Monday, November 28, 2005

Time Passages

Dear Rachel,

It's been exactly six months since you died. I remember that day (every little detail) as if it were yesterday. Hardly seems very long ago, yet in some ways it feels like I've been carrying this grief around forever. How are the next 50 years going to feel?

I know it's normal for time to pass quickly, the older one gets, but these past six months have had a strange sense of telescopic movement. The other night we were commenting on how we both continue to look at the phone table, checking to see if we have any messages. Old habits die hard, I suppose. There isn't an answering machine on the table. We dropped our land line back in July! But the strange thing is that Rod said something about how we'd dropped it several months ago and I honestly thought it was just last month. Where has the time gone? Not only does it feel like we didn't have much of a fall, but I have no idea what happened to our summer. It really is a blur. I think we spent most of it either numb or crying.

After your death, I remember deliberately keeping track of the days, thinking it's been four days since you died... five... ten... Soon it became the number of weeks and then months. Each milestone gets further and further apart from the last, somehow making this new existence for us seem oddly normal.

The first couple of months after you died, I'd wake up every Saturday morning and re-live all that happened to us on May 28th. I'd look at the clock as I'd get dressed or fix my coffee, thinking about what we were doing at that exact time on that awful morning. And then one day I realized Saturday had come and almost gone and I hadn't looked at the clock! I'd let that particular anniversary of your death go by unnoticed! That scared the hell out of me. I was terrified that I'd slowly begin to forget not only the details of that day but the details of you as well.

I don't think we'll ever get over losing you, but we will learn to live with the emptiness and sorrow. Time does help and I do see that Rod & I (and Amy) are beginning to heal - to have some sort of regular life together again. It's certainly not the same as it was, but it's not filled with the agonizing pain we felt in those early months. We're joking and laughing with friends and each other and we've begun to get out more, enjoying dinner parties and new restaurants. Amy has Paris to look forward to next May. Rod's mind wanders to the pile of nuts & bolts (oops, I mean motorcycle!) in the garage, anxious to get it cleaned up and running. I'm beginning to think about the new perennial bed I want to plant next spring. And maybe we'll finally get the wallpaper stripped from the kitchen!

Time will pass, but you won't be forgotten. You're forever in our hearts and minds. Not just on Saturdays or the 28th, but always.



Friday, November 25, 2005

Skipping Christmas

Dear Rachel,

It's a beautiful, balmy day in Lincoln. We've just hit 60 degrees and the sun is shining. Of course this means that all across the city people are outside taking advantage of the unseasonable weather and getting their Christmas decorations up before the snow arrives (tomorrow night). Rod and I puttered in the yard, raking leaves, cutting back perennials, ran the lawnmower (to drain the gas tank), and topped off our windshield wiper fluid tanks. I think we're basically ready for winter, but we're definitely not ready for Christmas. I have no desire to put up lights or wreaths or garland. I wasn't planning to put the tree up, but Amy would like to see the inside of the house decorated. She said it's going to be a very hard Christmas without you (and Shaylyn) here, but it'd be even worse if we ignored the whole thing. I suppose she has a point, but today as I see our neighbors out on ladders, cheerfully calling out to one another, I'd just as soon leave everything boxed up until next Christmas when the pain isn't (hopefully) quite so intense.

I have no idea what I'll do when I open the storage container that holds our stockings....



Joy and Grief

Dear Rachel,

Yesterday was tough. Much more so than I imagined it would be. We know the holiday season is one of the toughest milestones to work through and all I can say is I hope next year is a lot better.

I found the following passage in a book I've been reading and keep turning back to read it again and again:

"It used to be, on many days, that I could close my eyes and sense myself to be perfectly happy. I have wondered lately if that feeling will ever come back. It's a worthy thing to wonder, but maybe being perfectly happy is not really the point. Maybe that is only some modern American dream of the point, while the truer measure of humanity is the distance we must travel in our lives, time and again, 'twixt two extremes of passion - joy and grief,' as Shakespeare put it. However much I've lost, what remains to me is that I can still speak to name the things I love." (Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver).

I remember not too long ago telling Rod that I was very happy. Maybe even perfectly happy. Life was good. (Both of us even have t-shirts with those exact words - wonder if we'll ever wear them again.) You were about to graduate from college. Amy had returned to Texas and was settling back into her college career. Shaylyn was 99% potty-trained. ;) All was right in our world and we had no complaints (well, except for the Bronco that kept leaking oil or something all over the street and garage!).

And in the blink of a moment, our lives were shattered.

While I didn't really experience any joy yesterday, I did find some enjoyment in the distraction of being with Maddie and Emily (and their parents - whom I am very thankful for!). The girls made me smile and laugh and for a few hours I wasn't feeling as sad as I had been during the day.

I can still speak to name the things I love:

My best friend and husband, Rod.
My beautiful, intelligent and funny daughter, Amy.
My sweet, genius-baby granddaughter, Shaylyn.
My wonderful, loving, generous and supportive parents, Mom & Bill and Dad & June.
All of my family and friends - so many who have done so, so much for me this year.
A beautiful, warm home in a great community.
Books, music, fresh ground coffee, chocolate, wine, flowers, the laughter of children, a letter in the mailbox.
Smiles and hugs from my nieces.

And you.

Even though you're not here, you're in my heart and I love you. Always will.

I know that one day all the memories I have of you will bring me joy rather than sadness. And while I may never feel perfectly happy again, I will strive to find joy in those things I love and cherish and never take any for granted.



Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shower The People (You Love With Love)

Dear Rachel,

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. I can't remember the last time you celebrated with us. Certainly not since we moved from San Diego to Nebraska in 1992. You always came out to see us for Christmas, but either spent Thanksgiving with your mom & grandparents in San Diego or out in Virginia Beach. So tomorrow really shouldn't feel any different than any other year. Except, of course, it will. It already does. The holiday season has begun and not surprisingly it's affecting my mood.

I think of you every single day and almost every waking moment of the day. It's not an obsessive feeling, but you are always in my thoughts. More so than Amy. Or Shaylyn. Or my parents. Or even Rod. It's as if you've taken up residence on my shoulder, gently nudging me to get my attention. A presence, some would say. Are you there? Are you making sure I don't forget about you? Trust me, that will never, ever happen.

Yesterday was a bad day. I was out running errands and decided to stop at a little gift shop that I used to take Maddie into when she lived in that particular neighborhood. The woman who owns the store is just the nicest person. About my age and someone I've always felt would be a good friend. She always takes time to chat with me, asking about Maddie & Emily if they weren't with me. She met Amy one Christmas and has asked about her every time since then. She never met you or Shaylyn, but she knew of you and never failed to ask to see the latest pictures of The Little Princess and her mommy.

I've driven by the shop several times since last May and just wasn't ready to venture inside and have to explain the sad news. Rod and I both struggle with this issue - at what point do we just say hi and respond to "How's it going?" with "OK, how are you?" rather than spend the next twenty minutes talking about you. If it's someone I know, but not well enough to already know the sad news, it can go either way. By not saying anything about your death, it feels like I'm ignoring the past 24 years of your life, wiping your existence off the board. But do I really want to bring it all up and go through the emotional drain that always follows? Is it cathartic or self-inflicted torture?

I had decided not to say anything, but of course my feeble attempt to be in control failed when she asked about Maddie & Emily. I wound up telling her about Chris' cancer and after a heavy sigh, went on to talk about your murder. We both cried and she hugged me and it was emotionally draining, but it felt like the right thing to do -- to be honest with someone who's a bit more than an acquaintance, yet not a friend (I don't even know her last name). I don't feel compelled to tell a cashier at the grocery store or a waiter at a restaurant, but in a situation like this I think I made the right choice.

Probably ruined her evening, too, but she did say that she was going to go home and tell her two daughters how much she loves them and give them both a hug and kiss.

I wonder if she truly realizes how very lucky she is.

All my love,


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

We Can't Come To The Phone

Dear Rach,

You spoke to me yesterday. It wasn't in a dream and it wasn't simply your voice inside my head. And, no, I wasn't imagining it. I honestly heard your voice loud and clear with my own ears. Actually, it was with one ear. I happened to be calling Shaylyn to tell her about our first snowfall this winter, but she and Debbie weren't home yet.

So I got you. On the answering machine.

Debbie hasn't changed the outgoing message and I can hardly blame her. I can't bring myself to remove your name and number from my cellphone listings. I can't erase your name, address or phone numbers from my address book. I can't delete your email address in my computer any more than I could throw away the dozens of emails, letters and cards you've written to me over the years. I still have gift ideas jotted down in a little notebook (things like a Henkel Santoku Knife, amethyst earrings, vanilla-scented lotion from Bath & Body Works). Things I'd planned to buy for you for Christmas this year. I even have a birthday card I found late last winter that I thought you'd find funny and have it stashed in my desk drawer.

Everywhere I turn, there you are. I'm surrounded by beautiful pictures of you by yourself. You and Shaylyn. You and Amy. You and your dad. Even you and me (a rarity since I'm usually the one behind the camera). You and your gorgeous smile and dark brown eyes which remind me so much of your daddy's and Grams'. Not only can I not bear to remove those pictures from the refrigerator, but I've added more recent ones taken at your graduation and the days following -- when we saw you for the very last time. Ever. Will these pictures remain on our 'frig for the next 40 years, as Amy & Shaylyn's get updated? How can I bring myself to ever take them down?

I am constantly reminded of your love for me and your dad in the gifts that help make this house a home. A wooden plaque with a simple drawing of a cat to symbolize a kind-hearted woman lives here (oh, how your kindness touched me when I opened that gift!); a small ceramic birdbath that sits on a bookshelf; the "My Grandma Loves Me" frame with Shaylyn's 2nd birthday picture; the Russian nesting dolls that Maddie loves to play with ("Uncle Rod's people"); your dad's pocket watch engraved with "I'm thinking of you all the time. Love, Peachoo".

So you see, I can hardly blame Debbie for keeping you alive on her answering machine. While you were brutally taken from us on May 28th, we all refuse to erase any single part of you that remains for us to hold on to. Tightly. Forever.

I may just have to call Shaylyn in the middle of the day more often (even though I know she's at preschool). I wonder if I'll ever stop catching my breath the minute the answering machine starts to play.

Before my brain realizes it is the machine and not really you after all.

Before I realize I can't say, "Hey, Rach. Give me a call as soon as you get home. I have a couple of questions about booking your flights for Christmas. Oh, and I want to ask you about gift ideas for Shaylyn. Love ya! Bye."



Sunday, November 06, 2005

Happy Anniversary Baby, Got You On My Mind

Dear Rach,

Seventeen years ago today your dad and I were married. I can't imagine being with anyone else. Rod is truly my better half. He laughs more easily. He's much more generous and forgiving than I. He's a kind, gentle soul and I find such comfort in the life we share. I constantly fall in love with him over and over again. He's the best friend I've ever had and I love being his wife.

I've been thinking a lot about Rod's blog entry from the other day. He said he'd give back everything he's ever owned and everything he might ever own, just to have you back. And you know what? In spite of what I just wrote in the previous paragraph, if I could (and I truly mean this), I'd trade places with you right now, just so he could have you back in his life. I know how much he loves me and I know he'd miss me terribly, but you were the light of his life, his pride & joy, and I wish I could do something, anything, to bring you back. After seventeen years, it's difficult to think of gifts for each other. We tend to buy what we want or need when we see it. And all your daddy wants and needs this year is you. So instead of the cards and nice dinner out, I wish with all my heart that my gift to him could be you.



Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tell Me 'Bout The Good Old Days

Dear Rach,

As I was walking yesterday, I thought about how much you enjoyed music. Not unusual. Most people do.

Remember singing along with Grams? Oh, you must've been a beautiful baby, cuz baby look at you now....

And with your daddy? Had an old dog and his name was Blue. Betcha five dollars he's a good dog, too...

Remember when we took you to see the Judds at Sea World? You had to be around 8 or 9. I'd planned it for weeks and couldn't wait to see the look on your face when you realized the surprise. Remember walking around, wondering why in the world so many attractions were closed? It was early evening and the only thing open was the kid's area where you played in the plastic ball pit. No Shamu show. No seal show. Nothing. And why were there so many people wearing Judd t-shirts (maybe I noticed and worried that you would, but you didn't - you were just having a good time with Dad & Les). I even remember walking through the parking lot toward the entrance and noticing a gorgeous bus that obviously belonged to someone famous. I can't remember if you noticed, but if you did, you had no idea who owned it. I don't think there was any signage to give away our secret. If there was, we managed to distract you.

I remember how you squealed with joy when you learned the secret and how you stood on your chair, singing and dancing along with Wynonna and Naomi. You knew the words to every single song! Definitely a fun and memorable night.

I will always think of you when I hear a song by the Judds - if I can ever listen to one again, that is.

By the way, your genius baby is singing Hebrew songs in preschool these days. Of course that shouldn't surprise you. It's in her blood.

I love you.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Pomp and Circumstance

Dear Rach,

Today your dad wrote about how proud he is of you (damn, I still have trouble using the past tense! Is that denial? Or perhaps it's because I think Rod is still proud, as am I).

I think of that beautiful day in early May (almost 6 months ago to the day) when you graduated from ODU and how proud I was of you and your fierce determination to succeed in spite of the many obstacles along your way. I knew you could do it! I cheered you along from the very beginning and tried to keep you motivated each month with my little gifts of encouragement. I so wanted you to acheive what I never managed to do when faced with those same obstacles.

Do you know how much it meant to me to discover my first note of encouragement to you in your wallet? It made me feel like I had made a difference in your life and wasn't simply your dad's wife that you grew to like and not simply tolerate. And I know that it was even more than that. You and I actually became friends during the last couple of years of your life, talking about books, famous artists, potty-training, recipes, etc. You even helped me, telling me that Amy would eventually come around and be close to me, as you had with your mom.

I miss you so much. Every time I go into the kitchen to fix a nice dinner I think of you, remembering how you'd ask me for recipes for your favorite dishes. Or chatting with me about Rachel Ray. Or sharing dieting tips from the South Beach Diet. Or simply hanging out with me while I cut up stuff for salad, keeping me company when you could've easily stayed glued to the tv or up in the guest room (what a difference from that awful summer when you were 13 or 14!).

I miss your chatty phone calls where you'd gush on and on, proud mommy that you were, telling me all about what Shaylyn had done or said, feeling your happiness in motherhood. You were such a damn good mommy. I told you that constantly and I hope you believed me. You were a natural. And yet, in spite of your ability and confidence, you still let me make suggestions and even called me that one night when Shaylyn had a high fever, wanting to know if you were overreacting (or underreacting). You have no idea how nice it was to feel needed by you.

I miss being able to talk to you about Amy. It's been so hard on her, losing you, and if it'd been anyone else, I would be able to call you and ask you how she's coping and trust you to tell me what I need to know without you breaking any confidences with her. You two were so close and could lean on each other as sisters should.

I'm rambling and need to go start dinner. As always, you've been in my thoughts all day, especially during my walk a little bit ago. I was listening to my IPod and heard Don McLean's *Vincent* and wondered if it was a sign. I want to believe in that possibility. I wish I believed in Heaven...