Death & Guilt & Moving On

It’s been three weeks.

Three weeks since life ended.

Three weeks since life resumed.

And I still haven’t figured out what to say.

When the process of dying is prolonged, it messes with a person. Not just the person dying but the people who care for him as well. Your emotions trick you and betray you and guilt you and sometimes overwhelm you.

Am I sad? I think so. Do I look it? I doubt it.

Do I miss my father-in-law? I think so. But not the recent him. The him from before. Except…

That smile. His smile over the last few weeks. It was so genuine, so simple, so pure. It lit up his face like a child. It would come on suddenly like a flash of lightning across his face. I couldn’t get enough of it. It stood in such stark contrast to his personality before he got sick. He was fairly negative during the time I knew him. Not toward me. He wasn’t unloving. But his outlook on the world was glass-half-empty.

And now the guilt sets in. How could you? How could you say anything bad at all?

But I don’t see it as bad. Just fact.




I think it surrounds so much of this process. Guilt at getting my husband for five days at the expense of his father staying in a nursing home that he didn’t want to be in. Knowing that his outlook took a nose-dive the day it was time to go. But overjoyed that I got my husband anyway.

Guilt at hoping for release. Guilt at getting impatient at the rebounds.

Guilt at slipping away to see my mom and leaving my husband there to tend to his dad. Guilt at seeing my naked father-in-law as I helped change sheets and wondering if he knew or cared.

Guilt at getting put out with my husband for not appreciating all that I was doing when he was living a life I can’t even imagine.

Guilt at not bursting into tears when I found out. Guilt at being a little upset that I had been woken up to receive the news.

Guilt at taking so long to write this blog.

Guilt at how quickly I resumed “normal life” after. Guilt at not recognizing that my husband was not resuming normal life nearly as well as I thought. Guilt at failing to notice his struggle.


The kids didn’t cry.


Jane, when prompted, said she had already come to terms with it. Daryl got still for a minute and then went about what he was doing. Hal matter-of-factly stated, “Two things. First, a good thing. Daddy is coming home. Second, bad. Poppy passed away.”

How is one supposed to act when the news you knew would come finally does? It’s not a surprise. The horror and anguish and anger and great sense of unfairness of it all has already been lived out. What is there to do besides nod and continue on. Say a prayer of… what? Thanksgiving? The suffering is over. Whose suffering? Sometimes I wonder who gets more of the release. The living or the dead.


I suppose the dead.


Now we have the house and the accounts and the notifying people and decisions, decisions, decisions. My husband has become a monotonous accountant droning on to me about the various options for dealing with this or that fiduciary obligation. I know he needs me to listen, to help him decide, to be present, but…


Life doesn’t stop.


We need to spend time there. At his father’s house. Sorting through papers and clothes and artwork and… stuff. But basketball. Destination Imagination. Church. Choir. School. Work. Meetings. Bells. Laundry. Dishes.

How can life feel on pause for two and a half months yet not pause now? How did all that stuff get done while we waited, while we were apart? Why is it all overwhelming us now? When do we fit in this settling of an estate?

Despite all these words, I still haven’t figured out what to say.

To you.

To people who express their condolences.

To my husband.

To my children.

To myself.


This is our life. For now.

To say it’s been rough the last few weeks would be a major understatement. I just looked at the calendar and saw that it’s really only been 22 days since the chaos truly started. It feels like a lifetime.

We traveled back home 3 1/2 weeks ago for three reasons: participate in my husband’s grandfather’s memorial service, celebrate our children’s birthdays with my family, and visit my father-in-law. At that point, my father-in-law was living at home by himself.

The first blip of trouble came Saturday night when we were visiting with my husband’s family on his mom’s side after the service. His dad called. He was in severe pain. Off my husband went to help his dad. The level of medication hospice administered to get him back on track left him pretty out of it.

Really out of it.

As we built a ramp for his front porch on Monday, we came to a grim conclusion: he shouldn’t be left home alone to fend for himself. There was no chance that he could keep his mountain of medications straight. And so… my husband stayed and I drove the kids home, getting in after midnight.

That week was a blur of shifting responsibilities. My husband is a stay-at-home dad. To have him suddenly not around was more than just an inconvenience.  Jane had thankfully passed her driving test the previous week. Hal’s best friend’s mom agreed to pick him up from school as long as needed. Jane and her boyfriend, between the two of them, made sure Daryl made it home too.

And we just worked on surviving.

We returned to Oklahoma the next weekend, but had to wait until after halftime Friday night to leave, meaning once again I was driving hours after I would normally be asleep. But there was hope when we arrived. Poppy, as the children call him, was doing much better. Maybe Daddy could come home.

He gained some concessions from his dad – the most critical being that he would not drive. The truck was removed from the premises. Arrangements were made for a friend to come during the day. My husband would return on the weekends. We had a plan. My husband came home.

The plan lasted two days. Just enough time for him to keep his doctor’s appointment and vote early. By Wednesday afternoon, the friend was calling to say his dad was “not snapping out of it.” He shouldn’t spend the night without someone there.

My husband started packing. I left work to see him off. We hugged and hoped and wished each other well. And he was off. Again.

Circumstances changed for the weekend, making it possible for me to visit him. The kids, on the other hand, had plans – and were wearing down from all the traveling. Next thing I knew, I was making intricate plans to get each kid from place to place in my absence. The Angel Mom who was picking Hal up from school each day said he could spend the weekend with them. Daryl had a slumber party to go to. Jane had a parade to march in.

I drove back to Oklahoma, not as late on the road as other trips, but still… I was making the trip. Again. It was a lifesaver for my husband, who was having trouble keeping his days straight. His dad basically slept the entire time I was there. He was extremely unstable, falling repeatedly, and he wasn’t very coherent when awake. He was in terrible shape and the hospice nurse was predicting not much time left.

But then they put him on all liquid medications the next week, due to his difficulty swallowing, increased some dosages, reduced others, and suddenly, he was stable again. He could walk without his walker. Walk without falling. Spend a decent amount of time awake. Be a little more understandable when he spoke.

Was this the “last hurrah” before the end? Or was this the start of something more long term? We didn’t know. And this – this is probably the hardest part. The not knowing. If you know, you can plan. If you don’t know, you just wait. And react. Everything is on hold. You can commit to nothing.

And so, even though it would make four weekends in a row for me, and the kids all wilted a bit when I told them, we decided to return the following weekend. What if it was the last opportunity?

This time, we had to attend a Destination Imagination training event Saturday morning first, so we didn’t make it in until Saturday evening. The change from the previous weekend was remarkable! He seemed to be doing so much better!

Sort of.

It’s like he’s nesting or something. He keeps wanting to rearrange things in the house. He wants me to look at stuff and decide what I want. But he gets distracted in a heartbeat. So he might run dishwater and then decide he wants to move a dresser and then as you unload things from the dresser, start going through a cabinet and then leave the cabinet open and announce that he’s going to lay down. The nap might last 10 minutes before he’s up again and starting a new task.

I began to understand why my husband was exhausted. It’s hard to keep up when someone isn’t making sense. We left less than 24 hours after we arrived and my worry over my husband skyrocketed.

There are good moments. They might occur at 3:00 in the morning, but there are moments that my husband will cherish. Time spent in conversation or just in the pleasant company of his father. The full and sincere hugs. The beatific smiles.

But there are bad moments too. Moments when his dad chafes under his loss of independence and dignity. When he decides he’ll drive and his son will have to call the police to stop him. When he decides he wants to cancel hospice because he doesn’t trust them. When his mind is messing with him.

All of this wears on my husband, who is now a full time caretaker and away from the people who give him strength and stability. And it wears on me, as I worry about him. I’ve been walking in a haze for awhile now. I haven’t been feeling much at all. Emotion, that is. The stress I’m feeling stronger than ever.

This is our life. For now.

A Tale to Remember

As we sat around the breakfast table, Poppy motioned to Hal to come sit in his lap.

“Tell me a story,” he said softly as the liquid Morphine began to kick in.

“I don’t know a story,” Hal attempted to demur.

After his initial attempts to not participate with “Once upon a time, the end” and his father’s admonitions that a story has a beginning, MIDDLE, and end, he offered up the following.

“Once upon a time, there was a booger and his mother died and he was very sad.”

I adopted a sad face while everyone around the table giggled nervously and Jane commented, “Well, that escalated quickly.”

“Ok, Jane. Now it’s your turn,” said Poppy.

“What?” she asked, confused by this break from how breakfast at Poppy’s would usually go. But these are not usual times for us. They are special and sad and stressful and precious end times.

“You take the story from here,” he said.

“Um, ok. So the booger lives in a nose and that’s organic so a new mother was grown out of the walls around it and they lived happily ever after.”

“Did you actually take Biology last year?” asked her dad.

“David,” said Poppy, impervious to the extraneous commentary surrounding the storytelling, “you pick it up now. It’s your turn.”

“Well, so Bob – that’s the booger’s name…”

“No!” cried Hal, now regretting that he hadn’t provided more details in his tale. “His name is Joe!”

“You didn’t name him,” admonished his dad. “You didn’t name him on your turn so David did.”

“Ok, so Bob,” continued David, “went on a journey to find a new nose to live in.”

“Was he a on a ship? Is he a Nasal Officer?” asked my husband.

“His name should be Casileous!” said Daryl.

“So he’s a Roman Nasal Officer?”

Everyone laughed until Poppy told us it wasn’t our turn and to let David continue. Jane’s boyfriend of a year, gamely continued.

“He went looking for the biggest nose he could find…”

“And then he found Mount Rushmore!” said Jane.

“Yes, he got to Mount Rushmore and crawled inside and was so happy.”

“Crazy Horse would be better. I think his nose is bigger,” said my husband. “You know, he came across an Italian booger named Luigi – he was a loogie…”

“Ok, it’s not your turn son. Daryl, take over the story.”

“Well, Bob shot out of the nose on a big sneeze and landed in a trashcan in an alley. And this guy came by and his name was Barry.”

Everyone groaned as Daryl’s obsession with the Flash was woven into the story.

“But he’s a life-size booger!” complained Hal, increasingly agitated yet fascinated at the deviations from his original idea.

“It was a Titan’s nose that he blew out of and it was a really big trashcan,” clarified Daryl. “He began to crawl out of the trashcan…”

My husband began contributing to the point that his dad told him to pick up the story.

“Well, Robert Casileous Luigi the Third, a Roman Nasal Officer did not crawl out of the trash can. He ate it. In one big bite. And he took on all the qualities of the trash and he was big and strong and impervious to Barry’s powers so it didn’t matter how fast the man was.”

“I’m going to make an injection here,” Poppy said. “Tell us about the knife.”

I was confused because I had no recollection of a knife being mentioned at all. But my husband, having spent all week with his sometimes very loopy father, didn’t miss a beat.

“It was large and green with a wide handle…”

“And it was made of porcelain,” I added.

“Yes! So it could pass through security and you could take it wherever you wanted. He used the knife to begin peeling an apple.”

He tried to pass the story off but was reprimanded by his dad who sternly informed him that he didn’t get to choose the transitions and he should continue.

“Well, he peeled the apple and shared it with all the creatures in the alley. The Daryls and the Hals and everyone else were happy.”

“Ok, your turn,” my ailing father-in-law said to me.

“Bob left the dark shade of the alley and entered the bright sunshine. His gelatinous skin began to sparkle.”

“Because he’s a vampire?” everyone asked.

“Yes, Bob is a vampire booger. And as he traveled along in the sunshine, it was very, very hot and he began to melt.”

Suddenly, I was hit by spraying liquid. My father-in-law, sitting next to me and listening intently to the story, had found a melting booger vampire extremely funny. Caught off-guard, he had just sprayed his coffee across the table – just like you see in the movies. Everyone began laughing as we cleaned up the mess.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just in all the different ways I’ve heard of vampires dying, melting has never been one of them. I wasn’t expecting that. Go on.”

“As Bob melted, he began to run down the street.”

“You mean run? Like with legs?” asked my husband.

“Ok, he oozed. As Bob melted, he oozed down the street and as streets curve down toward the curbs, he oozed to the curb and…”

“Not all streets do that,” he said.

“Well this one does. He oozed to the curb and then dripped down into the sewer where…”

“He met Donatello!” said Daryl.

“Or Splinter and he began to learn,” someone added.

“He dripped down into the sewer,” I repeated. “and plopped onto a wise rat. And as the effects of the sun wore off. Bob solidified on the rat and became a rat-shaped booger…”

“Who knew Kung Fu,” finished my husband.

“But what happened to Splinter?” asked Jane.

“He became part of Bob the super booger,” I said.

“He was assimilated,” added my husband.

The story ended as my father-in-law stood and thanked us. Later, he told my husband how much he loves “your family” before telling me he needed his oxygen and we worked to get him into his hospital bed.

He’s sleeping now. I can see him from where I sit. The rest of the family is outside, sanding and painting the handrails for the ramp we built last week, while I try to capture the details of our morning before I lose them in my tired, stressed-out, only half-functioning brain. Then I’ll fold his laundry and dispose of the rice grits he prepared but then decided not to eat.

You see, Poppy is dying. His cancer has won the battle on how long he gets to live. Now we are fighting instead to spend as much time with him as we can. We are fighting the cancer and the pain it causes him. We are fighting the pain medications and the mental confusion they cause. We are fighting against our physical and emotional limitations. We are fighting to make what time we have left matter.

Life has become simple. Yet harder than any period we’ve gone through so far. What is important and what is not is obvious. New pastor at church? There will be time enough to get to know him later. The tiles falling apart in our hall bathroom? Everyone can shower in the master bath. A fence for the dog? She’ll just have to spend time in the crate when we aren’t home, which is increasingly often. Our flailing budget? My responsibilities at church? Bell choir? Destination Imagination? Even work?

Those things are all important. But they can all wait. We are dealing with bigger and harder things. Can Poppy be by himself or does my husband need to stay again – like he did last week? Can we keep him safe and comfortable if we are in the next state over? How long will we spend in this state of being? How long can we hold up?

{Note: I wrote this on Sunday, October 30th but didn’t get to finish it and was always too tired to revisit it until now. The kind of tired that sleep doesn’t seem to erase. Of course, much has happened since then. Two weeks is a long time in the situation we find ourselves. Some of the questions I posed at the end of this post have been answered. Some still hang in the air. Maybe I’ll write more soon. Or maybe I’ll keep floating in an exhausted, tense haze.}


Regarding my Mother – Edith

My mother’s name is not Edith.She does not have a pension with Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust. She is not dead.

I’d be OK if her name were Edith although since my middle name is her first name, maybe I wouldn’t. It doesn’t flow well between my first and last. I’d be OK if she had a Boilermaker-Blacksmith pension – especially if it meant she’d go ahead and retire. I’d NOT be OK if she were dead. Not at all.

Fortunately for me, she is not.

The same is apparently not true for another woman who shares my name.

In July, I received the following letter. I initially thought it was a scam, but as I read on, it seemed unduly complicated and put considerable burden on me to collect the money. It was a pretty stupid scam, if that’s what it was.

Suggesting that I hire Legal Counsel isn’t something the average scammer does. Such an act is counterproductive to their objectives. It also didn’t give me an “act now or lose it forever” ultimatum or instruct me how to wire administrative fees or create any sense of urgency in me at all. Not to mention calling my mother Edith, when her name is most certainly not Edith, is not very convincing.


So if not a scam, then what was it? I Googled the Trust and didn’t find any indications of it being dubious or untrustworthy. I Googled Edith’s name and didn’t find it linked to any scams. Finally I Googled Edith’s name and mine (first and last) together and came across an interesting find.

Edith and her husband, either Fritz or Harold (or maybe one was her husband and the other her son), had a place of residence in a town not too far from me. The website also showed that there was a resident with my exact name there. First, middle, last. Another me less than an hour away. Her husband was also a resident, although his name was not the same as my husband’s name. Thankfully. That would have been too much.

So it must be this other me that Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust actually wanted to get in touch with. Not the me me, after all! Intrigued by this information, I resolved to call the other me.

A month went by without me getting around to it. We were gone for a portion of that time. I forgot about it another portion. I spent some time imagining how the conversation would go, though. Would the other me think the me me was attempting to scam her? Oh, the irony.

“Hello? Is this Jane Anne Doe? It is?! Hi, my name is Jane Anne Doe too!… No, really, it is… I’m serious…So I got this letter in the mail and I think it was supposed to go to you. I’d like to send it to you if you don’t mind giving me your address… No, really… no, wait! Don’t hang up!… Really, I’m not trying to scam you!… Wait… Is your mother’s name Edith?… It’s on the letter – that’s how I know. Has she passed away?… No, I haven’t been looking in your records… Really, it’s not a scam.”

Eventually, when resurrecting my to-do list notebook, I wrote down “Call the other me” on Sunday’s to-do list. Late Sunday, I transferred it to Monday’s to-do list. I got so little done on Monday that I just wrote Tuesday under Monday and kept the same list. Didn’t call her Tuesday either. What if after 8:00 was too late?

By Wednesday, I was determined. I would call the other me. I informed the kids I was making a phone call and to keep it down. I went to my room and closed the door. I took a deep breath, excited and nervous to finally be calling Edith’s daughter – because I had absolutely convinced myself that it was her and that this was her number.

But when I finally hit the green button to place the call, I was told the number wasn’t in service. I sat there on my bed, staring at the letter, thinking Wow. That’s kinda a let-down. Now what?

That number had been other me and her husband’s number, so I tried the number that was listed for Edith and Fritz and Harold. That number was disconnected too. I Googled poor Edith again. I found her obituary on a tribute page. Here’s what it said:

Edith was born on July 16, 1927 and passed away on Thursday, February 17, 2011. Edith was a resident of xxxxxxx, Texas.

And that was it. Her middle name was included on the header at the top of the page but there was no other information. No survivors. No indication of where to make a memorial. Nothing at all.

She was 83, making her daughter definitely older than me. Interestingly enough, when I imagined talking to the other me, I imagined her about my age. But, no, other me was probably about my mom’s age or a bit younger. Had she died too? Or moved away?

I think I’m done playing detective although I’m still insanely curious about Edith and other me. The letter tells me to write to the Pension Department if I’m not going to pursue getting paid this money. If I could send an email, I would. But if I can’t even write to my own grandmother, put a stamp on the letter, and get it in the mail, what’s the likelihood of me writing to this trust? Besides, they told me to give contact information for another person and the only contact information I’ve got for other me isn’t any good.

Maybe Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust sent the letter out to other possible descendants of Edith. Maybe there are lots of other me’s across the country. Or other Fritzes or Harolds. Or maybe they’ll just have to put the $3,121.10 back in their coffers. Either way, I wish them well.

Caretaker Crash Course

I am not a caretaker. I have known this in the abstract for a long time – in the same way that I have known I am not a skydiver or a bungee jumper or an educator of small children. I fear I am missing the fundamental skill sets needed to do any of these things well.

I am not patient. I am not tolerant of incapacity. I am not sympathetic for long periods of time. I am self-centered. I do not know how to converse with people of significantly lower mental capacity, whether due to birth, circumstances, medication, or age. I do not know how to act. I am not comfortable.

This is not me being overly harsh with myself. I know I’m a good person. I know I have many positive attributes. But I also know where my strengths lie and where they do not. They do not lie in care-taking.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get to pick the roles we fill. Today, my husband had oral surgery. Two wisdom teeth removed from the left side of his mouth. General anesthesia.

He took his pill as directed before we left the house to drop off the kids. As usual, he drove. After dropping them off and picking up some breakfast for me, we stopped at the grocery store to get his soft foods. I asked if he needed me to go in or if I could stay outside and finish eating.

“Um. I think I can do it but it might be good for you to start driving. If I don’t come out in a few minutes, you should maybe come in looking for me.” I looked up surprised. I wasn’t expecting to be needed yet, but the pill had left him feeling like he had had two large glasses of wine on an empty stomach. “My brain is still processing normally, but I don’t really care what it’s coming up with.”

Needless to say, I ate my biscuit as we walked the grocery store aisles and then I drove him to the surgeon.

I had brought some cards to fill out for people I know who are suffering right now. (Thanks again to the friend who taught me the value of writing.) As I wrote them and worried about my abilities to fulfill my duties for my husband’s care when he came out, I thought about two of the letter recipients. Both were older women who had been caring for their ailing husbands for a long time. One had just lost hers and the other was preparing to.

This awaits me in the future, I thought. Likely, I will someday be caring for my husband long term as I am today.

I’m not going to lie. It scared the you-know-what out of me. Shoot, even just today scares me. I’m not used to being the one in charge. Yes, I am a modern, educated, independent woman. I am the bread winner. I am responsible for many important things at work.

But I’ve also been married to my high school sweetheart for twenty-one years. Since shortly after I moved out of my mother’s home. He is strong and confident and capable. I haven’t had to pay attention to where we are going or what needs to be done. If nothing else, he’s always been there to bounce my ideas off of. I’m a waffler, not a decision maker. But now I’m in charge.

I listened to the doctor give me instructions and, incredibly, managed to come up with important and relevant questions. I waited for the nurse to guide him down the hall. As I reached out for his other arm, she asked me if I had him.

“I guess so, but if he goes down, I don’t think there’s anything I can do to stop him.” My husband has a solid 100 pounds on me. I thought of the absurdity of this petite woman leading this mountain of a man outside. Got him?! As long as he keeps walking on his own, I can guide him to the car, but that’s all I’ve got!

This again paralleled what I’ve heard the older women in my congregation talk about. Husbands falling in bathtubs and having to call sons to help get them out. Not being able to lift them out of bed or help lower them into a recliner. I was likely getting a taste of our old age together. Assuming we are lucky enough to get there.

When we got in the car, I told him that the office lady had suggested picking up the crushed ice at Sonic to use for his ice pack. He commented that it didn’t seem like it had been an hour. I reminded him he had been sleeping. He nodded.

I turned down the main road in town toward Sonic and he asked me where we were going. “To pick up ice at Sonic, remember?”

He stared out the windshield. “Can I get a slush?”

“You can’t drink anything out of a straw, remember?”

He made spooning motions with his hand. “You want to eat it with a spoon?” He nodded. “Ok. What flavor?”

The flavor conversation didn’t go very well. Actually, he didn’t give a flavor at all. Despite having grown up getting slushes at Sonic, he needed to see the menu, where he then chose the same flavor he always chooses and that I had recommended to him at the beginning.

Then he mumbled something to the effect of, “Don’t they still have sandwiches?” I think he might have said “ice cream sandwiches”, but I wasn’t sure.

“You can’t have a sandwich, remember?”

He used his hands to pantomime cutting it up in little pieces and shoving it in the far side of his mouth. “I can cut it up and suck on it,” he said.

“You aren’t sucking on sandwiches. We bought you plenty of soft foods.” He let the request go.

When the lady at the window handed me the bag of ice and the slush, he asked, “We didn’t get any ice cream?”

“No, we didn’t get any ice cream,” I said as I pulled away. “Do you want some ice cream?”

“Ice cream would be nice.”

“You want me to stop at Braum’s?”

“Sicilian Orange would be nice. We have eggs?”

“Yes, we have eggs.”

I headed down the street to Braum’s, wondering how strictly they really meant the instruction that said to take the patient straight home.

As I pulled into the parking lot, he said, “Sicilian Orange would be nice.”

“Ok, honey. Just wait here.”

Ok, I guess it’s not that I can’t do this job. Or even that I can’t do it well. I can do it. I can even smile at his loopy comments. What really has me down, besides the weight of responsibility, is the loneliness. How fun is it to smile at his comments if I can’t share them with him?

I know this is just a day or two. I know that. But I keep thinking about my older friends who have been doing this day in and day out. That man has been their partner in life for years – decades! How impossibly hard is it to do all this work and not be able to share the burden with your spouse? For your spouse to be the burden?

We visited one of the women’s husbands in the hospital. He had been asleep for days and wouldn’t wake up. “I just want him to wake up,” she said. “It’d all be ok if he’d just wake up.”

I felt her pain but I didn’t really get it until now. Loneliness and helplessness, and the desire to have it lifted… even just briefly… by that person you love more than anyone else. That person you’ve shared so much with. That person who lights up your room. Children and parents and friends can help, but they aren’t him. Without him, you feel lost and adrift.

My husband will be back in action soon. I really feel for those women and men who have lost or are in the process of losing their life partners. What a scary journey. I know from my mother’s example that there is hope and light on the other side, but it is still a scary journey. You are in my prayers and if we know each other personally, please know you can call me. Anytime.

She’s Growing Up

Dear Papa Bill,

I was at work today, just sitting there writing a little program to collect statistics on CPU usage.  Nothing exciting at all, really, but I was content.  A small portion of my mind that wasn’t needed for focusing on the task at hand, that part dedicated to singing earworm songs and worrying about upcoming activities, was pondering how much Jane has grown up.

She made the school volleyball team and she’s really fired up about it.  She’s still playing the viola but I guess you were gone before she had even started that.  It’s hard to believe how much time has passed.  Now she’s in the band too, playing the flute.  It’s her favorite class.  She’s in all Pre-AP courses and working hard at them.  But it’s volleyball that I was thinking about as I toiled away at my keyboard.

When her Daddy took her to order her school-color workout clothes, she saw the letter jackets and was so very excited.  She can’t wait for the opportunity to letter in volleyball.  Then a couple of days ago, they poked their heads in the gym to watch the high school team play.  Each girl has a large poster with her picture on the wall of the gym.  Jane’s face lit up.  She’s already dreaming about being on one of those posters.

She works hard.  She’s not the best girl on the team but she’s big and strong and plays well.  We are anticipating traveling for games for many years to come.  And so it was that I was imagining mom and her boyfriend standing at the edge of the court, waiting to congratulate her on a game well-played.  Suddenly, it wasn’t Hugh standing next to mom; it was you.

I was immediately in tears.  My throat tightened up and hurt.  I turned my back to my cubicle door and grabbed a tissue.  I can’t even remember the last time I missed you so deeply; I thought I was well and truly past all that.

You would have been so proud of her.  You never showed a lot of emotion but in that little mental image, I saw the small smile that would have been on your face.  It felt so real.  So incredibly, achingly real.  You were special to her and I know she was to you as well, the first grandchild.  I never imagined that you wouldn’t be around to watch her grow up.  And then once you were gone, after awhile, I never thought about what you were missing.  Until today.  When I sat sobbing over what will never be while running CPU statistics on my screen and hoping no one would notice.

Some people believe they know for sure that our departed loved ones are watching from above.  I don’t know that.  I hope, but I don’t know.  In that brief moment, though, you were there and you were smiling.  Thank you for making it to one of her games, even if only in my imagination.

I love you,

Your daughter

Your Laugh

Dear Papa Bill,

I thought about you a lot tonight. It was my first year to participate in Relay for Life since shortly after Hal was born. I lined up next to the track for the Survivor Walk and before the first survivor reached me, I was fighting back tears. You were a survivor for quite awhile but eventually cancer took you from us. I was 32. Jane was 5. Daryl was 2.

Mom moved on. She’s happy again. I think you’d be pleased to know that. It wasn’t an easy trial to pass through but she’s doing alright. She has a good man in her life. He knew you and respects your memory. Five years ago, they sold the house that we lived in all those years and moved across town.

I was pregnant with Hal and picked the move day to share that with her. It might not have been the best idea I’ve ever had. Telling her that news on such a fragile day. She burst into tears, which surprised me… until she explained why. It was you. You wouldn’t ever meet Hal. Wouldn’t hold him, smile at him, make him laugh.

That was one of the last things that you and I talked about, there in the hospital when we all knew it was the end. You wanted your grandchildren to remember you. You were pragmatic about it. You knew that Aaron’s kids and Daryl were too young.

And so it was that I found myself walking the track tonight, holding Daryl’s hand. He asked me why I was sad. I told him that I missed you and then he asked why.

“Because he was my Daddy,” I said.

“I thought Grandpa Ed was your Dad.”

“He was. And is. Papa Bill was my step-dad, but really he was my daddy too.”


“Do you remember him?” I held my breath. I was pretty sure I knew the answer.

“Not really.” {long pause} “Wait. Didn’t he have like a little beard? And glasses! I remember his glasses.”

Maybe he just remembers you from pictures or maybe he really remembers you, but I’ll take the comfort he threw my way tonight.

Later on, I was walking the Luminaria Walk with Jane. We walked hand-in-hand as I thought about you. And Aunt Barbara. And the kids’ godmother. And other people. But mostly you.

I thought about how we were so close when I was little and how we had grown apart when I married. I thought about how you weren’t perfect, how I had struggled with that once I was old enough to see it. I thought about how much you loved me and Aaron and mom. I remembered when I scratched my initials and yours in the wallpaper of the bathroom with a plus sign in between and “= love 4ever” after it. And then I began to sob.

Jane wrapped her arm around me and we continued to walk in a silent hug. I was grateful for the dark that hid my tears but even more grateful for the beautiful, wonderful girl walking beside me. I battled inside about whether to ask her the same question I asked Daryl. I was scared to hear the response.

You see, when we talked that last time, you knew Daryl wouldn’t remember you. It hurt, I could tell, but you accepted it. It was vitally important to you, however, that Jane remember. You were confident that she was old enough. Your greatest fear was that she wouldn’t. You didn’t want to be forgotten.

She remembered you intensely for a very long time. She’d burst into tears at random moments and tell us that she missed her Papa Bill. For a couple of years, she was very sensitive about sad events. She cried watching Because of Winn-Dixie because it reminded her of losing you. Now, everyone cries at the end of Old Yeller, but when she cried, she was thinking of you.

Most everyone moves on, given enough time…especially if they are young, and eventually she did too. I can still hear her little preschool voice saying “Papa Bill” – she said “Bill” more like “Bea-ul”. But now, her life is full of many things. I didn’t know if she remembered you or not.

So I kept warring with myself on whether to ask her. To know that she did would warm my heart. To know that she didn’t would break it.

She let go of my shoulders and took my hand, mumbling an apology about it being too hot. I tentatively asked her if she remembered you.

“Barely,” she responded, with a careful look at my face. “I remember what he looked like. And I remember his laugh.”

She remembers your laugh. I think that if she was destined to remember only one thing, that was the best thing to remember. She remembers your laugh and I hope that’s enough. I love you and miss you.

Your daughter,