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.