Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Almost Two

Dada watching us.

Yes Pumpkin.

Dada wake up. Dada come Lily's housssssse.

Ohh, he can't wake up, Dada can't come. But he loves Lily soooooo much.

It continues. And my now very articulate girl can express herself expertly. And she is even better company despite the scope of our typical conversations. It is so much fun being able to communicate with her more easily. It does sometimes take time to decipher words (fresh toys = French Toast) (Sil mun = Silver Moon - bakery that is...)but the awesome thing is that when I can't understand the words, she gives me a point of reference to reroute my guessing game. Hence, sausage led me to french toast and donuts to Silver Moon Bakery. Not bad for an almost 22 month old. Oh she's so smart.
Our daughter.
She may know it too. Hmmm.
Recently she had one of her finest tantrums yet and managed to scream and cry through the entire alphabet. She wanted to continue watching her favorite Sesame Street You Tube version of the ABCs and when she began the protest "MORE ABCS!!!" she continued through til the end, entering the kitchen, nose running, eyes tearing, "W X Y AND ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!".
How do you not laugh and be proud and marvel at your frustrated child when they rant so impressively. It is hard. I was tired. I felt guilty. My Daughter-Formerly-Known-as-Lily's dramatic appeal continued through dinner and bath and bed. Wow.


But she wakes up singing - and I can't get enough of her. And recently she has been all smiles and laughs and questions and observations. She brings me things. She loves to help. "Here mom." She says, and hands me a tampon.
Or lip stuff. Or my credit card.
"Lilyyyyyyy......" Mama says.
She enjoys going through peoples belongings and then returning them to their owners.
And she is beginning to understand happy and sad.
She is a happy girl. That, I know.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

All in the timing.

Sunday was Alan's birthday.
Would have been Alan's birthday.
So as we did last year, and the years before when he was with us, friends and family who knew him well, ate wings, NYC's finest black and white cookies and drank beer in his honor. Babes who were just in formation while he was with us were there, and they all sampled Twizzlers and Red Vines in his honor(both coasts represented). What many in the extended posse do not know is that he was, despite his East Coast roots, in fact, partial to Red Vines.


Lily flitted among the tables, and even though she doesn't do well in confined spaces where activity is limited, she managed to wiggle and mingle and play, and was a beautiful embodiment of her dad's spirit, as was everyone present. Everyone there knew not just Alan's humor, but the specifics of it. And they knew him well in so many ways. They all live admirably in his wake - they savor what he cannot.

He'd be pleased to know that.

Lily didn't know what the day was about and I did not mention the significance of the date to her. But before our get together, just awake from her nap Sunday afternoon, channeling something, - in her sweet, gentle voice said:

"Dada come hooooome."

"Oh Pumpkin. Dada can't come home."


"Dada home sooooonnn."

"Oh Lily, Dada loves Lily but he, he can't come."

"Dada other house."

"Oh. Not really. Well. Kind of. Sort of."

I was stuck, and crying, and caught off guard, and felt so defeated.
I had no answer that seemed right.
Alan not being here isn't right. It just isn't.
Lily then went to her drawer of clothes and pulled out legwarmers she hadn't worn since last year on Alan's birthday and began trying to put them on.

What does it all mean. The coincidence. Where and when the questions fall. Maybe it's a message from Alan to the two of us. A way to make his presence known. I don't know. But I do know I miss him.

We all do.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lay Your Hands Down. (Live Through This Part II)

I think, thus far, the toughest thing I've ever had to do was to accept the fact that there was nothing more humanly possible that could have extended Alan's life in a dignified way. And the next toughest thing was enduring our friends' suggestions and offerings to call doctors they knew, explore one last treatment idea etc..., once we had reached that horrifying conclusion. Obviously, those gestures came from love and desperation to save a very special life, beyond worthy of saving. Yet offers like that, in the eleventh hour, when every resource had been thoroughly exhausted were difficult to field, to digest. It is monumentally challenging to face the searing truth that nothing more can be done. It goes against the fiber of our beings. And once you are able to come to terms with that, however crippling it is, the extraneous attempts from others can make you feel as though you're giving up, when in fact you're finally accepting that everyone has done all that they can do, to restore that life in a healing way.

What drives you in the fight against terminal disease is the hope for a cure, or a treatment that might add time to one's life. And Alan's family and I left no stone unturned. We sought multiple opinions, conducted extensive research, consulted the NIH for trials, scoured the internet for case studies, and asked for help from others throughout the country who might have a lead toward something. Anything. Alan endured more than enough scans and treatments and experimental drugs and prayers.

He wanted life more than anyone.

We all wanted life for Alan more than anyone else.

Much of what he did, was for us.

But there is a time when the expression "quality of life" takes on profound meaning. There is a moment when you must really look at that beloved person who has been through so much and have the courage to wish for them


And so, if you know someone who is journeying through such an unforgiving landscape, trust that those around them would have walked to the ends of the earth for them. And in many ways, did.

No one ever stops wishing for a miracle. Ever.

If assistance is needed they will ask. It is kind and loving to want to help, but offer gently, and have the sensitivity to step back and say no more.

Nature is indescriminating.
It just gives and gives, and then takes everything back.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Live Through This.

Awhile ago someone asked me for advice regarding what to bring to a friend who was terminally ill. They weren't sure if they should bring gifts of food, or more meaningful gifts and were seeking advice regarding how / what to say if it was a last visit. Many tough but thoughtful, beautiful questions and I was so heartened to have been asked. Visiting and spending time with someone who has been prominent in your life and now may leave it shortly is excruciating; it forces us all to face our own mortality and more immediately gives you a heartbreaking taste of love and loss.

Visits and patients and environments are varied but here are some suggestions from what I felt and experienced with Alan. I can't speak for him, but I was there, in an altered state for sure, but present nonetheless: Food, in our case, wasn't a good idea. If you're a cancer patient often you have undergone or are enduring rigorous therapies that either limit your diet or render you unable to physically eat. Cancer floors of hospitals often prohibit outside food - it can upset those who cannot eat and often isn't something that can be consumed anyway. It can be torturous. The only good that comes of it is as a way to thank the nursing staff. Family and friends, on the other hand, may welcome food - but generally they'll be uncomfortable eating it in front of others and often our appetites were gone too. So consider where you'll be going and ask ahead of time if they'd like something and leave it it that. Don't force, no one has the energy, or interest.

Best gifts? Your presence when the person who's being visited has the energy. Second to your presence? Anecdotes from your shared lives. Memories and stories or even the most basic reminiscences.

Life relived is a gift.

Old photos are perfect conversation material, and one of my/our favorite physical gifts was a tiny potted flower plant. It was small, it was sweet, it was simple, it was life. Flowers NO, plants, yes. Other special thoughts were pictures drawn by our friends' kids.
Whimsical, bright, and loving.
Most importantly, if the friend is lucid and aware of their fate, if you can summon up the courage, let them know in private how much they've meant to you. You don't have to gush, you don't have to be ominous - and you don't have to say goodbye - but you can say, you mean the world to me and I hope to see you again in the next few days (if that's true) but if I can't for whatever reason prevents that from happening, know I love you and will celebrate you and carry you in my heart always. Something like that - honest, from the heart.

It is torturous, I know.

But I think for Alan - despite the heartache and the courage it took for him to listen - it gave him a profound sense of the mark he'd made on the world.

Keep your visits brief.
Watch them for signs. Ten minutes, half hour - max, unless they say otherwise.
Illness is exhausting. Meds are taxing.

Hearts are full.

Don't be offended if they don't want a visit.
Life is hard, death is harder.
Be prepared that if they do want to see you, you may get there and they're sleeping, or they're not up for it or they're being treated for something. Plan with extra time and understand you may not get in.
Emails or letters are wonderful too - someone inevitably will be there to read them aloud.

And for the family of the person who's days are measured?
They're savoring a life. Hanging on to minutes, hours, days.
Don't force walks, showers, coffee breaks, meals out.
The thought comes from a good place but think about it. If your loved one may not make it through the night or the next day , they won't want to leave their side unless the doctors kick them out. Even if I had a year more with Alan I'd be by his side every waking moment. (I would shower, I guess.)
No matter how unhealthy it is, or how much weight one is losing - if company is wanted, they'll ask.

Respect their torment, leave it at that.

Hard. So hard. But if you can live through this, you'll be OK.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Damage Control

Lily's artistic inclinations are emerging. So much so that the other morning she came into the bathroom to get me, "Hahn?" (Hand used to be "ahtch" but we are now closer to the real thing) I gave her my hand, she led me into the living room, over to the TV, where Sesame Street was playing. "Uh Ohhhh..." she said as she pointed to the screen. There, in the raking light of the dawn (read, 7:20am) I noticed the entire screen was decorated with crayon strokes that extended off the canvas onto the radiator cover.

"Lilyyyyyyyyyyy..... No, no Pumpkin, you know that's not where we draw. We draw on PAPER or else we draw on special things in Teacher Barbara's class. Remember how Mama said we only draw on paper?".

"Yesh." she says.

"Where do we do crayons?"

"... Papuh." And silence. Wheels turning. "Mama .... art!"

"Sigh. Yes, Lily, that is art."

She's right. But what she doesn't know is that the apartment is on the market and I'm not sure buyers are interested in the freshly painted walls now embellished with... Color. Lots of it. Thank you Crayola for creating washable crayons. They are remarkably unmarring. I have found crayon on the couch, chairs, dresser and most recently the wall. Thankfully, she drew and then ran to get Kleenex and began wiping it off the wall after she made her "mark".
She is a good helper.

Wash wash wash.

She likes to help mama wash the walls and the couch and the tv and the radiator cover and the chairs and the refrigerator.
She even hums her clean up song she's learned in class.

At 20 months I think we are in "testing" mode, ie., "Let's test mama. A lot."
The uncommissioned murals are still appearing, unannounced, and too much quiet now indicates art in progress.

Crayons on probation. At least for a few hours.

That's OK.

There are other ways to test Mama:

"Lily wants yogurt?"
"Here's some yogurt Pumpkin."
"No. No yogeet."
"I thought Lily wanted yogurt?"
"No........ Other one."
"Strawberry yogurt?"
"OKaaaaay. Here's the other yogurt. Lily? You want the yogurt?"
"What does Lily want for breakfast?"
"Mac n'cheeeeeeeese" she says, smiling and twisting and jumping.
"We don't have mac n'cheese, Sweet Pea"
"Rice n'beeeeeeeans!!!!!"
"No rice n'beans either Pumpkin."

I've let her down.

I'm the mom.
Must remember that important fact.

Note to self: Don't bend over backwards all the time. Just some of the time. Like when I'm channeling Job. Must channel often. Because now, when Lily isn't tagging the furniture, she is jumping off of it. She also now enjoys hanging upside-down, and has perfected somersaults. And, she has done some impressive things in the potty recently. No details needed. It may have scarred her for life, but not bad for someone four months shy of two.

Is she really almost two? She even seems older at times. Yesterday she opened the closet and was reaching for the screwdriver.
"Horsie. Horsie!"
I didn't understand until I glanced over at rocking/bouncy Horsie and there he/she was, turned upside down, battery panel exposed for surgery.
"No no Pumpkin, Horsie's fine. Here. Listen."
And with that, Home on the Range and hoof beats filled the air.

That may be the answer. Pretend living on range. Commission arid landscape, leave dirt on floor, import hay.

City Goes Country.

I like that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Dada?

It has begun. Lily is asking for her Dada. Nineteen months on the journey alone and now, sadly, her own has begun. We spent a long weekend with her favorite friend and it became glaringly apparent to her that he has a dad.
And so, she is wondering

The last three nights at dinner Lily has said "Mama, Dada?" "More Dada?" and with that I pull out photo albums and as she eats we look at pictures of her dad. I identify the people he's with, I show her his smile, him sailing boats, I show her his hands and I tell her that she has the same ones. She does. She has Alan's fingers. They are mini replicas. And I hope that as she gets to know him through me and our friends and family, that her longing for him wont be torturous. But it may be. In fact, it already seems to be heading in that direction.
How could it not?

It is heartbreaking.

Yesterday I peaked in on her in the living room and there she was perched on her little chair at the coffee table, photo album from our honeymoon open in front of her and she was studying the photos, touching them with her fingers, identifying and saying out loud, "Dadaaaaa, Mommyyyyy. Dada, mama" over and over again, singing our names with her "counting numbers" inflection.

So innocent. So dear.

Cruel cruel world.

Night before last at 2:45, "Mama..."
"Yes my love? "
".... Ohhhh. Dada's watching over you Pumpkin. Dada loves Lily. Shhh shhh... Go back to sleep sweet pea..." And more realistically the next night in bed, "Oh Lily, Dada isn't here. But he loves Lily soooooooo much." One of these days she'll look for him at the door or at me with her questioning fanned out hands.

And so my attempts at toddler explanation have begun. And painfully I know this is now her beginning of what will be a very difficult journey. Last night in the tub "Pictures of Dada?". "OK pumpkin, we'll look at pictures of Dada before bed." So in bed, we began with our wedding album and then transitioned to the Little Engine That Could. And Corduroy. And then after a false start in her crib we cuddled with our own version of The Wheels on the Bus. This time with what people we know would say.
"Dada? Dada Bus?"
"Dada on the bus says 'I LOVE YOU SO!, I LOVE YOU SO!, I LOVE YOU SO!"

And on we went.
She slept through the night, peacefully.
I'm hoping Alan stopped by in her dreams.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oh So Much. So Much.

It is "find the right pre-school and then get in" season. My first exposure to the NY school system, my first round at finding the perfect home away from home for Lily, where she will explore, grow, learn, play, nap, snack, sing and create. I bit off a large chunk yesterday, went on my first school tour and decided I'd give wearing my ring on the other hand a go. A tall order, a brutal test, got through the tour (though I did tear up at one point) and only lasted with the ring on the right for an hour and a half. Everything just means so much. I'm not sure why I switched hands for the ring other than I was anxious about questions I might get ie "where's your spouse/partner/husband" and I didn't have it in me on an already emotional excursion to field them. I'm not ready or interested in dating despite my crave for companionship I just thought I'd test the waters.
Not fun.
Tour fine, loaded with couples - but of course.
The school wasn't for Lily. Us. To cramped, too dark, and a taste of "let's plan your child's future now" aura. Whoa mama. Not ready just yet. Still wondering how the weather will be tommorow and the next. Still wondering what I'll cook tonight for dinner and fantasizing about having enough energy one day to cook enough home-made options for Lily (and me) for an entire week.
With vegetables she'll eat.
Would be so nice.
But I digress.
Went on another tour today and it was much more up our alley. Lily would thrive and have a blast. Great open space, warm, loving, personal vibe and so much for children to grab hold of, to discover and experience. Parents, too, much more low key which I appreciate because in this new world of parenthood I'd like to like the families of my daughter's friends. A different kind of dating I expect but with a beautiful common bond. My favorite two questions on the tour:
What are the ERBs?
Where does the food come from? (even better, the answer: The Kitchen.)
Cool. I can relate.
I'm so excited for Lily to have a cubby with a ziploc bag full of wardrobe changes - must explain it's only for emergencies, not to accessorize/change her look. (Last night she paraded around our apartment with a grass skirt - courtesy of West Coast Grandma - fresh from Hawaii over her Puma running suit, shell necklace dangling to her thighs, doctors kit - courtesy of East Coast Grandma - on her arm. The swish swish swish of her gait, beautiful.) I can't wait for her to make things, build things, and tell me when garlic bread day is. I can't wait to read the stories she's composed, and hear her day's review.

Back track.
Can I ask that in the Q & A?
Do you have Garlic Bread Day?

Good times ahead. There just have to be.

She already takes a class two mornings a week and she now sits cooporatively on a rug (preferably on the letter Y) and often before bed says to me Teacher. Class. Teacher. Class.

She is ready.

Love that girl.
Love her.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yes Girl.

Lily needs new PJs so online I went. I spent way too much time scrolling over various pairs with designs ranging from owls on branches to ones saying "Daddy's Flower Girl" and "Mom & Dad Love Me" but the one that got me was the pair that cheerfully said "Life is Sweet". I have never, in my adult life, been a fan of message tees and even more so for my daughter. I think she'd want world peace and I do think she loves laughter, love and rock n'roll but having a shirt that says those things seems a bit contrived. She's nineteen months. There will be a time when she can pick them out for herself and that will be her choice, her message, her "thing". But I linger on the clothes with messages that I'm not sure I agree with. They're designed in a moment of commercial whimsy, not profound prophetic spread-the-word intention. But I (and perhaps this is why I never did well on the SATs) tend to read too much into things and get caught up in what it all means. "Life is Sweet" being one of those.
And is it?
In many ways, life is sweet. Or rather, there are sweet things in life.
But that wouldn't sound cute on a pair of pajamas.

There Are Sweet Things in Life.

Not the same ring.
Not the same thing.

Knowing Alan was and is sweet. Sharing parenthood with my dearest friends and my brother is sweet. Lily is the sweetest being. Watching her holding hands, walking and sitting on stoops with her friend Jake is sweet. Hearing her say "I need strawberries" is sweet. Her pride in putting on her own band-aid is sweet. Seeing her at dusk this evening running barefoot down a dirt path, her friend Chloe at her heels was sweet.

But other things like war and cancer and death and poverty and the long long list of life's injustices, not so.

Ahh life.

Alan would never have said life is sweet. He enjoyed much of it but I don't think he ever would have subscribed to that notion. Hence his shirt toting the title of his favorite show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Our approaches were different but I loved Alan's dry wit and wry take on life. There is much I love in life and I'm not afraid to immerse myself in it. Generally. Although finding my way back into life, post 7/5/08, remains a challenge of epic proportions.

Lily, thankfully, has no intention of curbing her anything.

She is a yes girl. She says it often now. Indescriminately, but I love it.
She is a do-er. A true lifer.
Drunk with life daily.

For now I think I'll stick to owls on branches, but I love Lily showing me how it's done.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Today. 09/08/07.

Today is our anniversary. Three years.
Just this morning Lily was identifying family members in wedding photos that I have framed and she noticed one was of Alan and Tio and Tia and Alan's friends in a subway station. Dubway? Choo choo dubway? Dubway. She is making so many connections and identifying everything in the world around her so she was ecstatic to see them in tuxes at the 102nd Street station. It was a very warm day, not unlike today, and Alan in his usual fashion insisted they'd train it to the Gatehouse, a landmark building in Harlem that had been around for decades but was hosting it's first wedding ever, for us. It was the happiest day of our lives, even Alan in his modesty was calmly excited - he had his Marx Brothers cuff links on and had made an impressive recovery from back surgery and some radiation treatments just a month and a half earlier. He danced, he played guitar and he sang. Just this one time, Alan stepped into the limelight and I'm so glad he did. It was an evening to remember.
Amazing friends and family and food and music. Love all around.

So much has happened since then and just yesterday I was reflecting on how difficult life continues to be. I have never felt so alone, isolated, and disoriented. And there is nothing anyone can do, it is internal scarring that keeps me at sea, no longer treading water but feeling as though I don't belong to any shore. My concrete world is life with Lily - she grounds me and fills me with warmth and unfettered happiness. But when I am not with her, I am lost. It is an agonizing feeling. So painful and so dull all at the same time. Two years out and I can do so much more, function so much more ably, but the disconnect is frightening. And I wonder if it will ever change. Missing Alan is excruciating, still. Just the other night as I read to Lily at bedtime I found myself looking down at us just as I hope Alan does. We were giggling, Lily was impressing me with her ability to identify pine cones, frogs, leaves, feathers and acorns in a favorite story and it was a bright and beautiful moment. I hope he saw it, and was able to see how happy we are together but also know how painful it is for me to not have him there in bed with us to complete the picture. He belongs with us.
We all belong together.

Friday, August 6, 2010

August and everything after.

Lily and I recently journeyed to the my old home in Marin for a good, much needed dose of fresh air and outdoor quiet. She waded in a creek, tasted a wet rock, had her first burrito, and met one of her dad's favorite dogs of all time, Harpo. I wondered if maybe Lily smelled like her dad - if it was a smell Harpo recognized. Curious.

Hoppo? Doggie? Baby?
Hoppo? Doggie? Baby?
Hoppo. Doggie. Baby.
Baby-O. Baby-O!

Her sitter asked yesterday what Hoppo meant.
She also met Baby Henry (who was overshadowed by Harpo's licks), she was doted on by big girls, fed ice cream and cheese puffs by her cousins, raged at a 1st birthday party for a "baby" Maddy, who in truth is just 5 months younger than Lily - but put up very well with Lily's older persona. (And hijacking of barely unwrapped toys). She watered plants with her Jiji, had her first dim sum with her grandpa, and ate mac n'cheese - natchee, she calls it,(From 8am on, I might add)for almost 10 days straight. She acquired two more hand me down babies who have now been strolled, chewed, kissed, fed cheddar bunnies, and stripped of their clothes. New words are teacher, happy, shoe (jew), elbow, rinse, whoah!, wow! and an abridged version of octopus. She has graduated to one nap a day, has attempted multiple climbs out of her crib and will now only eat meals in her little chair, positioned at the coffee table - so that our once white shag rug is now the receptor for couscous (goosgoos) and strawberries that never made it to their destination. And she insists on laps around the room between bites and I am a tired mama trying to remember she is still just a babe.

We SIT when we eat, Lily.
No Lily, sit please.
Lily?! Please come back.
No Lily, no keys until you finish eating.
Lily, I don't think Baby wants couscous.
OK. That's nice. Come sit Lily. Sit Lily, please. Sit with Mama.


She will not give up her three daily bottles and refuses milk in any other container. If it isn't the way she wants it she indignantly hands it back to me or she casually knocks the milk sippy cup off the table out of her site. She is happy without milk but she has a jones for the baba. Milk in a box? No. Milk in a cool new cup? No. She doesn't really even engage in the debate. Baba or bust.

WOW. Which battles to choose.

In the tub she likes to wash her hands repeatedly ("watch, watch, watch")and she will forever attempt a sip of soapy wawa. She also tries to blow bubbles a good few inches above the water's surface. A few inhalations, in the water, have set us back a bit...

And so she grows.
And learns.
And explores.
And defines herself.

Nearing 18 months, going on 12 years.

Nothing slows our girl down, not even 95 degree heat with a heavy dose of humidity. Ahh August. But Summer is full of long days, sprinklers and fun, so it's a season I never like to leave - and Lily seems to grow in the sunlight.
But Fall? It will be welcome, whenever it comes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

So long, Papi.

July kept up it's reputation for being a difficult month. Alan's dad, Lily's grandfather, my father-in-law passed away after a rough bout with complications related to cancer treatment. Another link to Alan lost, another man in our family, lost, a relative who Lily loved and loved her back, lost. I think I always comforted myself when Alan passed by imagining special moments in her life when she'd be accompanied by other immediate family members. And Papi, was to be her soccer coach, and a part of her entourage during her first days of school among countless other events I look forward to witnessing. Just recently the two shared mashed potatoes and laughs together at a diner and shortly before that, she had mastered his name. She would often say it so many times I'd have to call him so she could demonstrate her developing communication skills. But now, he's in our hearts and memories and photos. How I wish he could have seen Lily grow up just a bit more.

The other night while we were in California, Lily awoke about 3am, inconsolable, and ended up in bed with me for a bit. It's strange how you can lie in bed next to someone in the dark and hear them thinking. And I could tell, despite Lily's stillness, that she was quietly awake.

Mama. She whispered.

Yes Lily. I whispered back.


Yes baby. We love Papi, and Papi loves Lily.


Later that night as I was carrying her back to her crib she said in her dreamy voice, Tio.

Yes Lily. Tio loves Lily too. We'll see him soon.

Thankfully Lily has two uncles in her life who love her, and her Tio Robert sees her often. He is our last male link to Alan and Alan's roots and I cherish the connection the two of them have. I just wish. I just wish Alan and Gary could be here too - so that we could really feel whole as a family. Lily loves men. She does. It's the most interesting thing - I often wonder if it's because of the absence of them in our everyday life or if it's just a girl/boy developmental thing. But Lily has a habit of stalking sunbathing men in the park, waving to them on the subway, and charming them in restaurants. She is a consummate flirt when it comes to men. While out in California, she called for Dada many times. She saw a man that could have been Alan and called him dada and then one morning as she ran down the halls heading out to the pool where my brother was - again, Dadaaaaa, Dadaaaaa.... She looks for the man she has seen in so many photos and heard so much about.

How painful it is to witness the ends of lives. It is new loss combined with old loss - so much comes up to fester old wounds.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tonight. Tomorrow.

This weekend two years ago was the worst I've ever endured. Lily was just a glimmer of hope. Life was beyond grim. It was as though I was waiting for the world to come to an end. And shortly after, much of my world, did. I look back, reluctantly, and see the dismal fog we were in. Hospice is honest, and raw and yet surreal - some families practically move in with their loved ones - as we did. But the shock and dismay to find yourself there is overwhelming, it tears your heart asunder, your emotions and awareness are heightened and yet part of you is rendered numb. I tried so hard to be everpresent during Alan's last days - I wanted to live with him through every unbearable last moment, to savor and relish in the lucid moments that Alan managed to muster up... He was so beautiful and brave and generous.

And then he was gone. Just like that, he gave in, or his body did. As he/it should have. No one deserves the unfairness that terminally ill patients endure. And Alan left behind with me the most remarkable little being. Knowing Lily now, I understand how she survived his passing and my grief - she is intensely determined, and tough as nails. Soft on the inside but Teflon in demeanor. She is willful and impassioned -Just today we went with friends and family to her first concert and she flitted among the crowd, ingratiating herself to every parent and child she could. She had no time for stillness, too busy, had to take in the music, the rocks and sticks and grass, and was all smiles in 95 degree heat.

I am trying to make this weekend a happy one again, and Lily Alan certainly provides the most wonderful incentive - but it is an effort to block out certain sights and sounds and despite the sadness they bring, I don't ever want to forget anything about the life I shared with Alan. So it is a balancing act. But the joy that Lily brings to the world, with her Eskimo kisses, expanding vocabulary, insatiable curiosity and dance moves is wonderful. She helps to keep all of Alan very much alive, much of him shines through her in behaviour and much of what she exhibits is different and new. I pray he can see her as she blossoms, today she was all Puck - free, whimsical, sneaky and endearing.

Now we are home - Lily is fast asleep. Fireworks rumbling in the distance... Thankfully, I stumbled upon one of Alan's all time favorite movies playing on TV, Coppola's "The Conversation" with Gene Hackman. I remember watching it with him, as he pointed out directorial decisions and artful moments - he loved movies such as this one - classic casts and genius directors. Good solid acting - he knew every shot, every scene, he had a keen understanding of what made an effective editor and to this day I so wish he had gotten a chance to work on something that he would deem monumental. But I hope he understood how powerfully he touched the lives of all the people who's paths he crossed, and that the life he led was full indeed. Cut short way too soon but he left his mark in so many ways. I'm so grateful for the time we shared together and with others we loved ~ Now with Lily here we'll just keep living and loving and celebrating who he was and what he gave us to carry on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Teen Spirit. Rant.

Lily's vocabulary is expanding and with it has come NO! No! NoooOH. NO!


I think she turned thirteen the other day. I could have sworn she just celebrated her first birthday a few months ago but I must be mom. Oops, wrong. I must be wrong.
Wrong Mom.
Favorite words are Mommyyyyy, baby, E L M O, ELmo. elMO? elmo. ELMO. elmo elmo elmo, hat, haT hah t and days now seem to feature NO often accompanied by long, whiny noises that come from her gut and go up the scale lasting a good seven seconds. At least. And then an object is flung impressively long distances. Turkey flies, broccoli is thrown, little toys jettisoned all within the blink of an eye. And I only have two.
And I am tired.
I have no downtime except for naptime.
Not sure people get that. They think I'm militant about sleep schedules and I am - but fifty percent of that is for ME. Mommy. Mommyyyyyyy. MOMyyyyy. I have no downtime. If Lily sleeps, I do. Period. I may be under house arrest while she does, but I'll take it. And if she doesn't nap or we skip it so we can make everyone else happy - I feel like ____ . And that's how it is, how it goes...
I can't hand her off and say I'll be back in an hour. I can't run an errand without her. I can't shower unless she's in the crib with a stack of books or watching Elmo. Elmo. Elmo. elmo. I cannot leave her to get the mail/laundry/milk. I cannot run out to get ice-coffee and sit on a bench and read ONE article or a book for FIVE minutes. I cannot go to the bathroom with the door closed. I can hire a babysitter and then a twelve dollar movie becomes a fifty dollar outing. And returning an item of clothing is no longer a financially prudent move - if I pay a sitter, it's a wash. Even when I do have a sitter I SPRINT everywhere. Clock ticking. If I'm paying, it's adding up, if it's gratis they have lives too. Hmmm.

Ahh me.

Oh, and - Father's Day. That's right. I miss my man and my daughter's dad. How nice it would be to have Alan here to love and hug and play with and to let me go get ice-coffee. I called my brother to wish him happy father's day and he laughed and said "You too!!Jesus, you're doing both!".
It was the kindest acknowledgement I've gotten in a long time.

But she still is awesome, our not so delicate flower. Our rough and tumble girl who blows kisses, dances and claps with zeal to live music, has a beautiful smile and an infectious giggle. She's becoming a little person - full of urges and curiosities, and entertaining antics. She loves babies - so dolls now are fed, taken into the tub and put into strollers. Lily could spend a half hour easily trying to figure out buckles. The stroller buckles, the high chair buckles. Shoe buckles. She is a young Houdini and her focus can be itense. Her imagination is soaring and she's a good mimic - talks on the phone with pretend noises and takes care of baby with pretend noises. She fascinates me and even with the frustration and exhaustion, I still can't get enough of her. But I will say I can't wait until YES becomes a part of her vocabulary.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And I Still Love You.

So much has happened in the last few weeks. For some it would seem like nothing but for us it's leaps and bounds. We've had some fun evenings with other families who have kids around Lily's age and it's been a joy to see her play like crazy in other people's homes and gardens. She's had a blast digging into their toys, running with sheer excitement - no destination needed, endless curiosities to explore whether it be a tub of ice, a chair just her size or discovering the addictive qualities of Bugles. It's all new to Lily, and me. It feels like were now in the "family stage" where our world grows with old and new friends who have children as well. And it feels good to be doing so -I just thought, I had always imagined, that Alan and I would be sharing these special moments together - watching our girl get filthy, seeing her share sippy cups with abandon, interact with other kids openly in an entirely uncensored way. It's all very sixties - free love, wah wah for everyone - and Alan and I would reminisce at the end of every evening, shocked and awed over the fact that we were actually parents, that our girl actually had said and done the very things we had witnessed earlier that day. But he isn't here. Not physically at least. And as I reach out into this new world it is beautiful to watch Lily's life take shape and I relish in every moment. But the ache is profound. All last week I couldn't get a song that Alan had sung at our wedding out of my head. I didn't want to. But I ached to hear it and longed to hear him. And at the end of a lonely evening the other night I came home to the James Taylor/Carole King concert on PBS - and just as I tuned in, they sang this for me.
Alan must have had some part in it.

You Can Close Your Eyes

Well the sun is surely sinking down
But the moon is slowly rising
So this old world must still be spinning 'round
And I still love you

So close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it's all right
I don't know no love songs
And I can't sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song when I'm gone

It won't be long before another day
We gonna have a good time
And no one's gonna take that time away
You can stay as long as you like

So close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it's all right
I don't know no love songs
And I can't sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song when I'm gone

I do keep singing that song and others, and Lily has a beautiful voice as well. The last three days have been filled with the chant eeeiiieeeeiiiooooohhh... She's got a good musical ear, that girl, just like her dada.

We hear him and see him in every note.

As my second year without him approaches, I miss him more than ever. But we did have a good time and no one can ever take that away. Yes I've got some major blues, but I'm grateful for the love that came our way.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Widow Country.

More of the same, but succinctly put. Hope the link works, click on the title of this entry and that should do it. Otherwise you can cut & paste:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Days Ahead.

Lily and I had a good weekend. We were busy, we were more social than usual, we had a good dose of outdoor fun and we visited our bench. But this last week has had it's challenges, as usual, and though they're ones I've been anticipating, they still caught me off guard. On a work call someone asked me if I was married and I stuttered with the answer. A rush of fear shot through me as I heard the question and what came out was, "sort of". The listener left it at that but I think what he imagined was that I was in one of those in limbo relationships where you might as well be married but you're not. Regardless, I felt stuck by the question - not comfortable elaborating but for me there wasn't a straight answer. That said, this same week when answering questions for my college's alumni database I was asked my marital status and again I felt trapped.

"What are my options" I asked.

I went with widow.

She was no longer interested in the age of my daughter. Must have figured Lily was now an adult.

This weekend came the big one.
A toddler asked me where Lily's dad was.
Well, I said, he can't be with us. He's in Lily, and his spirit is everywhere, but he isn't here in the same way that your dad is.
My response was accepted and back she went to her play.
I let out a sigh of relief.
Lily continued, blissfully unaware.

I have been bracing myself for all sorts of questions and this time I got off relatively easy. It was an OK first run. But as I begin considering preschools for Lily I know it's just a matter of time before she faces the same ones. When surveying a school's website recently I lingered on a photo of a classroom project. Again, my heart in my throat. It was individual houses, adorning the walls and the heading above them said "Who's in your family?". Below were photo montages of children with parents and siblings and relatives - each household reflecting something different. I imagined Lily's. One image was just of the two of us, the other required an apartment building for every extended family member and courtesy aunt and uncle. Lily will get that question and many others, and I won't always be there to help her field them.

That makes me anxious and sad.
Parents say how heartbreaking it is to watch their child through a classroom window not get a seat at a classroom table, or play alone as others pair up. What goes through my head when I envision Lily on days when they're making Father's Day projects or having a dad's visiting day, is brutal. I've already read of so many incidents of children in Lily's situation on days just like those - and many haven't been handled well. Together, we'll prepare. But there are many children missing a parent and I long for a curriculum and an understanding that thoughtfully incorporates them.

Differences for children can be alienating and no matter how thoughtful teachers will promise to be, they won't always be there for her either. I've written a couple of children's books for Lily and others in her shoes and I long for the day when we can read them together and when she can hear them during story time, listening anonymously, surrounded by others. Children are beautifully open to new ideas and if they see that Lily's dad is very much a part of her, they'll understand that he's always there. And they'll realize that about their parents too - that although they're all on their own at school, their parents are very much with them - in their mannerisms, in their coloring, sometimes in the way they see things, or in their stride. Much of growing up is based on knowing who you are, and my greatest wish for Lily is that she recognize the strength and beauty she already possesses.

She'll get through those days. We both will.
But I don't look forward to them.
At all.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Joneses.

Just the other morning, entirely unprompted by me, Lily wandered over to a photo of me and Alan together, took it in her hands and kissed him . I caught her in the act and a wave of love and happiness and sadness washed over me. Could she, does she know who he is? I think so. It has to be that way. And surely he knows his daughter.

As I near the second anniversary of Alan's passing I realize more and more that year one was loaded with grief but the day to day goal was just coping and survival. Fighting to get from one day to the next, straddling medical bill and insurance settlements, estate issues, and a pregnancy. Now, with much of that behind me, I am often sapped with heavy sadness. I think so much of it has to do with seeing Lily develop into the amazing person that she is - with every new move there is one set of admiring eyes missing. He must be watching. He has to be. Because I think Lily can feel him. There are times when she points into the air just past me and is fixed on something I cannot see. She babbles into the air, at something I am sure.


There is a family that lives down the hall from us, around the corner. And just as Lily and I finished playing with their kids in the hall last week, I heard their dad make his grand entrance home at the end of his workday. Their front door closed shut and I could hear the screams and yells of delight over his arrival. They were ecstatic, and his bellows in response echoed down the hall. I had to carry Lily back toward our apartment, as she reached, arms outstretched for theirs - all the while whispering in her ear that she had a dad too, he just doesn't come home in the same way.

And now she knows how to knock.
So when our front door opens, she's off - out of the starting gate, making a beeline for their door. She knocks on it, it opens and in she goes without even a look back to me for acknowledgement. Smiling, I apologized, as she did this a few evenings back (for the second time that day, I'm told) and before I could catch up to her she had made her way into their apartment and straight through to their master bedroom where kids and dad were lounging on the bed spending their evening hours together. Their mom said "Say goodnight to Lily guys", they did, and up she came into my arms. I apologized again, feeling as though we had invaded a family time that was not ours, smiled sheepishly and carried our girl home. Do they know she has a dad? Do they wonder where he is? What do they think of us...

Oh the pain.
Still so excruciating.

And yet our hours together are filled with smiles and laughter, all she really knows is joy. And that, fills me with happiness. But Lily loves other children and is often much more at ease in the arms of a new man than a woman she already knows.
Wish Alan could hold her. She isn't one for stillness these days but in his arms, I know, she'd be perfectly at rest.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ahh Jamaica... Feel Alright.

I am desperately trying to hold on to my Jamaica-state-of-mind. And the return to NYC has been a challenge. Our week in Montego Bay was beautiful - Lily digs the island life. She spent every day exploring gardens, the beach, and the pool. Chasing birds, collecting rocks, backing up to steps to perch on, climbing up and down, up and down, up up and then down down every stair, digging in sand and taking dips in the pool and ocean. Drunk with limitless energy.

She loves the sound of blenders.

She has inherited my flare for what Alan referred to as my interpretive dance and moved with delight to the pianist every evening at the bar. Between songs and sips of water she handed off her purse to every man she could find and then, on cue, returned to the dance floor.

She collected flowers and mini unripe avocados and followed the gardener each morning.

She enjoyed rinsing the sand off her feet at the garden hose and now quite enjoys a gushing faucet.

She napped as though she had never slept before.

How she has grown in just one week. This morning I peeked out of the kitchen to check in on her and there she was, standing and smiling on the couch. She is very near climbing out of her crib and I'm not sure how to handle all of this. Confinement does not agree with Lily and last week was utter bliss for her.

I felt good to be in the warm sun and to take her swimming for the first time. See her warm up to the gentle lapping waves that spilled over her toes. There were so many families there and she made a point of meeting the other kids. It was hard seeing dads with them, I couldn't help but imagine Alan with Lily in his arms gliding across the surface of the pool or taking her on a walk down intriguing garden paths - they would have relished together in the environment. But it feels good to say that we did just fine on our own, though we saw him in the moon and the stars and heard him in the bird calls and the crickets' evening songs. My mother was with us - so together, the three of us played and explored, indulging in energetic days, and soporific balmy evenings. Lily was known to all the staff (as though they went back years together) and I was known as Lily's mom and her Jiji was known as Lily's grandmother. I didn't mind being nameless, she's my connector and conduit to my newly changed world - she is the best of travelling companions.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Earth Girl.

Sometimes I really long for California. For Lily especially. If she had been born there, she would have been fourth generation on my side - and I want so much for her to experience living in such a beautiful and peaceful place, it is in her genes, her geographical DNA. Though her ancestors come from abroad she has good old-American stock and when I watch her in motion, she is indeed a pioneer. She is an intrepid explorer, and when she's on the march, she forges on, with little turning back. She chases birds, has noticed her shadow, enjoys dirt and sticks, ditches and sand. How I wish I could take her to play amid the redwoods, smell the damp earth, hear the quiet babble of creeks hidden by ferns and greenery, feel the soft moss, rub her cheeks on the furry bark of ancient trees. I'd like to take her cardboard sliding on the tall brown grass that blankets the rolling hills and let her feel the crisp air in places like Tahoe, dip her toes in it's cool water, let her lug a giant pinecone around.

It amazes me that our girl can fall asleep on warm evenings, windows open, even if a car alarm is going off or people are yelling in the street. But I'd much prefer her world to have more music and less noise - for her to fall asleep to fog-horns or barking seals. I remember watching Sesame Street when I was little and the stoop was so cool - I had never seen anything like the buildings in its neighborhood. Only the trash can I recognized. Now when I watch it with Lily perched in my lap, transfixed, hands resting softly on my legs, I see her world. The one in which she is now very much a part. Her landscape is very different than the one I knew as a child - how I'd love her to experience both worlds. Her dad was a Brooklyn boy, and I grew up in Northern Ca. suburb - and Lily is very much a city kid. But I know she'd also flourish in a more outdoorsy place, where she could thrive in another way.

This weekend we are off to Jamaica and I'm looking forward to letting Lily play with clean, pure sand, in fresh fresh air. Perhaps all I/we need is a brief respite from the Big Apple but I am excited for her to be somewhere lush and easygoing, where the vibes are gentler and pace, slower. She is already a Marley fan so I think we're well on our way.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In my dreams.

Last night I dreamt about Alan. He briefly appeared and it was good to be with him. He seemed happy, carefree and it had been months since I'd seen him. He was healthy. His neurosurgeon was in it too but Alan didn't care, and his doctor's presence seemed incidental. Regardless, to see someone so dear to you who's passed on - is a gift. Nights continue to be dark, though just as my mind was spinning the other night, Lily giggled in her sleep. That moment, too, was a gift and it put my mind at rest. To hear her dreams aloud in such happy moments help to ease my mind. There was a moment a month or so ago where she awoke crying and when I checked on her she was standing in her crib, arms raised in front of her, hands wringing together a la Lady Macbeth as she wept. What could upset such a little spirit so early in her years? I hope it was fleeting, her life is too new.

I don't think that Alan, Lily and I were in my dream together. That would have been even better. I'll wait. But the past few mornings Lily has taken his picture in her hands when she wakes. Perhaps he's been in hers.

Sometimes it's just too much. Got a comment the other day from someone infamously yet unwittingly insensitive about the fact I still have my wedding ring on and it got to me. I'm in awe of people who can sprint through life without taking a moment to take a deep breath and actually pause for some self reflection. Listen to the words that come out of their mouths, consider the person on the receiving end of those exclamations, stop - really stop to consider how their thoughts might be felt by someone else. But the people who say those things, generally aren't capable of much introspection - possibly because the running they're busying themselves with 24/7 is an escape from their own demons. If they ever really had the strength to contemplate what I have been through, what I face daily, or tried to imagine what it might be like to go through it themselves it just might be too painful. I get it, and know the intention wasn't to hurt. I'm generally able to let it roll right over me but this time - it just got me to the core.

I think I'm doing pretty damn well as a women who lost her husband of ten months twenty-one months ago, and brought a child into the world eight months later. I will always feel married to Alan. Will I ever find room in my heart for someone else? Maybe. I did for Lily and while I loved her the second I knew a baby was growing within, I worried about my ability to love so fully again . She proved me wrong the second she started her acrobatic midnight performances when I was pregnant and jump-started my heart the second I laid eyes on her, held her in my arms, seconds after she was born. Might I love someone else again? Anything is possible, but I still long for Alan, he was my man, my other half, the father of our girl.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Everyday Blues.

Sunday morning I slipped out to a restaurant, tax prep materials in hand while Lily went out with her grandmother. It was a cool but sunny spring day and I felt good. I could relax, enjoy a quiet breakfast, tally some ominous numbers and not feel as rushed as I usually do. And as I happily brought my perfectly toasted, perfectly melted, scrambled egg sandwich to my mouth a thought interrupted my momentary near-enjoyment;

"God damn. I am so sad."

There it was. Didn't even see it coming. No warning sign as with my migraines, or a rude postal worker, it just showed up. Reared it's ugly head and knocked the wind out of me. And Lily is the most beautiful antidote for pain but even she, the second wonder of my world, can't always soften the blow. My heart just constantly aches and I am still getting used to the fact that it's never going to go away. Nothing the sandwich could do about it either. I have marvelled recently at the fact that even though I have always loved food and relished in anything delicious, nothing tastes that good to me anymore. Truly. Ever since Alan floated away nothing satisfies other than holding Lily. Foods I once loved no longer do it for me. Of course I still go after them, in hopes that perhaps I'm merely having an off day (or else the chef is) but as a food lover, it's as though I've lost one of my senses. The deadening continues even though every day I really do choose life. It's just this constant gnawing. Sondheim sums it up aptly in "Everyday a Little Death" - it's written and sung in a different context but I hear it as the more you love the more you hurt and the more you have to love, the more you have to loose. How very true. How tricky life is. Well worth it, but painfully true.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh New York

The weekend was a beautiful one. Spring has begun to show itself and it was liberating to come out of hibernation with a t-shirt on. Lily has hit the park over the last few days with only a sweatshirt - so she is even more agile when it comes to collecting bits of nature wherever she roams. Unfortunately yesterday, the second we got to the playground my daughter made a beeline for every single piece of trash in sight. First it was a shopping list, then a popsicle wrapper, then a juice box. Not sure Woodsy Owl would be pleased - of course Lily was drawn to their color and shine - but I found myself overjoyed to fish leaves and sticks and pebbles out of her mouth because at least they weren't trash. I love NYC but I don't love the carelessness with which people throw wrappers into the street, toss cans and bottles into bushes. I remember Alan berating me for berating a man in Times Square for littering - it took me a few years to understand that in New York City, people aren't all approachable and that confrontation can take a life if you're not careful. But when it comes to the playground it saddens me to see it - Lily saw a plastic bag flutter toward the play structure and while it did have its own beauty as it floated through the air I didn't want her chasing it. On the subway recently some teenage kid glared at me and told me to switch seats and yesterday I sat next to a foul mouthed girl on the train who was proud of her attitude and seeming toughness. All of the sudden I am now regarding the world through the watchful eyes of a parent and I'm even less in love with what I see and hear. Grit is fine, dirt is fine and I love that this city is overflowing with color and music and plenty of unusual and dimensional personalities. But my child is defenseless, and a sponge for all that she sees and hears. She is beautifully undescriminating and I have much to learn from her. But I often feel like a mine detector these days, constantly on the look out for danger ahead. It is a joy to see her fast asleep at night, arms sprawled over head, one knee bent and flopped to the side, the other leg carelessly hanging between the rungs of her crib. In her most quiet moments it is a relief to see her so free - wandering safely in the confines of her dreams.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

More firsts.

Everywhere I look, I see families. That was the hardest thing about Valentines Day. Not seeing couples on dates, Alan and I weren't big on the holiday, but seeing new parents out with their babes celebrating their new love as a family. That hurt. I was out and about, frantically doing errands while a sitter watched over Lily and I was almost oblivious to the day except for the families I saw in cafes and on corners. Many widows struggle with images of happy couples, walking the streets in bliss, but that never really gets to me. I'm genuinely pleased for their love and it reminds me that I, too, had it. It was short lived, but I was graced with it. But when I see parents together, oggling over their little ones - exchanging glances with one another, speaking that language that only parents share with one another, that is painful. My envy is immeasurable.

And that is how it goes. I am showered with photos of friends and their newborns, or families on momentous occasions and just like wedding photos, they consist of all family combinations and parent/baby portraits - I am fine until I see the father/child segment and then I fall apart. I recently had to see a slide show of images that covered close to forty years of a marriage and as the images progressed I had to avert my eyes. So many memories, trips, parties, moments - it was unbearable. Beautiful, but much too painful to watch.

How I wish I had just one photo of Alan adoring Lily.

This last weekend she turned one. She had a ball on her birthday, I think she knew it was a special day. In the morning she played the guitar and pet her new rocking horse, midday she celebrated with a hearty portion of mac and cheese with family and other mac and cheese loving kiddies, and she toddled all afternoon with energy she must have been reserving for the day. She was all smiles and busier than usual - had no time for cake, or naps. Sunday she went for her first haircut. Dramatic as it was she remains a stunner, inside and out, and even though she refuses hair-clips, I can now see her dreamy eyes once again. As I wheeled her home - locks of hair attached to a certificate - carefully tucked away, I longed for Alan. These are moments of a lifetime, and I feel such guilt that he's been deprived of them, and such sadness that we couldn't share the experience together. Lily's new "do" brings her even closer in resemblance to her father but as I observe her everchanging behavior and evolving personality she really is one of a kind. I know if he were here that we'd marvel at her animated antics - in jest we'd look suspiciously at each other if she did something "inherited", and we'd celebrate with humor and affection our truly unique sprite.

Just yesterday morning I caught a glimpse of her as she fairy flew (as her grandmother so aptly put it)the distance of her crib. It was 6:14am, and I've no idea what it was in her little mind that propelled her with such excitement as she reached the other rail - but she was awake and full of life, ready to cover more ground. I cannot believe we've already journeyed for a year together - quite a milestone for the two of us and her everloving dad.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Baby Steps.

I read the other day on a widow's board about a woman's concern that a year and half "out" she was no longer a neat freak, had little care for her appearance, was eating junk food and all she could do was get food on the table for her kids. She was wondering if her current state was something to worry about. What followed were seven to ten posts by women all experiencing the same thing. Any of them could easily have been mine. Recently, along with the usual grief which does not fade, I've been consumed with similar thoughts. (Alan interjection: Neat freak? OK, fine. Not that part. And I'm not eating junk food. But I really just care about what goes into Lily's body.) And although it is not a new problem with me, I now struggle with the push and pull of that horrible feeling of apathy coupled with the desire to reclaim bits of my former life that I miss. Much of me, on an intellectual level, is beginning to yearn for elements of earlier, happier times - whether it's seeing live music, going to a show, visiting a museum or just socializing. But the second I contemplate those, until now, nascent feelings, I slip back into the darkness and am immediately overwhelmed by those thoughts. Much of me is afraid I can't handle it. I have been to restaurants, surrounded by the living, and wanted to weep. I hear music over a speaker and it is overpowering - the thought of live music is absolutely frightening. I'm not sure I can bear it. I'm not sure I can let something so evocative into my soul in a public setting. It is a force to reckon with. As much as I loath my current appearance, there is little motivation to change it. I am inspired in spurts but find myself quickly weighed down with melancholy. Being apathetic over almost everything is staggering for someone who once felt so charged with life.

It is much easier to look at the world through Lily's eyes than mine.

Through her I see all that is good. We look at birds and dogs and trash and dirt and to her, it is all an exploration, a wonder. She is all smiles and she begins every day with an open mind and excitement. She is fearless, or rather, she is unaware of consequence. She nose dives off of the bed or couch, she climbs up things and falls down regularly, often crashing into things first with impressive impact. And usually she's up before I can even check for injury. I love her carefree abandon, adventurous spirit and busy nature. She is a study in motion. She makes saying yes to life look easy, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Unbeknownst to her, she is luring me back into the world. It is odd to feel, as the parent, that I'm the one that needs training wheels - but that is where I am right now. Unsteady on my feet, afraid of more sadness and I still feel in my heart like an animal that is desperately looking for it's lost mate. I know much of Alan is alive and well in our soon to be one-year-old creation and at times I feel as though bits of my soul mate are waddling back and forth in front of me; bag of goldfish in one hand, keys in the other. Just last week when Lily awoke, the first thing she reached for from her crib was a picture of Alan that rests above it. She took the photo in her hands, then placed it in the crib, adjusted it a few times against the rungs and then decided she'd bring it with her while she had her morning drink. Moments like that reassure me that he remains very much a part of our lives. How little she knows how reassuring she is. My pint sized dose of life affirmation coaxing me into the present, drawing me into the future.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mosey Girl.

Now that Lily is upright she's a wanderer. She is content with a set of keys or any item found along the way, in one hand, while she moseys around our cramped apartment. She explores every nook, and her route changes depending on the mission. She has become an effective transporter and re designer of all things. Books come off of shelves, shoes are moved to the shelves, shapes go inside of stacking cups, table top items within reach are slowly removed and casually discarded en route to somewhere else, and frequently she heads to the corner behind the bedroom chair where Alan's guitar lives. There she plucks a few strings, walks away for a few seconds and returns to make some more music. And it is music she plays - she plucks very deliberately and listens. This is no ordinary strummer, Lily is channeling her dad yet again. Just when I was envisioning her future as an interior decorator, I imagine her on a stage, guitar in hand and this time she's singing and playing. So many possibilities in a life so new. My favorite daydreams are about Lily's future and the (hopefully) carefree years that lie ahead. My dreams now are all for her, a new reality that I assume comes with parenting.

It never ceases to amaze me when she displays some mannerism or trait that resembles either me or Alan. Her moves are organic and instinctively driven - she bops to music, grabs her shaker for accompaniment, music moves her physically as it does me. She pitter patters quickly when hoping to catch a glimpse of the two kids who live around the corner, she is hungry to socialize with other children - both Alan and I loved making friends but her "aggressive" pursuit of others is all her own. Just yesterday in a store after paying for Lily's new shoes, I turned to find her zeroing in on a two year old boy who she ended up throwing herself on. She was smiling as she stood before him, belly to belly and then she just lunged. Her excitement over slightly older kids is palpable and to see her chase after the ones who live down the hall is beautiful to watch and gut wrenching to witness. How I already wish I could offer her a sister or brother - someone for her to push in a wagon, someone for her to push out of the way, someone with whom she can laugh and play with all day long. A partner in crime, and more family to go around. I want to give her so much and if I can't bring her dad back how I wish I could give her someone else. More for me to love with all my heart. Not an attempt to fill a void, just another step toward the picture that Alan and I had painted in our minds. And they could have each other for the rest of their lives, long after I'm gone.

As we near Lily's first birthday it amazes me to think that this time last year I was waiting for her entrance into the world, my loneliness and grief immeasurable. She kept me alive then just as she does now. I love waking up to her every morning, no matter how early. And when she falls asleep in my arms as she did two nights ago, hands folded across her chest in the exact same position as Alan would sleep, I count my blessings that this beautiful creature who is so busy by day and so still at night has come into my life. There is another person home with me now, who walks the floors that her dad graced and delights in so many curiosities that Alan and I knew she would. It breaks my heart he isn't here to see it - but perhaps he has the best view in the house.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Here we go.

Saturday, Lily and I went to her favorite restaurant for lunch. Thankfully she is now eating off the menu which makes our outings easier as I no longer have to pack a meal for her. She loves the diner. It is loud, bustling, has seats that attach to the table and if she's lucky, she'll be seated in a booth with a mirrored backdrop so she can show herself french fries in the reflection and leave her fingerprints behind. She eats with gusto, and is well practiced at loading up a mouthful as though food were going out of style. She devoured grilled cheese bits, fries, had some pancake and sausage - all while occasionally turning around to point to the men in the booth behind us. Lily now identifies everything as "dah" and typically she is quick to find all children in the restaurant. She then fixates on them, offering an occasional shriek or squeal to get their attention - and is thoroughly entertained as she eyes them while dabbling with containers of creamer and metal spoons. But Saturday it was all about the two men facing her when she turned around. And for a moment my heart sank. As she pointed to them she said "dah" and with that my mind began spinning. Immediately I wondered of she thought one of them was her dad. They really bore no resemblance to Alan but she sees pictures of him all the time and on a superficial level, they did share characteristics. They had scruffy faces and dark hair. Possibly enough for an eleven month old to believe. It was my first taste of "is she looking for him?" and I must brace myself for more similar experiences to come. I dread the ache she will feel when she sees other kids walking to school, swinging from the hands of parents on either side. I dread the absence she'll feel when being picked up at the end of the day. Many children face similar situations with just one parent but I am envious that some of them know that they'll see their father at dinner or perhaps he'll tuck them in that night. And if not that night, sometime soon they'll see them.

Some have told me that what children never know, they don't miss. That idea is both a comfort and nightmare. I want Lily to know who her dad is, was, I want her to know his many wonderful qualities. I want her to be able to imagine the softness of his voice, the strength of his arms, the warmth in his heart. I want her to feel as though his arms are always around her, and that whispers in the wind are his words of encouragement, that he's always there right by her side - In her steps as she walks with me to school, and in my excitement as I lift her into my embrace when I pick her up at day's end. I don't want her searching for him, I want her to know that she's found him within her. My greatest wish is that she feel complete - loved by us both, always.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

More to fear, much to learn.

There is a horrifying article on the front page of the NY Time's today: "A Lifesaving Tool Turned Deadly". I had been warned not to read it but, of course, I felt compelled to do so. Despite the fact that the fight we were engaged in is over, I still feel compelled to follow medical updates that pertain to Alan's life, and my life. The fantasy is that it has nothing to do with the treatment that Alan endured, the horror rests in the fear that it does. And then more troubling, I will probably never know. The story tragically illuminates multiple, undisclosed until now, cases in which cancer patients were given fatally errant doses of radiation treatment. Computer glitches accompanied by incompetent staff have robbed many people of their lives - in essence, technology failed and then human negligence sealed the deal. What is most frightening is that never ever in our consideration of Alan's treatment did we concern ourselves with such a threat. We were aware of the risks of radiation and knew it came with its own problems but the illness outweighed the long term risks associated with the treatment. We consulted with doctors in San Francisco, Boston and New York city. We insisted on the "best" institutions and sought out the most highly recommended experts to handle Alan's case. But never did it cross our mind to inquire about software failure, computer crashes or inattentive staff.

When you're immersed in the world of cancer you are well aware of the physics that go into plotting your treatments. Numerous 360 degree scans are taken to zero in on the disease, tattoos are used as permanent markers by lab technicians as targets, a week can be spent plotting and programming radiation doses and beams, molds are taken to further ensure the patient is held completely still during sessions, sedatives are often used to keep patients relaxed and still for what are often excruciatingly long and claustrophobic appointments. I was always in awe of Alan's strength, inner calm and courage - he was subjected over the years to months of treatments. Some sessions lasted ten minutes, some an hour. It required infinite patience and he was heroic. I remember appointments when I'd be in the waiting room and after twenty minutes sometimes a tech would come out and kindly give me or other people updates on their loved ones. Sometimes it was "he's doing fine but we're having trouble lining him up with the machine", sometimes it was "she's having a rough time and we're having difficulty maintaining enough stillness to finish plotting - we'd like to let her go home for the day and try again tomorrow". Sometimes it was "we're getting him an atavan because it's taking us longer than usual". I remember one of the last sessions Alan had, our favorite nurse practitioner, Joan, came out and said "He's having a rough time in there today, he's doing OK now, but do you want to go back there for a bit?" I jumped at the opportunity. To hear that Alan was struggling was unusual but he had been through so many unimaginable trials over the months preceding that it was finally catching up with him emotionally. To hear that he was having a hard time was heart breaking and I was led back to where the techs were. I must say, after reading the article I was fearful of error in Alan's case, but what I saw that day was reassuring. Two techs had their eyes glued to computer monitors and occasionally one would focus on Alan on the camera screen overhead. When patients are undergoing treatment techs talk to them over speakers so they're never meant to feel alone or unattended. I was able to talk to Alan but I don't think I actually did that day. I asked that they tell him I was there just so he knew. I didn't want to make the situation more loaded, I just wanted him to know I was there, watching him and waiting for him.

But with all of the skepticism we have for our doctors and hospitals I don't think many imagine that "state of the art technology" can go awry. And we assume that if good doctors are overseeing the treatment, that there is little room for error. I continue to believe that that was the case for Alan. Yet Alan did not die from cancer. He died from complications from treatment. Generally unexplained complications from treatment. Doctors suspected the complications were inevitable side effects from prolonged treatment and as the disease spread his situation became more and more dire - but I hope, I pray that his overall treatment didn't hasten his passing. The stories mentioned in today's article were horrendous examples and showcased patients that had been blatantly mistreated - I do not think Alan was a victim of similar circumstance. He was a victim of an incurable disease and dangerous treatment that never promised anything. If Alan were here today reading that article he still wouldn't be angry at the injustice of it all. It wasn't in his nature. He'd perhaps want to discuss it with his doctors but then he'd leave it at that. I on the other hand would be ready to call our doctors to reaffirm he was and had been in good hands, I'd have written letters and contacted the president of the hospital just to double check. "Soapbox Susie" is what Alan called me when I ranted about similarly infuriating exposees. Tonight he'd surely call me that. But after reading this article, one can't help but wonder about any radiation treatment that anyone has ever received and it certainly is worth asking about if ever faced again.

Deep breath. Sigh. Must go check on Lily, just to be sure of her.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Someone else's shoes.

An acquaintance of mine, with two children, just lost her husband to a long illness. When we first met there was so much that I recognized in her eyes - the concern, the exhaustion, the strength and the sadness. I remember seeing her one day, and she had told me her husband was in the hospital, again, and with resignation she shook her head and said "It's always something." I knew that sentiment all too well - feeling as though we were caught in the constant swell of a wave - nudged toward the shore but just as we could feel the sand beneath our feet we were dragged back out again, barely catching our breaths, treading water. Tragically, they too lost the battle. Though I have suffered similar circumstance, I am at a loss for words - and the frustration of not having anything of comfort to say saddens me to no end. But I know there is no way that I can console her. Her loss is profound and there is no "up" side.

What I want to say has much more to do with survival. I've suggested she just focus on getting herself to the next hour. To the next evening, then the next morning and so on and so on. I want to warn her that the world will look even more harsh, even more cruel. It will be even more painful to be in public, seeing the world go through its motions unaware of her loss. Sounds become a drone, people will seem out of touch and blatantly insensitive. Days will pass like dreams, waking moments will be nightmares. Most likely she will resent having to work, because nothing seems important when a life has slipped through your fingers, escaped hold of your heart. Almost everything will seem meaningless.

I am happy for her that she has two children for whom she must live. For no other reason she must hold on. And I would tell her to let those two blessings be her guiding light. I would warn her to leave herself alone. To let herself weep when she needs to weep whether it's at the bank or in bed. To let herself indulge in whatever soothes the aches - be it lying in bed, avoiding people or ignoring the mail. I would tell her to cling to her children, love them even more fiercely, eat, try to sleep and do it all over the next day. I would say don't make lists unless it helps you, don't say "I should...", just let yourself be. Let your body be. Let your heart be. Let your mind drift. I would suggest she allow her engine to slow down. When you take care of someone with a severe illness you are in constant motion, you do and you do and you do. And it feels as though that's barely enough so you push and you push and you push. And when you lose that person your mind and body will need months to unwind, and you will unravel in a way that leaves you feeling unsure, unsteady and doubtful of your abilities. I would tell her she's beginning a new uphill battle.

I would also say that although the journey is torturous, it is worth it.

I hated telling myself "you are fortunate to be alive" - because in the early days you are numb to that blessing. In my case, I loved Alan almost more than myself. When someone so dear to you is gone, life seems unimaginable without them. Though I knew I owed it to Alan to embrace what I was so lucky (and I think it is sheer luck) to have, for some time it seemed like a sentence, not a gift. Deep down I am sure that this woman knows life is a gift but for now it probably just feels cruel. I continue to have moments every day where I grapple with the unfairness of it all.

Being sixteen months "out" at times doesn't feel any better than one month out. In fact at times it is worse. I am still plagued with flashbacks and I am tormented by the "what ifs". I replay moments over and over in my mind and they continue to choke me mid breath and fill my eyes with tears. But I recognize that I have a purpose so I try not to linger too long on thoughts as they drift in the dark, and I try to focus on what I have, what Alan gave me, what Lily gives me. I recognize that I am needed and that I am so very fortunate. That is what I'd urge this woman to focus on - she is the center of her children's universe, and they, hers. So if she can just grab hold of that love, no matter how painful, perhaps in a year she'll be closer to where I am now. I know my life is richer having known Alan and I hope, at some point, that this woman allows herself to dwell on the beautiful memories she has of her husband - she will need those to pull her through the days. And when she shares them with her children, they will be lifted up as well and together, they won't move on, but they will move forward, slowly, but surely.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Great Communicator

It appears, within the last two weeks, that my daughter has acquired opinions. Her manners, in fact, have become outspoken, she pushes bottles away when she is done with them in quite a dramatic fashion - sometimes throwing them down or violently windshield-wiping it away frenetically with her hands. She has developed strong dislike for bananas (unless pureed) and avocado, a long time favorite is now officially "out". When she is offered either one, she whips her head into profile to express her distaste, the mere idea that they were even considered part of her diet a shocker to her, and ignores them until they are removed. If they are not removed, Lily is adept at doing so herself - she is a professional dropper and enjoys looking me dead in the eye as her hands do the silent work as though they are detached from her body. She has begun pointing to things which I am expected to get in a timely fashion and she now loves to hide items behind pillows, or in her lap and then make them appear again for me. We can do the hiding game over and over again - and she gets a thrill out of showing me her magic. Since the hiding game has begun I have found all sorts of things in hard to reach places, hours and days later. Only last week I found a rice cracker and orange stacking circle behind the couch, and a plastic cap in bed. I am reminded of a visit to my brother's when his son was a similar age and I noticed a jar of mustard in the toilet. We must be entering the "mustard age".

It is a whole new world now that she is connecting the dots, it is as though we are conversing. She is at no loss for words, and though they may need translation she loves to talk. Most items are now called "dah" but what's interesting is that with every "dah" there is meaning behind it. I can see it in her eyes, the wheels are turning, my curious girl is absorbing everything and any day now I expect I'll hear a word. Though Lily has her pensive moments she is proving to be more garrulous than her dad, I used to jokingly refer to him as "the silent partner" as Alan's words were economically used. He had his chatty moments but he was much more the silent observer. My favorite phone messages were from Alan perched in airport bars, they were always animated and even more humorously, long-winded. Perhaps Lily is channeling those moments. Or maybe she's a talker, just like her mama.