, but a wish that resonates. The heat is now back on, with the usual photos of Alan and us arranged lovingly on top.

A woman I spoke to one early morning at the swings said she thought it was harder for the mom who's been with her child for seven or eight months to return to work, than for the mom who's time is up at the typical three months - the thought being that at the seven month mark you've been watching your baby develop and discover and grow in tangible ways. They're well beyond the baby "lump stage" and are evolving before your eyes - so the child you must now leave seems more human, and the connection deeper. And I understand that thought - because every day Lily is closer to crawling, her balance is less off kilter, her mannerisms more calculating. She is waving, feeding herself little Os, chugging from a sippy cup, and connecting mental dots. She knows that cups hold water, Spot isn't in the closet or under the bed - he's in the basket, that people come through the door, that music is fun to move to. She talks to her animals and knows that when she makes noise, she is heard. I find that when I'm not with her and I hear a baby cry, for a second it sounds like Lily. Once again someone is on my mind 24/7, and I'll have to go for hours without seeing her. Most moms do it, and I'm sure - I know - it's no easier for them. Makes me long for Italian hours - long lunches at home and siesta. How nice that would be. But I know I'll handle it, Lily makes everything worthwhile - and when I sit down at my desk next week I'll place her photo right next to the others and look forward to our twilight hour together, before she goes down to bed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The new year has come and gone and I did nothing for it besides consume an entire cinnamon babka (over the course of a few days). I am not a religious person, nor was Alan - I think we both considered ourselves spiritual but not observant. Respectful of history and culture but that was the extent of our feelings. In fact I remember Alan saying one year that he had nothing to be forgiven for - and he didn't. He was the consummate good person. Flawless, no, but a genuinely fine human being - so as he gracefully handled the constant challenges to his body and spirit, I understood his attitude. As a friend said to me at one point, "it's someone else's turn". And it was. Disease does not discriminate, and when you face such unrelenting onslaught - faith feels pointless and it's promise, dishonest. Alan would say at times that he felt like he was walking into the wind and this month, for me, felt like that as well. A month that at one time celebrated the moment when we first met, and later our wedding, now marks anniversaries we cannot commemorate - so I am happy when certain dates come and go. Every day I reflect on what we had, and thank Alan for Lily, our most beautiful memento. But the grief continues and September felt particularly cruel. The seasons are changing and that means time passing. Time passing without him.

But I know Alan has been looking after us. Over the past few months he has graced us with whispers and music and signs. One day Lily and I watched as a young tattooed dad sat on our bench and played the guitar to his baby girl. Some mornings Lily and I, from our bench, have seen a woman jog by with a T-shirt saying "I (sign) A.R.". In California when I told someone my baby's name was Lily she smiled and said "Oh, that's my name". I said "Oh you're Lily?", she replied, "No, Susan. Its Hebrew translation is Lily." I looked it up and sure enough, it is. Alan chose her name and perhaps he wasn't aware of the connection - but to me it is fatefully serendipitous. And the other day when I was on hold, having a particularly low moment, on came "Midnight Train to Georgia". Many, many afternoons I sat alongside Alan on the bed as he played it on the guitar and cued me in on back-up vocals. It was his one request at our wedding - and oh how he smiled as he sang it with our friends, all crowded behind mics shared with the band. When he was happy I was over the moon, because Alan deserved to let go and relish in unfettered joy. Seeing that was beautiful. Tonight I playfully argued with him over Mardi-Gras beads Lily was chewing on. They typically hang over a portrait he made of his beloved Bulldog, Duncan, and Lily has taken to patting Duncan's photo and going for the beads. I cherish the moment while I worry about plastic, peeling, paint-coated beads made in toxic places. Alan whispered, "Oh Snooze, let her have 'em." We compromised. She gets a few chews and hums, and then they are gently pried from her grip and lovingly returned to Duncan's shrine. And then we tell Duncan to lick Alan for us and tell him we love him and think of him all the time. All the time.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I have never written this early in the day but as it happens, my DAUGHTER IS NAPPING IN HER CRIB. So I have some "extra" time. It is miraculous, and comes on the heel of yesterday's nap of epic proportions lasting 2 and a half hours. I was concerned that Lily might feel after yesterday's feat that she had rollover minutes to apply for the next couple of months. Miraculously, she is commanding a repeat performance. I am currently celebrating by eating breakfast. Not only that, I am eating my breakfast in s l o w m o t i o n. One skill that comes quickly to new moms is the ability to "shove it in" - eating at lightening speed. Yes, unglamorous sounding, but when you are constantly preventing your child from grabbing spoons, shredding menus, chewing table edges, sucking napkins and consoling back-arching restless babes there is no rest, nor time for leisurely meals. Eggs and toast. And tea. I even browsed a couple of catalogs. I feel rested just knowing Lily is asleep. Must now pay bills, find work (out of the home, that is), do filing, laundry, and write thank-you notes. But can't do laundry, can't go through room to get it. Baby sleeping. Can't file, drawers in same room. Baby sleeping. Can't shower, bathroom connected to bedroom. Baby sleeping. Will do when she awakens, bright-eyed and smiling. Mom's are experts at the two-minute shower and getting out the door quickly. Mama minutes are equivalent to dog-years - a quarter of an hour equals at least two hours in real time. Amazing what one can do in an hour... when there is hands-free peace and quiet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Squa, squa, squa, SQUARE!

Currently Lily is often drunk with sleep deprivation but she wears it well. She continues to giggle, stagger as she stands, sit up with impressive posture, bang on the piano with her foot, lounge comfortably in the stroller, legs lazily draped over the bar and eat mashed food artfully. I on the other hand teeter between anxiety and amusement, exhaustion and loneliness, and fantasize about naps, showers and going to a movie. I ran into an acquaintance the other day, in a moment when I could hardly keep the tears at bay. It had been a difficult week and that morning I was particularly tapped - I was caught off-guard, twice, by two different songs, one at home and one in a restaurant. They played out of nowhere and left me raw and exposed. One minute I'm eating lunch, the next, subtly and self-consciously brushing tears from my face, feeling more and more isolated by the journey I've been on. The world rushes by, the tears go unnoticed. At times I cannot bear to let the emotion take me any further, the pain is almost paralyzing. Thankfully if I focus on Lily, waiting for me at home, I can pull myself out of the despair. "Yummy, yummy, yummy, I've got apples in my tummy!" Within seconds I'm back in the land of the living, singing over and over and O V E R again a line from one of her robotically cheery toys - that she activates unwittingly every few seconds to the extent that it stutters. Yummy, yummy - Yum - Yummy yu - Yummy yummy I've got... frequently we never get through the whole line, and it doesn't phase her in the least. I on the other hand am on the verge of mama-insanity and then all of a sudden "Sq, sq, SQUARE! I'm a blue, I'm a blue square!".
My day continues.
Ahhh... Motherhood.
I recently realized I neglected to rinse the conditioner out of my hair, a friend told me she discovered her shirt was on inside out after picking up her child who's shirt was on backwards, and another is struggling with memory lapses and frequently repeats parenting anecdotes. The other night I was pumping (breast milk that is) only to discover that the delayed feeling of warmth on my leg was the bottle overflowing. I cleaned it up only to find myself, minutes later sitting on the wet cloth I had used to clean the milk off the sofa. At times I find myself laughing so hard the tears start flowing. Those are good tears. Delirious, belly shaking laughter and tears that I know Alan would find amusing. We often laughed together and he loved my sometimes silent, bowled over hysterics which in turn, had him panting with glee. Lily has her own laughing pant and it too can be silent - Like mother like father like daughter. Luckily for me the dark moments are balanced with levity that is whimsical and mind numbing, heart warming and life-affirming.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sleep Baby Sleep.

There is nothing better, as an exhausted parent, than feeling a baby slumped on your shoulder, heavy with sleep. There is certainly beauty and joy that comes with holding a baby in your arms, hearing their babble, and feeling them kiss your cheek which, as of now, consists of a large open mouth that drools and energetically clenches your cheekbone with glee - but when you're feeling especially sleep deprived and desperate for some sense of reliable schedule, nothing beats the peacefulness that accompanies their rest. Since our voyage out West, Lily has fallen into a mercurial sleep pattern, which succinctly can be described as having no pattern at all. Or regularity. I texted a friend the other day who was also trying to get his babe to sleep and asked if nine minutes counted as a nap. "Yes" he replied, "if you're a hummingbird". Sadly, and happily, Lily is not. Days later, just when I think we're back in stride she's willful in her determination not to sleep or fitful as she does. As a parent, it is a test. Of sanity, and will. It feels like quicksand, laden with fears that out of desperation your "dynamic, soon-to-be self-sufficient" infant will become your bed partner for life, eternally parked at the milk truck, or spread out comfortably next to you, hand grazing some part of your body that you now cannot move. Last night I armed myself with a bottle of wine and a pound cake, prepared to indulge as I let the newest love of my life cry it out in the other room with my set limit of 20 - 40 minutes depending on my inner strength of the moment. It is torture hearing your baby scream, during which feelings of guilt, and fears of forever scarring your child take hold. You try to rationalize soothing them in order to help them form healthy relationships further down the line, or take comfort in the idea that leaving them distraught helps shape them into self-sufficient beings. Both options seem unacceptable, and sometimes coming in briefly to quietly calm them results in a burp worthy of a bar stool or calms them enough to help them get back to sleep on their own. If you do not go in, you envision them stuck in a position they cannot get out of, hyperventilating with sobs, or terrified, waking from a nightmare. Last night I ended up with a five minute interruption and the rest of the evening was golden.
I still had the wine and pound cake.
Earlier this evening armed with yet another backup plan I found myself walking around the apartment during twilight hours with a small bunny between my breasts, yes, a bunny - in my bra, hoping that my scent would rub off on Lily's friend to help ease her into sleep. As it happens, so far this evening the bunny, Bunny, has not been called to duty but he is in the crib with her, on deck if need be.

I need to work on my lullabies but I do remember a Simpsons episode where "Rock-a-bye Baby" was illustrated and the lyrics paint images that are anything but soothing - a bough breaks, the cradle falls, down comes baby.
Maybe not.
While Lily has her pre-bed aperitif I often find myself - beyond tired - nodding off, and in between nods I tell her how her dad was an enthusiastic nap taker. She needs convincing. But today was a long one for her that began with music class and ended with some dreamy Aretha in our room now evocatively lit like a bordello. So I am hoping, praying, that all of the activity will keep her deeply asleep throughout the night. Deeply asleep, deeply asleep.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Under Water.

It is surreal to be preparing baby food for breakfast in the kitchen, hearing Lily's playful noises in the background, while simultaneously contemplating Alan's final days in hospice. I often find myself in absolute disbelief over what has happened. One moment I'm marveling at a photo from our honeymoon, wondering if it all had just been a dream - a distant memory that maybe never happened, and the next moment I'm replaying detailed medical procedures and conversations while stark images crowd my mind. I am lonely in a way that I suspect I will always be, and I often find myself floating through days viewing the world through Lily's eyes only. Much of the world I don't care to see. A widowed friend asked me the other day if I had seen an article about cancer drugs and the inability of pharmaceutical companies to do anything but prolong a life by mere days and I could only reply that yes, I had seen the headline, but had had no interest in reading the article. And that is how I have been for months, detached from most things that reflect sadness, inefficiency, faltering policies. I have no room for it in my heart, nor my mind, and when I must engage in conversation that encompasses subjects such as those, I do, but I check out. I switch to autopilot, I can't even say I'm conscious of what comes out - and I'm not sure where what I do say, comes from. And being unemployed as a single parent has left me with little outside stimulation. Traveling was good, it put me in social situations, I even got to an aquarium, but I still feel as though I'm in a haze and I wonder if the fog will ever lift.

My routine is built around Lily and I now find joy, as she does, in the simplest pleasures whether it's making funny noises, dancing or reading a board book. Sometimes I wonder halfheartedly if my brain is shrinking - but my other mom friends assure me that their worlds too, are currently "limited in scope". Much of it is a welcome distraction, and while it is daunting to have the responsibility of raising a child, for the time being (knock wood) three minute showers, five minute meals, and meditating on a blade of grass suit me just fine. I find humor in the mundane - the way Lily looks when she takes a sip of water is a mix of confusion, suspicion and near disgust. When I pick her up at night to comfort her, it is she that is now patting my back. I delight in her spontaneous screeches and bouts of surprise panting excitement, and she bowls me over with X-ray stares that hold my undivided attention. I love to watch her lean out of the stroller, watching shadows and the wheels as they cover ground, and I envy the ease with which she relaxes - legs kicked up on the stroller bar, one flopped over the side. Thankfully when she's nursing just as my thoughts begin traveling to the darker corners of my mind, I spot potato behind her ears and then flecks of it in her eyebrows. Lily brings me back to a safer place, and though she is the one in my arms, I feel as though I am in hers.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Firsts.

Lily is now six months old and with that milestone has come a slew of "firsts". She just took her first flights to the West Coast, she has begun sitting up (with the occasional sway, sag and plunge), she says mamamamamama, and dadada, she can expertly put her left foot in her mouth and the other day just as I picked up a bottle of Alan's preferred red wine she clapped. With every first it's incredible - they're moments that mark the culmination of weeks of attempts; erratic hand movements, elusive feet, and sounds without such specificity. I was truly overjoyed when she clapped, as I do it frequently when we listen to music and she has studied the movement intently for over a month but only observed. Occasionally I'd see her hands flex open and closed as she watched me do it but that was it. You can see the wheels turning when she fixates on something, so to see the final connection made was awesome. I was ecstatic and with that came the moment that I always dreamt about - being able to share it with Alan. Thankfully I was able to share it with family and a close friend who I knew would appreciate it but I became one of those mothers that wanted to show every passerby Lily's feat, and the ache of not having Alan to witness it made coming home to New York that much harder. She is truly developing into a little person - she is full of smiles and happy screeches, she kicks her legs with excitement over everything from seeing a dog to her reflection in the mirror. Her once peaceful nights have turned into teenage revolts and I am hoping, praying that that is a travel adjustment, but in this respect I could really use Alan. Parenting is hard. It requires infinite patience, resolve, hope, energy and a strong lower back. I miss Alan when I am exhausted at night, calming a wakeful Lily at 2am. I miss him when she cries for me when I leave the room for a moment - a new development which I hope will be short lived, I miss him when she hums with satisfaction contemplating a spoonful of food, I long for him when I see her smiling face peering at me from the crib at 5am. I hope he can see her delight as she peers at herself in the little mirror on her Excersaucer, that he can hear her squealed greetings when I hand her her piggy or her monkey chimp, that he can see her twirl her wrist with spoon in hand and then listlessly let it drop to the floor with her eyes on me as she does so. She is now connecting with objects and people - her discoveries are beautiful to watch. She acts with intention. I have seen her come out of a nightmare, and I recently heard a giggle as she slept. And she is ticklish.

One of the nicest things about traveling and staying with others was that I could show them Lily sleeping every night, I could share my obsession with my girl and they'd dote on her as well. They could see Lily in moments that only Alan would have experienced with us - late night sighs and her sweet sleeping silhouette, active early mornings and animated bath times. It is a joy for me to be with others who can appreciate such moments even if their enthusiasm is merely meant as support for me ~ It is love all the same. Coming home was difficult. Having our trip to look forward to was a comfort, returning to our home so wishing that Alan would be here to greet us was a challenge. He would have been so proud of our journey together. I dreamt about him the other night, the three of us in bed together, Lily in the middle. As I took Lily along side of me when she awoke shortly after, I whispered to her that in my dream we had been a family. But then I corrected myself because I know deep down that we have just enough and whispered again, that the two of us were a family as well - and feeling her sleeping next to me, I know it to be true .

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Girl.

Lily and I are on our first adventure together. We are on the West Coast visiting family and friends and with every hour I feel more and more as though she were an extension of me, I feel so deeply connected to her. She is a very special, unique being and as I ease into parenthood I find that my new role, my purpose in life is to be her mother, her roots, her rock - I now fully understand the concept of guardian. The responsibility of being a parent is awesome, and with that come the fears, worries and even more vulnerability. I found myself on the way to the airport emailing my brother with last minute wishes for Lily should something happen to me. Neurotic I know, but I have already lost the person most precious to me in my entire life - so the thought of this beautiful piece of my heart, our hearts, without either one of us, is haunting. Even when I just need someone to watch her I know the general thought is "come on, she's safe, she'll be fine, worst thing that will happen is that she'll get upset and cry" but that's not the worst thing - I have lived through one of "the worst things" so I know that it does happen, hence my fears loom large. Experiencing separation from Lily whether it be with a relative or babysitter is a tremendous challenge and while factors such as trust and safety are of the utmost importance, the anxiety stems from something much deeper - she is mine, and I am hers and our mother-child bond feels primal. So for me, boarding a plane with her in my arms feels much greater than a taxi ride, and leaving her with someone else is an emotional test of almost herculean proportions.

For months after Alan passed away, before she was born, and now the months after, I've struggled with my identity. I read often on one of the widow "boards" about how people have lost their sense of self upon losing their partner and I too, feel as though the "old me" is forever gone. When I lost Alan, I felt as though much of me went with him ~ and I know he'd hate to hear that, to witness it, but when you are so entwined with another soul - regardless of your independence - the loss kills much of the spirit within; death deadens. It numbs. It leaves you feeling disoriented and I too mourn my loss of self. Thankfully, Lily has given me purpose, and it is her spirit that has begun to bring me back to life. Despite the fact that we're together nearly everyday, I have gotten to know her even better as my travelling companion. The flight attendants could learn much from her - she is patient, full of smiles, is nice to everyone and her obliviousness to unpleasantness around her is admirable. Her glee is infectious and more and more she embraces unfamiliar faces with an openness that dissipates with age. Lily is a sponge and absorbs everything around her. She entertains herself with lights, TVs, music and sounds. She is fascinated by older children, she squeals when dogs brush along side of us. She turns her face into the breeze, she grabs at leaves, she splashes in the tub with reckless abandon. For all of the sadness I have inside, I now have equal parts happiness. The way she brightens my life is staggering, and I am OK with being Lily's mom while I try to grasp at parts of me that have seemingly faded. Like other widows and widowers, I still care little for reading the paper and watching the news; events that once triggered emotive responses still don't move me, there is much I no longer care about. But as we make the rounds out West, reconnecting with family and friends and introducing her to many who have, until now, loved her from afar, I feel as though despite my ungrounded sense of self, she has proven to be my new anchor. So as we forge ahead together, Lily's life new with every morning and mine exploring unchartered territory I am grateful to have her by my side and am glad for her that she has me to dote on her and to love her with all of my heart.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Coney Island

Some of the last photos that Alan took were of Coney Island. It was a bright, dry day in January, the streets were quiet but the signage and lights managed to evoke the summer soundtrack of rides, eighties music, screams, laughs and barkers. Coney Island is particularly special in the off-season - its lore is easier to imagine, the trash is limp in the gutter, its peacefulness enhanced by the empty beaches, its lonely streets asleep except for the occasional passerby. He did manage to capture a man surreptitiously rounding a corner with a large bag from Nathan's, I have a feeling Alan headed there shortly after. He loved Coney Island and I can just see and hear him driving out there on a winter day - perhaps he had had the day off for appointments, I don't remember him going - but I can picture him getting into our hand-me-down car, talk radio or classic rock on, sunflower seeds in one hand, a Dr. Pepper in the other. He was always the one behind the wheel and I got a kick out of Alan driving because it was one of the rare instances (aside from Yankee games) in which his "Brooklyn-ness" came out - he swore at other drivers, a hint of an accent coming out and he could get really pissed when others got in the way. I have to say it gave me a bit of a thrill - my gentle man, yelling unpleasantries at poor old ladies and having no patience for out of town drivers. It gave me such a laugh, he was sheer entertainment and it was a great surprise to see sides of Alan that only came out on occasion. I'm not sure he knew how people sometimes waited with curiousity or baited breath to hear what he had to say and when what came out was some rude "Come Onnnnnnn..... jackass...." it was hilarious, it was scary, it would actually shut me up on occasion. I loved it. I love him. Always.

It was startling finding the photos on his camera, again, something I hadn't known - or maybe I did and I forgot. Regardless, "after-the-fact" mementos are gifts; haunting at times, but a gift - to see the world through his eyes. The DVR still records some of his shows - American Masters, Iconoclasts, 30 Rock, The Office and I can't cancel them. I watch some and erase what I know he wouldn't want. But it is hard. It is such a comfort to see his actions continue.

Last weekend Lily and I went with friends to Coney Island. The first time we went was on Alan's anniversary, so she is a vet now. It was a steamy warm day full of crowds, hotdogs and trash. And it was wonderful. Lily took in the sights and sounds and smells - everything new to her eyes and yet so familiar to Alan's. My friends asked if I wanted to go on The Cyclone and I declined. The last time I rode it it was springtime and Alan was in the hospital. He had urged me to go on a bachelorette party excursion for a dear friend - Alan hated feeling as though he was ever holding me back and yet it was torture for me to ever leave him. I went, rode the roller-coaster and that decision too was difficult. My worries and "what ifs" were taking over at that point and my fear of something going wrong on the ride with Alan where he was, were a force to be reckoned with. I went on it, a three minute electrifying distraction, but that was the last time. This time around I have a giggling 14.5 lb love that replaces my worries of last year - and as neurotic as it sounds, I am her only parent. And I experience that often, decisions feel weightier, responsibilities more daunting without a co-pilot to confer with, to share my concerns. What I would give to be able to go out for an evening with Alan and we could ask each other every ten minutes if we thought Lily was OK. Alan would say "What do you think she's doing?" and we'd both want to go home to look at her, watch her while she sleeps. So this time at The Cyclone I declined. When Lily Alan wants to go on it she can - and I'll look on from the sidelines, a nervous wreck, praying that Alan's got her in his sights.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We Have A Bench.

Lily is asleep tonight in her dress, we are both exhausted, worn out with love. A day that began with a text to my friend Sam saying "It's so humid out it smells like Venice" became a day revitalized with something I can only inadequately describe as "an expression of immeasurable affection". Friends and family of those who have touched our lives over many, many story filled years, contributed funds to have a bench in Riverside Park dedicated to Alan. It is breathtaking, it is perfect, it describes Alan succinctly (which he would appreciate) in a few precious lines that capture his character and soul so vividly it is as though he's been sitting there all along. Being there in the park, Lily held tightly against my heart, with intermittent showers clearing the air, hearing the patter of the drops on the trees, amid the mist and the heat and our extended family, it felt as though Alan had his arms around all of us. Despite the summer's stormy weather there was an ease and serenity that embodied those who were there, laughs and smiles and tears, new babes who will hear about Alan for years to come and new lives on the way as well. He must have been watching.

There is rarely a day that goes by that Lily and I aren't in the park. She loves the bucket swings and dances with her legs as she floats through the air, trapeze like, smiling with glee at me or else eyes fixed intently on the older kids that occupy the swings around her. She loves the trees, their silhouettes against the sky, and often we park on the grass for stories, songs and nature watching. And now we have a bench, with her dad's name, and my love's name, forever etched on it for all to see. We will go there whenever we can, we will read its words, we'll sit there and watch the world go by. And if others are sitting in our place we'll relish in our secret, knowing that the name they're leaning on will surely guide them in some positive way. This is a bench like no other, a spot brought to life by the memory of someone that continues to thrive and by those who contributed to the richness of his life with their friendship, love and devotion. So much love an affection in fact that there will soon be a tree planted in his honor as well ~ so we will go there too, and watch it grow along side Lily. And when it passes her in height we'll lie underneath it and marvel at Alan's strength in it's outstretched branches.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Beyond Words.

One of my favorite diversions once Lily, my greatest diversion, is down for the night is a show called "So You Think You Can Dance". And last night I felt as though my experiences with Alan were portrayed with a beauty that left me weeping. I have always loved dance and it has forever been my "if you could come back as anything what would it be?" choice. There is something so deeply felt when you allow your emotions to guide your movement - it offers vocabulary that is unavailable in any language, it is simultaneously liberating and desperate and cathartic. When I saw this pair move through their piece I felt as though it perfectly articulated something I have been fortunate enough to survive, each gesture says it all. I have replayed it numerous times, it is validating and comforting beyond words. If you look up "So You Think You Can Dance and Breast Cancer" you may still find it on You Tube. It is worth the search.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Our Morning Child.

Last night I fell asleep with my hand resting on a lullaby playing chimp. Ever since Alan passed away I haven't been able to leave his side of the bed unoccupied. For months it held a box of Kleenex and served as a backdrop for photos, and shortly after Lily was born, it became inhabited by my pregnancy body pillow - which now acts as a barrier on the edge of the bed. And now, Alan's side is shared with chimp, polka dot pink pony, a tiara toting purple elephant, water filled keys and a blankie with a green frog coming out of it. In the morning, Lily joins the crowd after her 6:15 a.m. morning drink and she brings his side alive again. She starts by lying on her back, frog in mouth, and begins her morning chants, muffled but with great energy and volume. After awhile, she sheds the blankie and excitedly borderline hyperventilates while staring at the ceiling fan. She squeals with early morning delight and often takes in a long dragging glottal breath before feeling around for her next toy. I watch, smiling, but try to refrain from conversation, in hopes my quiet presence will remind her that there is more sleep to be had. On occasion I help reposition her friends or assist her with getting the key into her mouth to chew but other than that she's on her own. After 40 minutes, she winds down and it's then that she begins her rolls toward me. One full flip and then a half roll so that she lands on her side, against me so we can spoon. It's moments like these that take my breath away because her character has begun to really show. She has intentions. She interacts. She loves. Even when we spoon she turns to look up at me and when she's on her tummy right next to me, she tosses her head up and back against my chest to connect with me. She leans into me, just to be sure I'm there.
And as chatty as Lily is at home, she can be equally quiet in public settings. She is the consummate observer - Lily does interact with others, she shares smiles and touches, but when surrounded by other babes she likes to watch. She hangs onto their every move and when there's a teacher in the room whether it's yoga or music, she's immediately on her stomach, watching their actions intently. At time's I wonder if I'm projecting Alan's traits on her but just recently her music teacher came over to her after class and quietly commented how alert and curious she is with everything - and then sweetly said "she's so self-contained". The description made my heart skip a beat, Alan's presence flooding my thoughts - she had nailed it. Lily is self-contained, just as her dad was. And at four and a half months Alan can be seen within her. So when I watch her during our mornings together, I marvel at how she embraces all that is new to her and am in awe of how miraculous life is. And when elements of Alan appear in her being, it warms my heart to know that there are already ways in which she'll know her dad, and understand him more than anyone else who ever knew and loved him ever did.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

He's still here.

There is a saying "To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again" and it was just that, along with bubbly Lily, that pulled me through July 5th. I can't say that the day was much more difficult than those that I have lived through during the last year, but it was a milestone - and the idea that Alan is no longer here, continues to be jarring for me. But knowing that so many friends were thinking of Alan, just as I was on "that day" made the occasion achingly beautiful. One friend relived a guitar jam session he and Alan had shared one summer evening a couple of years ago, and I received many messages leading up to Sunday and throughout the day that all contained the words "thinking of Alan". Those messages meant the world to me. It reminds me not only of how he touched so many others with his presence but also that I am not alone in feeling the loss. As time passes I fear that my memories of Alan will feel distant and begin to blur and it is a terrifying feeling. I don't want to forget a single thing about him and I want Lily to be able to grab on to tangible elements that defined Alan's character - I don't want her to imagine him as a compilation of generalities - I want him to be defined. I want his image to be dimensional, I want Lily to know him as best she can, so that she can feel a connection to him, and understand how much of him she possesses within her own being. It is important to me that she does not feel as though she is "without" a father. Surely she'll struggle, longing for his physical presence, and I mourn for the loss she has yet to realize, but daily I imagine ways in which I can make him real for her. On Sunday I was comforted knowing that others will do the same.

Shortly after Alan passed away, a friend asked me to "please let her know ways in which she could be of comfort to me - whether it be talking of Alan frequently, not talking about him at all - whatever might help ease the pain", and I was so appreciative of her ability to acknowledge her unfamiliarity with the territory and her openness to learn from what I was enduring. I love talking about Alan, I cling to memories others have of him, I hang on to dreams I hear of in which he has appeared. Some widows and widowers have to remove all photos of their loved ones, can't bear to look at images from a past once shared and I do understand that - but I am of the opposite camp; yes the reminders bring heartache each and every time, and just this evening I wept inside as I heard a friend speak of Alan, but it is those very words that keep him vibrant and alive. There is a family that lives down the hall on our floor, and whenever Alan used to hear their toddler girl running and squealing on her way to the elevator he'd smile and exclaim "It's Hannah - let's take the garbage out so we can see her" . He loved children, and I always wanted to tell her parents how much joy he found in her little life as she flitted past us in random moments - but it seems awkward and it's so emotional for me that I haven't. But just the other day after passing her in the hall - father and brother trailing behind her to the elevator - I heard her say in her loud whisper as we entered the stairwell, laundry dragging behind us, "There's the baby! I love that baby - ". It made me laugh and smile and cry. To me that was a line meant for Alan, and to me her words brought him alive yet again.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Three hundred and sixty-five days.

Oddly, it seems common that many of "us" have spent at least one holiday struggling at the hospital or at home in no shape to celebrate it. And that was our situation, more than once. We spent one Christmas, and two New Year's Eves in the hospital or in recovery. It didn't matter, occasions such as those paled in comparison to our reasons for missing them but it is challenging to find one's self facing those holidays again under different circumstances. And this year, this weekend, marks an anniversary I hoped I'd never live to see. Alan passed away in the early hours of July 5th, 2008, and in all honesty I can't say I remember ever doing anything remarkable on the Fourth of July. But what I do remember, painfully, is the sound of fireworks in the distant night, echoing as the Fourth turned into the Fifth - wishing, hoping and praying that the night nor the day to come would be the day. So what I dread this time around, besides the obvious, is hearing those sounds again - the crackle, the snaps, the pregnant silence in between explosive moments. Sense memory is powerful and I wonder how I'll manage through the night. I look forward to sharing the history and sparkle with Lily someday, and perhaps then the holiday will regain it's intended significance. But I know that deep down, the date will be forever etched on my heart, and it will always have a different meaning for me.

The thing I wonder most about is how will Lily think of her father? How will she remember the man she never knew, how will she commemorate his passing, what will moments like these feel like to her and how will she feel knowing what he meant to me... I intend to shower her with details, regale her with stories, identify his traits in her character, show her where he appears in her distinctive features. Her life is already filled with people who loved Alan and that Alan loved, so I feel confident that as we reminisce about his beauty, his humor, his kindness, his warmth and generosity, those facets of his character will be illustrated for her ~ passed on to her in bedtime hours, greeting her in waking moments, shared over hot dogs, told to her while making cookies, preserved for her in letters and whispered into her ears in quiet moments. She studies his photos already, and studies her surroundings just as he did. I have no doubt that Alan's presence will always infuse the air we breathe, and in all of the nature that fills our world but losing him, in the physical sense, has left a void I struggle with hourly. So as the Fourth approaches, I fear the sound of fireworks and their celebratory cheer that so obliviously ushers in the Fifth. I'm told that often the anticipation is much greater than the actual anniversary. If that's the case, I'll be relieved. Because today and yesterday and the year that's led up to this weekend has been painfully raw; as though every nerve in my body was exposed. I shudder to think of where I'd be if it weren't for Lily Alan. I'm not sure I would have made it through the days. So this weekend it's she that I'll celebrate. And as I do everyday, I'll thank Alan for his love, and reflect upon how unselfishly he shared his final days with his family and friends, never once complaining about the unfairness of it all. There was such a sparkle in his eyes when I told him I had heard the baby's heartbeat - perhaps it was enough for him to know that someone, soon, would be here to help rescue all of us from the sadness, or at least to help move us forward, gently, through the grief.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How it is, how it was.

There is something about connecting with others who stand in similar shoes that is both comforting and heartbreaking. Over the last couple of weeks I've been loosely communicating with a few other young widowed parents in the NYC area and when I heard from the first one, it was as though the initial wound was reopened. Somehow, despite the relief of knowing that there are others out there that are living through the loss, hearing that others have suffered as I have is devastating. I was at once sobbing, overcome with relief that there were others nearby who understood, but yet it's heartbreak all over again - as though I've lost yet another dear friend. And when I was told yesterday about a site, Young Cancer Spouses, I flew to it as though my life depended on it. Sadly, its content is unfinished and minimal, but what is there brought me back to last Spring and I instantly found myself weeping inconsolably. The site is geared towards those enduring the struggle right now, and had I known about it or ever been able to find the time for it last year, I would have clung to it with all my might. What was so jarring was that it described every situation, scenario and relationship dynamic so accurately for couples affected at such a young age. Had I known it was there, I wouldn't have felt so alone. Because your world becomes so intensely complicated, it's just not possible to explain to others - you have neither the time, nor the energy. And it is then that you recognize how precious time truly is. You do not want phone calls, you cannot afford walks, and the breaks you're encouraged to take - do just that. They take. They take away the time you have with your other half. And you are consumed with the fight; the regimens you must adhere to, the emergencies you have to navigate, the risks you're forced to take when you have no professional medical advice right then and there, the precautions you adhere to diligently, the unexpected problems you plan for in advance. The desperation and love that goes into every single move, every recipe, every everything. Love is so wonderful that the thought of losing that beautiful, special person fuels you with a devotion so intense it's indescribable. So as I near my one year anniversary of Alan no longer holding my hand, I find myself in moments reliving and feeling as raw as I did last Winter and Spring. In a way it's a comfort, as it turns back the clock, but then the grief swells and I'm reminded of where I am, and what day it is.

It has been observed that when elephants grieve, the mourning is widespread. Friends and family and fellow elephants from other herds, with no connection to the one who has passed, come to comfort the dying and visit remains. They often stand over the sick and rub them with their feet, feed them, rock back and forth above them. When the sick one dies, they mourn, some so saddened they refuse food themselves and die shortly after. When they pass a carcass months or years later, they still stroke the bones with their trunks as though to comfort or perhaps to remember to whom those remnants belonged. That is what I feel when I hear of others who have experienced similar loss - even if I don't know them, I mourn for them as well. And I sense that they too, share a similar compassion.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We Love You. (The Susie)

If Alan was here this Father's Day I'd say let's go for a sail. Let's bundle up Lily in ten life jackets and go out on the water. I'll make gourmet sandwiches (Alan always laughed at me because I called everything I made gourmet), we'll go to City Island and take out a boat. Lily would love the water...
Today we had lunch overlooking the Hudson and between smiles and standing with wobbly legs in my lap, she'd stare out over the river. Alan loved everything about sailing and I knew that on days when he'd go out he'd be crashed in bed sound asleep by 8pm that night. The fresh air and the peacefulness he experienced in the waves quieted all of his thoughts - I think he loved being able to look ahead of the boat and relished in the luxury of being able to see what was coming. Because being able to navigate amid all of the river's obstacles was nothing to him, and I'm sure he took comfort in being able to control something. That was what was so wonderful about watching him guide the boat; the elements, of all things, had no hold on him. I, on the other hand, was always perched at the bow - on the lookout for tankers that I was convinced would be our doom. They approached so quickly and it was a test for me to trust that Alan knew just what to do. And he handled the maneuvers with grace. Lily would have watched his every move with awe. She has his quiet, observant stare and when she sees something that interests her, she watches, glued, with a fixation that tunes out the rest of the world. Not even a blink from her paintbrush eyes. That is how she would have been with him. And she'd watch him and watch him and somehow his soft expressions would coax her into one of her beautiful grins.
I miss him so, so much.
Alan loved children and was great with them. It is painful not having him for so many reasons - we'd introduce him to Banana, Little Black and White Dog and Sophie the Giraffe, we'd show him how good Lily is at rolling over to the right, how she loves the photo over the changing table of us at Yankee Stadium, how she likes to kick and splash in the tub, and she'd show him how she can make an impressive B sound as she blows impressive bubbles.
And she could experience how good it felt to be held in his arms.
How good he smelled.
Feel his warmth.
And when I'd show off how she has embraced sleeping through the night, he would whisper in my ear with his usual playful, mischievous humor, "Let's wake her up". He could never get enough time with a cute baby.
Alan had always said that, one day, he'd get a sailboat and name it "The Susie". If he were here today, I'd get him one. It would be our second home. Alan could lead, I'd be on the lookout, and Lily would pitter patter back and forth between us, barefooted but bundled.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shaky Ground. Still.

I called home the other day to hear Alan's voice on the answering machine. I could have played it from home but I needed to hear him on the other end. And I left a message for him. I had to. I knew I wasn't fooling myself but it felt good to feel for a split second that we were in close proximity, to suspend my disbelief and pretend for a fleeting moment that we still shared a life together. For months after Alan passed away I still came through the front door and said "Hi Babe" to him as though he were in the other room. There are some habits that you must ween yourself from and I'm not sure when I stopped that particular one. But I have many antics that linger: expressions, gestures, signals, jokes - and I'm not sure I'll ever let go of them. In fact, some I've passed on to Lily, and when she looks at me with Alan's eyes, I sense that she understands them.
Tonight a friend sent me pictures of us that I had never seen. It took my breath away to see him again, looking good, despite what he had been going through, and we both were so happy side by side. When I see new images of Alan, or hear a story about him that I had never known, I feel as though I've gotten him back for a moment - learning new things about him, or revisiting a moment that we shared. But these gifts, as well, catch me off guard. For that matter, pouring myself a glass of water this evening brought me to tears. It's not only specific memories that evoke such emotion, but the mundane moments as well that remind me of what has happened. Everything has become so very sobering. I broke down tonight after hearing from another widowed mom that when reading of my experiences she nodded all the way through. How tragic and comforting that someone else can relate to all of this... In all of this loneliness I'm not so alone. But that, too, for the very reasons I am writing, is a difficult reality to digest.
When I put Lily to bed tonight, she promptly rolled on to her stomach, her sleeping position of choice, but for fifteen minutes I heard her from the other room, babbling away. When I peered in quietly through the doorway, there she was, head looking up in full cobra position, at a photo of Alan placed over her crib, jabbering away. At times I'm convinced she knows him as well as I - I do believe that babies and the very elderly are connected to the spirits of those who have passed on - and I hope that with every image and anecdote she'll feel the bond that links us all together.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Night Moves and Early Hours.

Lily is rolling over. And sleeping through the night. And a chatterbox. She is a pro at getting four fingers into her mouth. And she loves her lower lip. Often even in her talkative moments the sounds are loud but muffled, mouth still closed as she doesn't want to let it go. It's her pacifier of choice, with two thumbs at once a close second. Now that she rolls over, preferring to sleep on her stomach, my nights of water ballet are over. I used to love it when her coos and noises woke me up at 2am to find that even though the lights were off and it was the middle of the night, Lily had an entire performance choreographed for me. With mesh bumpers now in place - all I could make out in moonlight shadows were her legs surfacing in the air. Kicking in fits and then subsiding... Next, a leg, pointed in the air floating quietly as though she were pondering it from below. Sometimes a pause and then a burst. Elegant, suspenseful and funny. Often I'd go over to the crib and there she'd be, looking up at me, bright eyed and smiling as though it were the middle of the day.
Sometimes when I used to stir at night, Alan would be up, and as I'd turn over he'd say "Hi Sus". I loved it. Just like that, as though I'd just entered the room, or picked up the phone. Every moment with him I savored and even at 2am foggy with sleep, he could make me smile like no one else. Until now. Now Lily Alan has inherited that role though I won't wake her up to do so. But sleeping always with one ear alert, I love to hear her funky breathing noises, and her sighs as she readjusts her positioning. In the morning when she's first awake, I listen to her talking and can see her looking around - contemplating the distance she has covered during the night. Usually her head is where the feet were the night before. Sometimes she drifts back to sleep, and despite my exhaustion, I look forward to her waking up again. The mornings are my favorite time of day with her as they were with Alan. The day is new, there are fresh kisses to give and receive, it's daylight again and the odds of it being a good day seem to be leaning in our favor.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Nearing twelve.

ELEVEN months for me today and it's as grey outside as I feel within. It scares me to think how I might be doing if I didn't have Lily. And then that thought makes me wonder how I am really doing. Because I read posts on a widows board that are loaded with anger and rage and while I get it, I don't generally feel it. Generally. The anger I've experienced is not directed toward Alan, or even my circumstances. My anger has always stemmed from the insensitivities that surround the circumstances. People who couldn't understand my need for distance shortly after Alan passed away, people to whom I'd explain my situation and they'd hardly bat an eye (perhaps they didn't hear correctly?), and most commonly, people that are just sour on life who are rude to you for no reason and don't realize how good they've got it. But perhaps they've been through something awful as well. Thankfully Lily has given me new love and smiles and a reason for living. She is a wondrous distraction for which I am eternally grateful.
But at night when she's down, the silence creeps in and my mind begins to spin. Memories of the darkest moments, when things were terrifying, replay in my mind - and they're difficult to shake. They are memories with a perpetual echo. Voices, faces, sounds - torturous. My heart aches for those who do not have a child or a pet to cling to because the trauma feels like it was yesterday and the loneliness is shattering. What I feel is profound, deep, sadness. But the anger at him "leaving"? Not at all. Alan didn't leave, he was carried away by something well beyond his control, and I still bask in the love that we shared for one-another. In fact, despite the tragedy, I feel incredibly fortunate to have found such love. A few of the notes I received when Alan passed away mentioned that some spend a lifetime never finding the love that we had. And I do feel lucky to have found Alan. A couple of times, when people heard of Alan's passing, they'd casually asked if I knew he was ill when we met. Ugh. Not sure what they were getting at- or actually, I do. It felt like an underhanded jab, maybe unintentional, but I think it was their way of saying "you knew this was a possibility" or "why would you ever?..."
I did know Alan had had a brush with tumors. They were under control, in a form of 'remission' - and they were not cancerous at the time. But regardless of knowing or not knowing, I fell in love with Alan, period. True love is unconditional. I have no regrets. Maybe that is why the anger isn't raging. I took a chance, embraced it and lived on the edge with a beautiful human being. We suffered immeasurable loss but it was worth every minute. Both of our lives were richer and truer because of each other. And to this day I think "Yes! I had it. Maybe for a heartbeat, but I had IT. And that IT, gave us Lily."
So now my life has a huge void and a new joy. A turbulent and blissful combination. But Lily smiles and laughs and raises her shoulders to her ears with glee - so I remain hopeful that the grey I experience within won't permeate her wonderful world. And when the torment sets in at night, I have only to peek at her sleeping peacefully, her little chest puffing up and down to remember that there is light and hope. She's already proven herself a risk taker; she insisted on enduring a pregnancy fraught with grief. So I think - like her dad, and her mom - she is resilient and one who embraces life.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Love is everywhere.

Years ago, I went with a friend to her cousin's estate sale. I was in the bedroom, looking at belongings. A little girl came in and went over to one of the women with whom she had come. She was holding up a beaded necklace, which she clearly had decided she wanted to take, but said as a question, "So and so says this is just junk". The woman took her onto her lap and said quietly, "It is not junk. It is a memory."

I'll never forget that, and it's always helped me rationalize my pack-rat inclinations. Because I am a sentimentalist. I find there is a story that accompanies just about everything. Alan was always anxious to clear stuff out, get rid of old items that were just accumulating dust, yet he too, held on to many trinkets and toys and photos - all memories. And I still find myself surrounded by many of his possessions and I'm not sure when they'll be relocated. On a widows website one woman was wondering what she should do with her husbands underwear. For many that sounds absurd, but I could relate all too well to her quandary. I found (and continue to find) that even the seemingly mundane articles from Alan's life (that he would have been so bothered to hear I had held on to), were beyond difficult to dispose of. In fact thus far, the only way I have been able to eliminate, store or pass on any of his belongings has been by doing the same with some of my things. Hence, anything of Alan's that has been packed away for safe-keeping, has been nested among items of my own. If clothes were set aside for Goodwill, I contributed to the pile as well. In essence I couldn't and cannot let go of his belongings without them being accompanied by something of mine. It's a way of continuing our journey together. If some of Alan goes, parts of me go with him. I don't want him ever to be alone. So much still rests where it has always been, unmoved by me. Not untouched, or unsmelled but still left in it's "place". Because with everything there is a memory. With the items of a coat pocket I can reconstruct a cold winter evening. A matchbook - a dinner at the bar of one of our favorite restaurants, a plastic figurine was an early dating memento, a candy wrapper was his breath, a pill - part of a regimen, a book - a love, a passion, a pursuit, something that had been held by his hands. A grocery store receipt - his special recipe with our favorite dessert, a leash, a connection for him to the dog he had cherished. And so on. The only way I am able to separate myself from anything is because I can hear Alan dismissing the item without a care or story attached. And if his spirit has given me permission, then I can physically and emotionally let that something go. And when I can, I have to do it quickly and efficiently, without lingering on how it was a part of Alan's life. The obsession can make you crazy.
I remember when the house that I grew up in was lost in a fire, we lost so many personal belongings. Yet it was such a freeing experience because my parents had escaped, alive - and that truly was all that mattered. Everything else paled in comparison. I just didn't care deeply about anything lost. Yet now that Alan's passed on, I cannot bear to part with his belongings. I know that I have everything I need in my heart and in my mind - but the belongings keep him close and fresh as though he was just here. And he was just here. On the widows website, the board I follow is the "6-12 Months. Reality sets in". section. Perhaps it's all just too soon for me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lily Alan

Today when I was holding Lily I thought I saw Alan looking up at me. It was such a serene moment and such a contemplative look. It lasted only a few moments but it felt so good to see him in her eyes. She's her own little person and I find myself looking at her and seeing bits of Alan and bits of me but mostly Lily ~ I still marvel at the fact that she came out of me and that she is the product of the two of us and yet, this morning, her gaze into my eyes was almost like seeing Alan in a dream. I believe in signs and I'd like to think that that was one of them. Because when you lose someone so special to you, you ache to see them again and the longing is torturous. I think that's where the suicidal thoughts that some have, come from. It's not necessarily that you want to end your life, but the desire to see them again is a force that's ever present and a powerful draw. And one hopes that in death, you'll see those you miss so much - once again. You'll be together again. Together. And until then, I do believe that people no longer here can send signals to those who are.
When I'm outdoors with Lily I tell her that her dad is everywhere - in all the nature that surrounds her. And when we were lying together in the grass last weekend, looking up at the trees, a leaf floated down and landed on her face. She didn't flinch or seem surprised - she just let it happen. It was Alan kissing her - I know it was. And I think she knew too. What she felt on her cheek wasn't scratchy or dry, it was soft, it was graceful, it was a gentle nudge from him.
My widowed friends and I sometimes talk about dreams and we're all hungry to see our "other halves" in them. It was so long before Alan appeared to me in my dreams - months went by and friends would share with me that he had been in theirs. I was desperate to know how he seemed, what he was doing. He was always fine, he was joking, he was Alan in the truest sense. It was good to hear that. But his absence from my dreams was frustrating, in fact, that's often where I felt most abandoned. The few times he first appeared, months ago, he wasn't well. They were almost flashbacks. But in recent months I have seen him. And he is beautiful. He looks healthy, tanned, toned and happy. In the last dream he was even laughing at me, and that felt good. He could always make me smile, his humor was unparalleled, his temperament even-keeled, his presence calm. I think that's what I saw in Lily this morning - there was an openness in her eyes, an understanding and not an ounce of sadness - it was just an all-knowing connection that the two of us shared. And Alan was right there with us.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Two of Us

Now that it's warm out, Lily and I head to the parks as frequently as possible. It is liberating for me to get out, and special for us both to enjoy the outdoors together. I love to watch her look up at the trees, see her fall asleep on a blanket, and sleep soundly after a day in the open air. But yet another hurdle for me now is seeing the many families out doing the very same thing. And by that I mean moms and dads - dads running along side their kids still shaky on their bicycles, families spread out on the grass with bats and gloves and a pizza, parents zigzagging behind a wobbly toddler as they discover all that's around them. Unfortunately for me, the beauty of our experiences together serves as a constant reminder of who's not here. At Whole Foods today I found myself looking at "new baby" cards and of course gravitated to one that said on the cover "Two's Company" - I immediately thought, how perfect for the single parent - and was so comforted that someone had actually thought to create a card with that sentiment. And then I opened it up and it said "Three's a family". I felt like an idiot having fallen for the thought. Yesterday a woman was commenting on how beautiful Lily is and she said to her, "Yes, you're so pretty, you have to go home and tell your dad that!" And that's what I encounter on a daily basis. The reality that our family is different. Having each other is enough, and we are our own family - but seeing conventional, nuclear families, everywhere I turn, and hearing first hand how friends are spending the weekend with their families or planning excursions for the summer months is painful. It's natural to hear it and if Alan were here, we'd be doing the same thing - planning an outing, a getaway or just relishing in parenthood at home in the city. But without him here on days like this, the loneliness feels even more profound. When I walk along the Hudson River, pushing a stroller with the most amazing little being kicking and cooing below, the guilt I feel is gut wrenching, and Alan's absence, still shocking. He should be here, with us. Sailboats glide by, and I hear and see Alan scanning the water for sails belonging to his club. Everywhere is a memory. And Lily, for now, is oblivious to it all.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Not By Choice

Desperate to meet other single moms/parents (I've just about given up on the widowed faction) a few have mentioned "Single Mothers by Choice", a group formed by women who started families just that way - by choice. I cannot articulate how envious I am of their network. I discovered them on line months ago, early on in my pregnancy, but factored them out as an option as that just wasn't my situation. Yet recently I almost attended a group meeting with the hope of just connecting with "mothers who happen to be single". But I didn't, as it was obvious that it wasn't the club for me. And I get it. Their issues are different. And my situation is different. And that, too, is isolating.
What was beyond hard to endure when I told people that I was pregnant, were the responses that expressed joy for me - but in an off-putting way - because many of the congratulatory statements neglected to acknowledge the circumstance. "How wonderful that you now have a part of him", "at least you'll have a new life to love" - those comments are all true and I was equally grateful. But it was hard for me to relish in the news and I feared that to others I appeared unappreciative or even resentful of the blessing. Yet I wasn't. What I longed for was the acknowledgement that yes it was the ultimate blessing but it wasn't bestowed upon me as we had planned. And that was all I really wanted to hear. I remember in my birth class the instructor warned us of what we might experience if we had to have a C-Section when we had hoped for a "normal delivery". "People will say 'who cares how it was delivered - you had a healthy baby' but what you'll want people to understand is 'yes, I have a healthy baby, I had always only wanted a healthy baby - but having the C-Section was not as we had planned' ". When I heard her offer up that response to help us articulate the disappointment we might feel, a light went on inside my head. That was it - that was all I had wanted people to understand - that I was never not appreciative to have this being, this... legacy, inside of me, but that the wish was manifesting itself in a very different way. . I was overjoyed at the thought of this combination of the two of us – to have this dream we so longed for, but it was and is difficult to embrace the joy without the one who so deserves to be here with me to embrace it. And many on the outside, the periphery of our lives, could not grasp that. They felt that a baby carried Alan’s presence on, and that I will ‘get him back’ in one way and have happiness to replace the sorrow in another way. Yes those were/are both true, but people failed to recognize that this was not the way either of us had planned it. We planned and dreamt of a baby of our own – and then we fantasized about what it would be like once we had one – how we would be as parents, how it would look, walk, what it’s movements and mannerisms would be. How it would waddle and peer in at us from a doorway, how it would greet us coming home at the end of the day. How it would wake up from a nap, rosy cheeked and sweaty. It was a shared experience that we looked so forward to as we brought someone new into the world. And it is that loss that I mourn so. And the guilt I feel for witnessing this without Alan here to experience it washes over me in an endless torrent. Not only do I have my own life, but I have a bit of our lives in a new person to love and to cherish ~ I devour every moment, every move, every expression, every sound that Lily initiates - but it is a struggle to keep the darkness at bay, that nagging voice in the back of my mind that says over and over and over again, "He should be here".

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Forward, and back.

I now have someone to live for. Lily has turned the volume of life back up. She is music and color and unadulterated happiness to me. She has brought light back into my life and provided distraction from grief that once dominated my days and nights. But I'm not really sure what it means to heal. And we live in a culture where most cannot stand to see others endure sadness and pain. I get it, - it is tough to see the ones you love in distress and so they choose to shortcut seeing others mourn to protect their own emotional well being. OK. But then they should stop there. Because when they don't, you get the comments, the cliches many feel reluctant to offer yet they do anyway, and then that becomes yet another burden to the one who's suffering. I was told early on in my pregnancy – “come on, you had a choice, you made a choice, this should be the happiest time of your life!” – ugh – such ignorance it leaves me dumbfounded at times. People cannot stand to see grief so they gloss over it and dismiss it having never faced it before themselves. And my being pregnant was supposed to compensate for the loss. They say time heals – and I want to say – and? What? What does that mean to one who is heartbroken right now?! Time crept along for me in the months after Alan's passing, and they would still if it wasn't for Lily Alan, so that idea meant nothing to me. It was a test to get from morning to day to night and then day again. I looked forward to getting to tomorrow just so that I could say that I had lived another day. I couldn't read the paper, I cared nothing for the news. I still at ten months cannot read the front pages nor listen to news shows. I lived for our pregnancy and that was it. Days went by where I didn't go outside, or even get dressed. People are desperate to see you “heal” or “recover” and they are uncomfortable acknowledging profound loss. So they look for signs that “you’re better” “you seem perkier today… sometimes I find you just have to consciously change your mood/outlook” – You become the receptor of boundless unsolicited advice. They ask how you are and then tell you how you should be. They want to measure your “progress” rather than just letting you be where you are. You become self-conscious of your response when others ask how you are. You know they want to hear that you're doing "a bit better", so to look at them, being true to yourself and bluntly responding, "not so good" or "shitty" begins your journey of self-criticism where you are constantly evaluating where you are in the survival/healing process. It's taken me months to be OK with where I am. And that was because of my support group. I was surrounded by others who had also suffered profound loss and realized that "where I was" was the norm. It was a horrifying comfort to hear others had been out of work for a year, hadn't gotten out of bed for three days, had contemplated suicide, attempted suicide. It was the one place I felt normal. Because when you lose your other half everything around you is silenced. And life, as you knew it, really did end. You're in a bubble, watching a world of which you're no longer a part, float by. And no one notices. No one knows what you're enduring. No one gets it. Bank tellers, postal workers, store clerks - none of them know how hard it was for you just to step up to the counter. Getting out the door was one step forward, the spontaneous tears on the subway seems to move you back. And then you realize there is no where to get - forward means nothing because the distance is infinite, the loss will always be there, you just learn how to navigate and adjust to the loss. The best friends and family comfort the most when they acknowledge the shittiness - and let you be where you are. That is the truest form of respect and compassion. And I am grateful to have those people, so real and open to unchartered territory, that are comfortable seeing me through the days.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm a widow.

I love that one of the ads that Google has temporarily placed in the sidebar of my blog is for Senior Dating. Their web crawler has clearly picked up the word widow on my blog title and it automatically associates "widow" with age. How I wish I was in my 80s or 90s or even 70s and had truly lived a long life with Alan. That is the misconception with widowhood... People are shocked to hear my story, as I would be had it been someone else - and that is one of my greatest challenges on a daily basis. I was two months pregnant when Alan passed away and all throughout the pregnancy, medical technicians referred to my brother-in-law as my husband, and even when he wasn't with me people still referred to my "husband". At prenatal yoga I was asked if "my husband was ready", in my birth class info packets were "one per couple", "here's an opportunity for you, dad, to massage mom". Trying on maternity bras the fitter tried to sell me "sexy" lingerie for the pregnant and breastfeeding woman - "he'll love this", she said. Even on the day of my daughter's birth when nurses couldn't be bothered to read the first THREE lines of my birth plan explaining my situation, they were asking me if I wanted them to get my husband. SURE. I'd love you to go get my husband. Jesus, if they can do that they're in the wrong profession. At the pediatrician, the nurse asked for "dad's occupation" and there's nothing more challenging than having to bring a death certificate to the hospital to verify your child's birth certificate information. I just celebrated Mother's Day and I took my daughter to a local place so we could have our picture taken together and it was at a scrap-booking store. The gentleman there said to me "Maybe now you'll do a scrapbook with all the photos". I smiled, not able to share the truth on a day where I was desperately trying to focus on the joy in my arms, and said "not so sure I'll have much time" to which he replied - "well that's when you hand her over to dad and say 'I'm going to work on this for awhile'". I nodded and lowered my eyes.
I'm actually surprised, - rather, disappointed that in this day-in-age with so many differently structured modern families where there are two moms, single moms who did it "by choice" (that's another entry...), two dads, etc... that people aren't more sensitive to those dynamics. "But you wear a ring" my friends protest - Yep, I still wear my ring. But who's to say what or who it represents. So many assumptions people make - we're a much more old-fashioned society than we care to admit. So when it comes to becoming a widow at age 39 you're an oddity. I was discussing with my other "widowed friends" the awkwardness of laying the news on the ignorant soul who put their foot in their mouth and it's uncomfortable all around. You feel bad for the person who's made the comment and yet it's never going to be as tough for them as it is for the person who must deliver the news. One of my friends said, "so what - let em feel awkward - it's the truth". And it is. The awful, horrifying truth. And you face it day in and day out, and every moment, around every corner, every encounter with someone on the street or on the phone feels unexpected and heightens your anxiety – because we are beyond vulnerable. I get sideswiped with memories, hormones, emotions, smells, someone’s gait from behind, a profile out of the corner of my eye. Alan is everywhere. My heart is swollen with longing and even now, the reality has to be digested over and over and over again. It is an exercise, and one that I am reluctant to practice, though I know I must for my own well being. And it's tougher to do when you get the ignorant comments. And yet, the flipside is that moving forward, away from the tragedy, threatens the loss of memory. And the memories are the ties that bind. There is not a single thing that I wish to forget about my life with Alan, even the horrors we endured and his final days. Those moments were our life together and they were filled with depth that is impossible to put into words. Thankfully, even for me married only ten months, I do feel like the eighty year old widow. Because when I met Alan I felt like I had known him forever.