Chapters: House

I let go today. Didn't take a single picture of the house. Didn't need any. Hasn't really been mine since we moved out four years ago, except it has. It just hasn't lived inside me, or me in it. We've let go of each other…slowly, as you do with these things.

I built the memories from the inside, all of them. His first steps at 8 months old. Bringing her home from the hospital on rodeo weekend, rain pouring down in the middle of June, gladiolus blooming halfway up the picture window.

The DOJ sitting in our living room, just after your diagnosis.

The walls we knocked down and worlds we opened up.

And your spirit leaving us at the end of that long hallway, all of us with you. The window we had to open before you'd go.

Now the slate is ready for a new run; another family can paint their memories on the walls. They'll cover ours, wonder why we did what we did to that sixty-year-old house, just like we wondered why beer cans fell out of the walls we opened up.

Sometimes you don't know why, or don't want to.

Our home now is the place we've chosen for ourselves, the place that chose us, and the place where we are together—the one with the bitchin' bathtub, wild turkeys, a crazy old diving board, and Neiman Marcus just a skip away. A girl needs her shoes.

Thank you for another chapter; I'd never have written it without you. I wish you were here to write the next one.

Double-Deck Solitaire

My grandmother taught me. My hands were barely big enough to shuffle the two decks together.

Hours. I'd play for hours. Late at night when I couldn't sleep. When my brain wouldn't shut off. It never shut off.

My grandmother did crossword puzzles in cursive. Pencil. Never erasing her mistakes, but writing over them.

I did mine in ink. Now I have an app for that. For late at night for when my brain won't shut off.

Words, numbers, colors, lines. Order in things outside me. Waiting patiently for the order inside to return. There's an app for that.

Self Care

I spent the entire day wishing, willing, begging myself to stop being depressed.

Stop crying, I said.

I kept crying.

I dragged myself out of bed.

Myself crawled back under the covers.

I pulled myself into the bath.

This will make you feel better, I said.

I cried in the bath.

I pushed myself into the shower.

Try this, I said.

I tried.

I told myself I was clean and could go to the store now.

Myself crawled back under the covers and cried.

I texted a friend to make plans. The friend was busy.

See, said myself. Nobody notices. Nobody cares.

Seriously? I asked. They're busy. It doesn't mean they don't care.

Myself wouldn't listen. Depression plugged my ears.

Here, I'll turn on the Happy Light.

Fuck the Happy Light, I said.

You know what?

What?

I love you.

I know.

I'll email the doctor. Feeling like this is bullshit. Crawl back under the covers. It's gonna be okay. I promise.

Help

That's all he said.

No question mark. But that's what it was. Questions spilling from his soul, from that place that got split open and made raw.

How do I do this? How do I keep breathing while she's dying right in front of me? What do I do first? Last? Today? How do I make time stop? Why is this happening? Why her? Why not me? How? Why? What?

Help.

Spend every moment with her.
Accept help from everyone.
Be selfish of your time with her.
Devour it.
Everything else and everyone else can and will and should wait.
Take pictures. Videos. Record her voice.
Plan for the end.
Talk about it so you know exactly what she wants. Write it down. Write it all down. Through the tears. Write it down.


She Is Sixteen

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It feels cliché to say I can’t believe you’re turning sixteen, but I can’t. And for all kinds of reasons—because you’ve already seen more of life than many kids your age. You’ve learned that life is not meant to be measured by fairness, and you’ve learned it head-on. Still, you rise. 

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You make better choices at sixteen than many adults I know and certainly better than the ones I made; it’s exactly what Daddy and I hoped for you, but the actions are all your doing. We wanted our kids to know how to make decisions for themselves, because we knew we wouldn’t always be there.

From the time you could dress yourself, you knew what you wanted, and that hasn’t changed. You have strong convictions about how you think things should be, and how and whom you want to be in the world. You may not always think of yourself as tenacious, but I challenge you to look at all you’ve seen, done, and accomplished—take a deep breath, my child, you are resilient. 

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If I could give you anything for your birthday, you know I’d give you more time with Daddy in a heartbeat. I miss seeing the light in your eyes that was automatically there when you were with him. All other gifts feel like poor substitutes. They just do.

They have an easiness together that everybody sees.

I am forever grateful that you have a passion that gives you such peace and joy, because your smiles feed my soul. Your ponies are your happy place, and I imagine they’ll always be part of your life. 

Riding Deuce

Happy 16th Birthday, Peanut. You are my favorite daughter, and I am so incredibly proud you are my child. 

Four Years: Bob

My Constant Companion

Every Spring I feel you here along with the cartoonish green hills and cotton ball clouds glued onto the monochromatic blue skies by the sticky fingers of a preschooler. Four years of Springs, every one a new path through the hills. 

I want to run to you this year, as if you could give me wisdom. I want to hear your words reminding me that I will be okay. That I can do this. I want to have conversations with you about my life, now—reminisce with you about the ups and downs of our life together. Look back and laugh about how it all seemed so big and important and hard sometimes, but with that knowledge we came to have from growing through it together—from never giving up. I want to land in that spot where I can expose all of my feelings (ugly and raw, beautiful and tender) without fear. I want to remember those times with someone.

I miss that.

I miss that barn that we built that is still standing inside of me. 

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I sit with my tangled feelings. I fill notebooks, sketchpads, and grow calluses on my fingers finding the rhythm of my breath in the curves and lines. I am learning to be quiet, to listen, to sit. I am learning to create peace for myself. 

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In the morning sun I find the quiet, when the house is asleep or empty. You know it used to be the night hours that were mine, but things shift with teenagers I suppose. So I find my place. I create my happy, quiet where I can hear myself, and I give thanks for all that I do have, all that you provided for us, and I hope that I am doing my very best to honor what we planned—I think I am, but I wish I could ask you.

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This one, she’s already looking at colleges. In fact, I think she’s picked one. We always said she knew what she wanted, and that hasn’t changed. I don’t think she’ll ever stop being Daddy’s girl. She got her permit and already drives like a pro. You’d be proud. I have to work hard not to give her the world, I know you would have failed miserably. But just like you, she works hard for everything she has. 

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You would be amazed at the independence, calm, and maturity your son exhibits. He serves on more committees than anyone in their right mind should—and he does it by choice. He’s methodical about the things that matter to him, and continues to hide a plethora of skills and knowledge just as he did when he was little. He’s not running off to a four-year college to start, but if you knew how much tuition had gone up, I’m pretty sure you’d be on board with that decision. And he’s got a great friend and male role model there to his side. I couldn’t have chosen a better partner for myself or our family. 

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A heart is not an easy thing to open when it’s lost so much, and I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am that I jumped in and opened mine. Just as it took effort for us to develop and grow together from ages 19-40, I know it will take work to build this new barn. But both times I have been blessed with the most important part—my person, whom I love to the core. So, bumps, humps, empty nests, and all the rest, I miss you and wish I could share all the good, the changes, and the challenges I face because you knew me so well that I feel like you’d be the person who could shed more insight and support than anyone. I cannot lie and say that it’s not difficult to go without that piece of my life in place. I leaned hard on you for that kind of support for a very long time. It’s difficult doing life without you. 

one more time

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventeen

By the time the story hits my fingers it’s a roaring waterfall of words I cannot stop. This one is about you, looking up at him. Just before he died. It was his last race before the cancer returned. You look so small. Him, so big.

You fill doorways now. Your voice fills rooms. Your laughter fills the hearts of those who miss him and love you. Taller than even your grandfather, you are no longer a little boy looking up.

You turn seventeen this month. I am asked what you’d like for gifts, and I fight giving the answer that’s always in my heart—your father. Gift cards and games seem poor substitutes, yet that’s all you say you want. Or a sword. You’re practical like that.

I read an article yesterday about a neuroscientist’s research that showed autistics don’t lack empathy; in fact they feel more than others. They experience the world as a sensorial overload, taking in too much too soon. I cannot think of a better way to describe your sensitivity to the emotions (and information) around you, the people you love, and how you care for others. The way you just know things without ever letting on; it’s always left me dumbfounded.

You notice things so many people miss. I adore your texts telling me what you see on your daily commute. I hope I still get those no matter how old we get nor how far apart we live from one another.

Happy Birthday, bud. You truly are a gift and an amazing kid. I know teenagers get a bad rap from a lot of people, but I really do like mine. You make my world and the world in general a better place.

Love,

Mom

About Bikes And Babies And Love

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The Amgen Tour of California has come and gone for the 8th time. Once again, we made the trek to watch it start in Livermore. Thankfully we scored the perfect spot for watching the riders pass by and grabbing some lunch. 

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(also home to the Livermore Rodeo, now in its 95th year!)

Unlike past years where the stages have progressed from Northern California to Southern California, this year they reversed it. It made for grueling climbs on hot days through Palm Dessert at the start, but gorgeous weather toward the end. Amgen Tour of California, Stage 7 start in Livermore

After the tour, it was time to SHOWER BABY. Peanut and I made our way to San Jose ('cuz we know the way, duh), and attended the baby shower for my teeny tiny even whilst preggo niece. How teeny tiny? Put it this way, the girl is smaller around than my hips and she's due next month, which was confirmed during that toilet paper game. I lost. That's what I get for using my own ass to measure things. Note to self.

My niece opening gifts at her baby shower while her mama and my girl assist.

Could she be cuter? No. No she could not.

(proud granny and Peanut in the background—also cute, for the record)

Proudest auntie-to-be! I might remember being a little excited about HER arrival WAY back when.

Niece's sister, also a niece, and PROUDEST AUNTIE TO BE

(also totes adorable, for the record)

The Ladies

My most favoritest picture from that day.

The Ladies.

Quite possibly the most loving, accepting group of women you will ever know. I am thankful for every moment I've had knowing them, and I've known three of them since before they became them (including the fourth one who was hiding on the other side of the camera). Bob's sister is amazing, in her own right—not only for how she has handled the loss of her baby brother—but for how she handles everything. Her compassion and love inspire me. Her brother loved like that, too. It's a rare thing to love people with abandon. It's a gift to be loved like that. It's a greater gift to love others that way.

 

 


Green Hills Every Time

It's April. You probably knew that. It's a hard month to forget, starting with the fools on the first, but mostly because the green makes me remember.

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It starts in March, really. And I remember driving. 

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Bob and I would wind our way through the hills to chemo, or the emergency room, or appointments, and the green would make me feel safe. 

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His initial diagnosis was in March of 2009. And that green—I hung onto it with white knuckles.

Out the Car Window

It was my meditation as we would drive our familiar route from home to Kaiser. Then home to Stanford. Then home to whichever hospital could get us in the soonest. It was my meditation to look out at those green hills at just breathe. Take pictures. Be still. And breathe.

He died three years ago this April, and I still remember driving those green hills that spring. To the airports for trips to carry me away, to the family and friends who just let us be us. 

April hills

And as I wind my way from the place we now call home, back to the ranch, I am folded into those green hills again, each year, each spring, and I remember feeling safe, and knowing I would be okay. I will be okay. I am okay.

So I apologize to the line of impatient people who couldn't understand why I was only doing 5-15 mph over the posted speed limit on my way to the ranch this afternoon when y'all were in a rush to get home from work on the backroads. You were in my Happy Place, and y'all need to breathe. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Some day those hills might save you, too. Until then, just slow the fuck down. I've seen enough accidents on those roads to last me. Nothing is worth that kind of hurry. 

Gone. She's Gone.

And not because it was God's fucking plan as some douchecanoe felt obliged to offer up in a "comforting" comment to her husband on her blog, and not so she could now find peace with Jesus.

Cancer.

Or what do I know. I'm just a bunch of matter on a planet, but I can HONESTLY say that anybody who feels obligated to comfort someone with that sentiment doesn't understand the meaning of comfort. Doesn't understand the best place for your loved one is here. Now. That you will not feel peace for some time, so you cannot fathom your loved one's peace or lack thereof.

You just want to remember how to breathe without telling yourself if it's time to exhale or inhale and why are there only four sympathy cards on this planet that you'll be receiving in duplicate, then triplicate, and then not opening at all along with the rest of the mail.

Let's skip guessing what was planned for this occasion. I think your god will probably be okay with you offering comfort and not worrying your pretty little head about the plans. Mkay? Mkay.

Celebrating Life: Bob's Birthday

You would have been forty-three this year. We spent your last birthday together in the hospital; it was your 40th. Inpatient chemo in Santa Clara, I think. Or was that Christmas. No, I think Christmas was in Hayward.

These are the details that get blurry for me, and I'm not sure why I want them to be important, because they aren't. You'd laugh that I think they should be. We weren't about birthdays or holidays or the events. We were about the everyday moments. That's why we worked as a couple for all those years. So this past weekend, for you and for me and for life, I celebrated outside in the world around me.

One Barb

Follow

Triple Gall

InorOut

2 Barbs

Ascending a Sugarloaf

Ridge Top Trail

Loookout

Panorama - Ridge

Mt Diablo in the Backdrop

Peeking Peaking

Three Barbs

I miss you every day, and I thank you.

Thank you for letting me love you, for loving me, and for being an amazing father, husband, son, brother, and friend. Thank you for being real, and flawed, and human and for letting me be the same. Thank you for sharing over half your life with me, growing up together and not apart; learning how to be partners and parents together; make mistakes, and fix them. Thank you for teaching our children, loving our children, and inspiring them.

Thank you for showing me how a marriage and partnership can work, so that I knew what to expect for and of myself and of someone else in the next go 'round. Thank you for teaching me how to give to someone else, love someone else, care for someone else in his hour of need, and figure out what matters in life, so that there are no regrets at the end of the day.

And thank you for our children—they continue to be the light of my world, the pain in my ass, the laughter in my day, the love of my life, and the two most uniquely different expressions of the same genetic material to be enjoyed under one roof. Thank you. Eternally, in the truest sense, grateful. 

Thurston Howell or Bob?  You make the call.

 

 

 

 



How It Changes

I used to have themed Christmas trees. I had seven in the living room, and the kids each had one and I'm pretty sure a couple small ones were scattered about, too. A snowman tree, Santa tree, angel tree, and trees for just my ornaments, my husband's, the kids' ornaments—it was the only time I really decorated for a holiday. I have ornaments from every Christmas of my life, and it shows. My first Christmas, alone? I have at least five ornaments. And every year I greet them like old friends. Or I used to.

 

 


My Santa and angel from 1969 are something I know will be there in their cotton-candy pink glory each year.

 

But it's hard now. Because in between them are mixed golf ball Santas and Sponge Bobs who belonged to my late husband, and every time I unwrap that piece of paper that used to feel like an early Christmas gift, I now feel a mix of anticipation and fear.

 


Because I want to honor his memory, and I want my children to know their father is still part of our celebration of the holidays (and every day), but I also know that it's a painful reminder of loss with each unwrapped piece of our history.

 

That first year, I couldn't even bring the ornaments out of the attic. Last year, I got them onto the tree, but somebody else had to put them away. This year, it took me three tries and a meltdown in the shed to get the decorations into the house.

But it gets better. I was able to help hang some of his ornaments on the tree. And children are the balm of healing like no other salve of this earth. As I watched them hang too many ornaments from the tips of a single branch, it made me smile. Some day they will know that the branches are stronger toward the trunk, but right now they want nothing more than to make sure the beauty of their ornament is seen RIGHT NOW. RIGHT HERE. UP FRONT. And who can blame them for that kind of passion? Even the tree tries its hardest to support their dreams.

 

 

 

 

Another Circle Around The Sun: Another Birthday Approaches

He's almost 16, and you won't be here for this birthday, either. And I hate that. I hate it for him and I hate it for all of the reasons.

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He's taller than me now, which means he'd be taller than you, too.

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And he's amazing. He is so independent you'd be blown away. And so caring. Nearly every day he checks in with us to see how our days went, give us hugs, and he's genuinely concerned about his family. He loves your parents and makes an effort to stay involved in their lives, all on his own. He is all of the things you would want him to be and even more. His personality is still very much the same as the day he was born, and yet he is nearly grown. Funny how that works.

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And as the sadness at your not being here overwhelms me, the joy that he is doing so well fills me, too. You were right. We are okay. Maybe even a smidgen better than okay. I am so sorry you missed this part. We miss you. Thank you for all you gave us that got us here.

Lying McLiarson: Depression

You're a puzzle piece without a puzzle, Depression tells you.

Again with the lies.

She sees only the part of you that's broken, telling you that's all you are for so long you almost believe her. You consider never showing your whole self again.

The lies.

The world teases with drips of orange and red, but she locks you in her pillowy claws until your bones ache for sun.

Whore of deceit.

You kick. You cry. You sleep her away. Her lies melt into the evergreen of winter.

You are free again.

Isms And Such

That part of adulthood or personhood where we're asked to select a set of isms we can live with, or tolerate, or manage? Yes, that bit. I believe I'd like to skip it. Or be over it. Or say I've had my turn. That's all. I'm all ismed out for one lifetime. Got no ismability left in me. Take your isms and move along. Now, asms. Totally different matter.

Goddamn, Facebook: Opening The Gate

Life events are a thing now. I know because I added one today. 

It's called Loss of a Loved One.

I apologize if you were one of my followers who saw a giant update of this life event. See, I also updated my birthplace, hometown, and the date of my new relationship. However those events didn't make it to my timeline. I guess because I didn't attach a photo. Noted for future reference.

I try to be mindful of doing things on Facebook like commenting on my late husband's page or posting pictures of him because I know it flags so many people automatically, and I know that when others do the same, it flags me. And I'm not always in the right frame of mind for that to happen. I'm not always ready. My kids might not be ready to see their dad's face and mine go scrolling by on a Thursday after school. So, I try to plan for things like this to be purposeful and meaningful, not so willy-nilly.

This is how my mind usually works. 

Too hard sometimes. Not hard enough others, apparently. 

But this post today of this particular life event gathered quite a bit of attention, which even I wasn't expecting or ready to see. I was just absentmindedly updating my life events on Facebook, as you do. It's just that my life story includes the loss of a loved one (whose doesn't, I hear you ask). So, I added that life event. And opened a tiny gate. Some people needed to see him, I think. Others offered supportive comments. And some of it felt good. Some of it felt unexpected like I hadn't realized what I had put out there into that space, which is so strange for me because, as I said, I am typically hyper-aware of how much a single photo or post about him can attract attention. I guess I was really just in my own little world for those few seconds it took to post that life event.

I do not regret adding my life event, but I do hope I didn't disrupt someone's day in a way that was hurtful for them or made their day more difficult. I know it can be hard to see your loved one scroll past in a space you don't control. It's one thing to choose to read a blog post about them on a site belonging to somebody else, which you choose to visit, but to see them pop up as a status out of the blue can be a bit of a shock. So, if that happened for somebody today, I am truly sorry. That wasn't my intent. I just wanted it noted that at one point in my life I lost my somebody I loved very much. And I haven't forgotten him. Even if my relationship status says other than widowed. That journey is still mine. 

On Comparing Loss

Should we? It's done. Divorce gets compared to death. I have opinions about that.

We are even fond of comparing how we grieve our losses and their scale of impact in our lives—was my loss greater than yours? Did I grieve the same as that other widow; was it long enough; was it too long?

I do know one thing: it's not a contest. Everybody experiences grief differently.

How I experienced the loss of my husband to cancer is going to be different from how another young widow experiences her loss of her spouse to an unexpected traffic accident. It's going to be different from the widow who loses his partner to suicide. What about the widow of the murder victim? Or the man who was estranged from his wife at the time of her death—what does that grief look like?

So. Many. Things. Affect. Grief.

I had time to say goodbye to my husband. I had time to grieve WITH him. I had a lot of years WITH him. I was never angry with him. I never felt like he left me on purpose. I wasn't surprised. Nothing was left unsaid. Our marriage wasn't an unhappy one.

But, I absolutely understand how that kind of pain and grief exists. I have cried with friends in that kind of pain, who have that kind of confusion and those unresolved feelings and questions. 

I also had children with him. Does that make it easier or harder? I don't know. It just makes it different from not having kids together. It makes it different from if we had grown children or an infant at the time of his death.

So. Many. Factors.

I wasn't left penniless or in a mountain of debt. I wasn't left without a will or specific instructions about his funeral and final wishes. 

I was left with some other weird shit to deal with, but that's pretty normal from what I can tell. If you make it through the loss of a spouse at a young age with ALL of your exact same friends and family members still by your side in the same configuration, I want your name and number—and so will a bunch of other widows, because it is NOT the norm. 

When life changes you, there is often a changing of the guard around you. Learn to roll with it and life will be so much easier. You can't control their grief process any more than you can control your own, and quite frankly, it ain't your job, Scarlett. 

What I was left without was my best friend, somebody who knew me better than I knew myself, and my compass in the world. THAT was some scary shit. I was vulnerable to being taken advantage of by opportunistic people who could smell blood in the water, and that sucked. 

But I was also left with a wonderful new world of opportunities, friendships, family, and LIFE, which I keep living. Every day I chip away at a little bit more of this thing, and it's been good. 

Our losses aren't the same—none of them, except to say that we are missing something that is no longer there. In my case, the loss is permanent. I wouldn't change it, though, because it would mean not having had him, and I cannot imagine giving that back. Our lives are too enriched by that experience. Loss makes room for something else, even when it hurts like hell. The memories and the love and the awesome that he and I shared fill in all around the life that comes next, at least that's how it works for me. 

I can't write your story.

Circular Days: Nora Ephron And Our Boxes

We are finally moving.

Still and finally.

And the floors still aren't done. And the walls aren't quite painted.

But, we're moving. Because, well, that's  how life works. They will be done, but ready or not, HERE WE COME.

Except for the boxes.

So, now I play Tetris with the boxes. 

Tetris

And then I breathe, and check in with the world, and find out that Nora Ephron is dead, which is absolute bullshit and totally unfair. Death is often unfair, but also so very much a part of life that I'm not sure why we still feel that way about it. Still, it's unfair to those of us hanging around after to be left without those who leave us. It sucks. No more Nora Ephron.

Just boxes. And Tetris.

Lots of memories in there. Also books. So. Many. Books.

It's an odd thing arranging your life into boxes and then into a bigger box. At the end, you end up in a box of your own—pine or something of the sort. Your stuff becomes somebody else's stuff to put into boxes and move around. The circle of boxes continues.

Life. Death. Boxes.

RIP, Nora Ephron. I loved your work. I hope somebody loves moving your boxes around.