Happy Birthday

February 4, 2011

Tomorrow is your 4th birthday and I wanted to let you know a few things…

You are my first thought in the morning. I wonder how you’ve slept, what filled your dreams and how long I have to myself before you wake up. Although, after 30 minutes to myself, I can hardly wait to go scoop you up and have you rest your curly locks in the nook of my neck while you clutch your pink pillow and take in the light of the new day. It is with less frequency that I find myself hurting or mad that your mama cannot join me in raising you. The Creator of all we know has decided to take her from us and it is tough to be okay with that, but I am… we must. I know that the depth of your questions will only grow as your understanding grows in parallel. But, we are in this situation, stronger because of it. I know that you feel different- already at school, most daddy’s don’t drop their children off. Most of your books and classroom conversations are filled with stories of mommies. Your gender naturally prompts you to play the role of a mommy with your toys and even in my best attempts I cannot nurture or display tenderness as a mama would. While I hate that you are without, I realize now that my anger is a waste of time and space in my life and I hope that you only see me responding in a positive way to our loss.

For the past two years, I have gone out west to endure the anniversary of her death. I wrote this to you one August morning in Utah…

You may never be able to comprehend…my time here among the rocks, as my thoughts echo off the ancient faces and return clearer…almost new. The un-ending ranges of rock, the horizon filled with places yet to be known-this is the image of my heart. It seems all around me are continuous obstacles. I climb one only to find another, higher, in front of me. Your mama leveled my horizons because I couldn’t see past her. She tamed my wanderlust because everything I was looking for, I found in her… and in myself… because of her. We used to write each other and seal each envelope with a figure that represented us, two puzzle pieces-interlocked. I hope that you will never have to experience what I have-what I am experiencing. I see her spirit in you. Your funny looks; “What are you talking about?-you’re not making any sense to me!” Your silly sense of humor, your tender heart, your sweetness, your giving nature, even your love of jewelry…ehmm…accessories, excuse me.

Most of my hurt now is the pain of knowing that you will never experience her. In all my greatest attempts at capturing her-I can only piece together fragments of who she was. No matter how many layers I pull together or how careful I am with the seams, I can only produce a shadow of who she was. And there is no way to capture her unpredictability-God, I loved her for that! She brought so much color to the lives she touched. You will never know what she was or what she as becoming. She was the best possible version of herself when she left us-she was always growing- becoming better and challenging me to do the same. Not only are you left without a mama, you are left without her. I fear that I have not done my best in filling that void… even stating that makes me cringe because that void cannot be filled.

The rocks are calling me back and I can only hope that they can heal me or at least recharge me. I miss you and can’t wait to see you again. I love you.

-Daddy

It’s hard to believe that you and I have been at this by ourselves for two and half years. You were 18 months running around, high up in that sad hospital oblivious to what had just occurred and what that would mean for your life. Not many days later, we moved into a house in SC and I remember often the times that we had there. You in your high-chair laughing, face full of tofu and bananas.  You used to take naps. Where did that ever go? I used to rock you to sleep every night in that white rocking chair that your mama upholstered with pink and green to match your room. I would sing songs to you until you fell asleep and then lay you in your crib. I would watch over you and pray… what small prayers I could muster in between the confusion, anger and doubt. I still go into your room every night and make sure that you are covered up in warmth and prayer. When I see your little face, dusted with curls, I cannot hold back a smile and a prayer of thanks. You are my joy in this life. Loving you is the only thing that brings me indescribable joy like that.

You started gymnastics a few weeks ago. My heart busted with pride and blew out my eyes to watch you be your own little person, courageous and bold. I can’t wait to watch you grow every day and conquer this life. I know that I will fail you at times but I want you to know that I always have your best interest in mind. By the time you read this, you will have had many birthdays and we will have shared many smiles, tears and unanswered questions. You are and always will be my baby girl, no matter how old you are. I love you. Happy Birthday

-Daddy

(Feb 5 2011)

“Do you think that you are trying to fill a void?”

My first instinct was to laugh and then explode in a rant about how that void can never be filled. I have thought considerably about that question since she asked… since that hour that I spend over lunch with a girl I didn’t know. I knew fairly early that I would not pursue her after that quasi-lunch date. But, if I am honest with myself, it is a fair question for anyone to ask me. No amount of words, written or spoken could ever accommodate the emotion and thought that I have given to this. This concern of hers was a legitimate inquiry. In fact, I am glad that someone would ask. It shows substance and thought and sincerity. Pain has taught me that the grumbling holes in our souls are not meant to be filled by anything other than the Fullness of our Father, the Leading of His Spirit and the Love of the Son. Still, we try… we are human. We were made for companionship, not necessarily to complete one another.

But that doesn’t answer her question. Am I looking for a replacement? I recognize the fault in trying to replace. It can never be. It would not be fair to me or anyone else to even try… and I told her this. How can anyone replace her? I am not looking for that. Is it really that unbelievable that I feel like I am ready to search for another companion for the rest of my days? The amount of pain and subsequent healing I have been through is greater than most people in this world will ever have to endure. I did not “move on”. I have not been “restored”. Grief never really affords that. You just learn to live with it. You either hide it or wrestle and I know that nothing remains hidden, so I fight every day. The questions of a 3 year old child don’t allow me to hide, even if I wanted to.

Have I still not answered this? Very soon after Carla died, I met with a man that had lost his wife and had been remarried 2 years after his wife died. I remember being disgusted and confused—how could he do this to his wife (who died)? I am sorry for my ignorance. I was so blinded by pain that I could not understand. I was so angry with God for doing this to me. Its funny now when I think about those moments that I yelled at the God whose voice scattered the stars, the God whose will, and arguably patience, somehow keeps this rock spinning around a ball of fire… this rock that is coincidently the perfect distance from that ball of fire, keeping us from freezing solid or melting and blowing away as ash. The truth is that I am now envious of Carla. She does not have to navigate the waters that I swim in daily. She has become perfect and lives, wrapped in light and love, fully understanding herself and her creator. Reasonable jealousy! If somehow she could wish something for me and Linen, I know that she would want what I want. Linen told me today, “Mama lays down on my pillow and reads books to me.” I asked, “Which pillow… your pink pillow?” “No”, she affirmed, “Her pillow.” I would want Carla to find someone better than me, better at living for today, better at intuiting her needs and catering to her dreams. I wouldn’t want her to “fill a void”. I would want her to just enjoy the rest of her days, smile more than she ever has, laugh uncontrollably, be held and treasured, supported and loved. I would want someone to raise Linen as a Godly man and show her what real love and worth is, to equip her to make the right decisions, to not listen to the world and its flawed marketing, to guard her against the pressures from careless boys and catty girls.

I’m trying to answer this! “No” just doesn’t seem to capture what I really want to say. After sincere consideration, I know this is a fair question for anyone to ask me and for me to ask myself. But, even if I tried to fill a void or replace, it cannot happen. She is gone and I am a changed man. We are both better than we ever have been, but Carla accomplished all that she had to do. She has been perfected and I have much more growing and learning and walking to do. If I were to meet a man tomorrow who wore the fresh pain of grief, who looked like the wind could carry him away, who asked me how I could be where I am today… how would I answer him? The truth is that there is no way that I could convince him in his current state of pain. And maybe that’s the case for someone who has never lost love. You cannot know what it feels like to “know” and I really don’t need to convince anyone of anything. I know the answer. I live it.

What needs to be said?

April 21, 2010

It s crazy how much stuff is out there for people dating widows and widowers- books, articles, websites and even movies about it. The focus is predominantly on those dating someone who has lost. Being a young widower, I am in such a small demographic. When you think widow or widower, you think of someone past middle age with children that are out of the house. Women are four times more likely to have lost. I have no good data, but I’d be willing to bet that widowers my age with children Linen’s age make up less than 1% of the population.

Most of the stuff in those books, which I find funny, is common sense. There is some amusing stuff out there. “Room for Two” “Three Hearts” (Sounds like poker hands… wonder what a relationship of two widows would be called) Whether its “10 steps for [this]” or “7 keys to [that]” or “How to know when (s)he’s ready “ or “What holidays to celebrate…” Am I wrong to find most of this stuff frivolous and absurd? Shouldn’t it just be what it is? Life is full of loss, but healthy people have healthy relationships with other healthy people, regardless of background.

Now, more than ever, I am happy to reveal myself- scars and all. I just wonder how accommodating to be. I have dealt with the demons of grief, full time for over a year. It is the other who is slapped in the face with how to handle someone who has lost. If I were a woman dating a widower who lost a beautiful young wife who was a personal trainer, amazing mother, treasured wife, and most importantly genuine follower of Christ; I would wonder about comparisons. This guy lost his wife in her prime. She will never get grey hair. Her skin will never lose its firmness. She will always be remembered for her strengths and her weaknesses have long been forgotten. She remains, in his mind, fossilized. Beloved. It almost seems like too much work. And, he has a beautiful two year old daughter that looks just like her. How can I even try to be something, anything to her?

There is no comparison. There cannot be. I recognize the trap and unfairness, not only for the other but for me. I am happy to talk about it, not just here but any anywhere with anyone. But, what needs to be said? I am more prone to err on the side of not saying enough because the thought of this seems better and more familiar than the other side of the pendulum. The irony of this whole blog thing is that I am not an open book. I want to be and I think I have mistaken honesty for openness. Perhaps this mistake is among the smudges on the right half of my Jahari window.

I feel like I should wear a sign; “ITS OKAY TO ASK, REALLY.” Because, I just don’t know what needs to be said. It’s funny, I don’t feel exposed at all writing this- maybe I just want to talk about it. I want to know what questions there are. Maybe there aren’t any- but why the collection of stories about it?

Let me step over generalizations for the sake of truth and say that men aren’t very good at being honest with themselves and diving deep into the issues of hurt, weakness and insecurity but I recognize this as a bad practice. I have grabbed my grief monster by its ears and we have yelled in each other’s face. I know that I am better for having done so. I do not hide and will not hide from this, but I don’t want loss to define me. I know that I am so much more than someone who has lost. I have learned to be a great father to a beautiful little princess. I have learned to be a better friend. I have always been honest, but I have learned to mix that drink with some gentleness. God, I still need work on that one. I feel myself digressing from my purpose. I know that I will date again and I am beginning to feel that attraction. God made women beautiful after all. Maybe I answered my own question early on… healthy people have healthy relationships and I’ll know what needs to be said and when.

Day Zero

March 11, 2010

Not long after Dr Bringardner told me that they had done all they could, I went back into the room. Her body, covered in a faded green operation cloth, blood-both dried and fresh left trails on her lifeless exposed flesh. Her body had been bloated for days now. The sounds of the oxygenator had ceased- this machine that filled the room and hallway with sounds of a train at full speed-it pumped pure oxygen into her lungs multiple times a second. When I go back, I still hear the sound of that machine that made her chest rise and fall rapidly for more than 24 hours- only one in a team of machines that kept her body alive since her heart first stopped 2 days before. Her body was already cold, not from death but from the doctors lowering her body temperature to prevent brain damage, the day before. I remember her eyes, closed but just looking like they were going to pop open from the swelling. The dialysis machine had been removed to allow room for the final attempt at saving her.

I knelt down beside her and told her to haunt me, it seems so silly now, but it made perfect sense at the time. I held her hand and just cried, making promises to be the best father I could, asking for her help and guidance. Not many days later, I would write “Ember”

-I just watched your fire go out-I screamed your name but there was no more flame-And I cried while you looked down-I just soaked your hand with tears of a lonely man-I just want to feel your ember-Burn my skin and bake my bones-I just want to feel your ember-Cause I’m cold and alone-I wore your love just like a badge-A shining star, it burnt my heart-And your love shown like a flame-Now, I’m on my knees for all to see-I just want to feel your ember-burn my skin and bake my bones-I just want to feel your ember-Burn my eyes and take me home-I just watched your fire go out-I screamed your name but there was no more flame.

After I left her room, I knew I had to face a crowd of people waiting, wanting to offer their genuine condolences, say that they love me and support me. But, how could I face anyone? One of the most vivid memories was in the immediate family room. Carla’s family was there but I asked everyone to leave except Josh and I asked someone to go get Seth. We sat there, us three. I asked, “What am I supposed to do now?” Its kinda funny when I think about the position I put them in. I remember that I broke the silence with that question and we all broke into tears. What could they have possible said? I respect both of these men, what they represent and who they are. I am glad that they were there for me. I told them that I didn’t want to stay at my house or go out and talk to people. “What am I going to do with Linen?” “I am going to have to quit my job!” “Where am I going to live?” It was so strange asking for advice when I don’t take advice from anyone. That’s so me to want to have all the answers and have everything figured out and in a system as quickly as possible- how foolish I was.

I did go out and face the crowd, although I don’t remember much about it. I remember this really cool fruit flower bouquet thing that one of my bosses brought to the waiting room. Linen had just started walking so she wanted to explore everything. I took her and we got into the elevator and went exploring- This gave me an opportunity to escape. She ran and played and pointed and jabbered and I watched and cried when she wasn’t looking. Still thinking, “How can I go on?” “Why, God, do you want me to raise Linen alone?” I am glad that Linen was there, though. I am glad that she was only 18 months and not four or twelve. After we got back upstairs, I just wanted to leave. I had been wearing the same clothes for almost 4 days. I had been holding, in my hand, the shirt that Carla wore to the first hospital. I heard people laughing and telling stories.” How could they be laughing about anything?” I now believe that I should have been laughing and sharing stories, but then it just made me mad and confused.

I remember the huge lobby of CMC and walking through those glass doors. It was dark outside and I was numb. It felt like Carla was just going to be on vacation or something and that I would see her in a few days, even though I knew that wasn’t true. We headed to our house so that I could get some clothes. I remember getting there and walking into our bedroom and just collapsing on the bed, balling-the reality that I would never hold her again. I would never hear her voice, never see her hold Linen. Our beautiful marriage was over. I would be married to collections of memories for the next year, but that night I had no idea the weight and tears and anger the following days would bring. After, peeling myself off the bed, we made the trip back to Charlotte to Cliff and Stephanie’s house. For the first time in 8 years, I felt completely alone. I remember getting into the shower, replaying the memories of the week, continually shaking my head like it wasn’t real. “How can this be?” Like a nervous tick, I couldn’t stop taking deep breathes and that went on for months. When I finally lay down, I cried myself to sleep. Day zero would end with tears, disbelief and a sense of being completely lost.

HOPE

January 5, 2010

It’s hard to believe that I am beginning another year without her, my beloved, the mother of my daughter, my best friend. Over the past 16 months, I’ve felt many emotions, some disguised as thought, believing that they may hurt less. I’ve asked many questions and received much fewer answers. I have been angry at love, at God, at others who have cheapened love and marriage. I have been extremely selfish and felt (falsely) justified. I am forced now more than ever to trust and hope in the unseen. I am forced to realize that I am not in control. I am left with nothing except hope.

Webster’s says to Hope is to desire with expectation of obtainment. When defining faith whether in verb or noun, it used the words allegiance, belief and trust. For me, my hope is a derivative of my faith and without faith, I would have no hope. For many months after Carla’s death, I had no hope because my faith had been dashed upon the rocks of life. Like so many “Christians”, I grew up with an expectation for God, a transactional relationship based on my morality. God would respond one way if I kept my don’ts on do’s in order, my sins of commission and omission. So, when Carla died, my “whys” were unending and unanswered. I now know that I was not asking the right questions. I don’t believe God would answer my “why questions” with ‘because answers’ for how could I ever be satisfied with a “because.” Each answer would only be the catalyst for more questions. I am not implying that others would not be satisfied, but I would not. And, many looking in may have already done so. How could any answer merit my beloved’s death?

In the past few months, I have pulled the boot straps up tight and accepted my reality. The only thing that keeps me going is my intimacy with God, my complete trust in his goodness and my belief in a better earth, when heaven lands here like an explosion of color, where yellows can be tasted and blues can be filled with laughter. I look forward to a time when my understanding is no longer needed, but TRUTH can be experienced fully. For me, this is Hope.

Some have said likened my recent days to “restoration.” I would disagree. I don’t believe in restoration. Maybe, I have it wrong but restoration to me means a return to an original state. How can that ever be? If a house if consumed by fire and all that is left is a foundation, no amount of insurance or rebuilding could ever return it to its original state. There will always be scars of the fire hidden within, the faint scent of char left beneath the subfloor. How can I ever return to my previous state of being, of understanding, of faith? Either the house will be less than it was or greater than its former self. That is my hope. That’s my hope for this hour, for tomorrow when the tears reach the rim, ready to overflow and my hope for every day following.

Let me be adamant about my Hope. It is not a crutch. I hate crutches and religion can be that- In many cases it is. My hope is in Truth. I understand who I am more than ever before. I understand pain and despair more than ever before. I understand our frailty and lack of control, how we get caught up in our lives. My trust is no longer in myself, my plans for a fat 401k in my fifties, a great career, a perfect family, or even morality. I don’t believe these things are wrong, but they are not my pursuit. My pursuit is White Hot Truth and I find that in no other place but in Jesus. All my hope is found in His words, His life and His death. Without Him, there is no hope. There may be a trust in something temporary but there can never be True Hope without Jesus.

1 John 2: 15-17

This Day, last year

November 26, 2009

This day, last year, I thought I had nothing to be thankful for. I began the day thinking I was going to volunteer to help feed the homeless… funny, later I would be mistaken as a homeless person. I had arranged it with the Salvation Army, so I thought. I was turned away as they had too many volunteers. “But I called last week!”- I guess personality traits stay even in the most extreme of fires. I tried again at the mission with the same result- too many volunteers. Didn’t they know how much I needed to see hurt, to experience others walking through life without purpose? I tried again at a church meeting the same result. But, I had the wrong motives anyway- I was only hiding from the holiday. I just didn’t want to be thankful, feasting on a flightless bird, capturing memories in digital- images of me without her, acting as if things were okay. I couldn’t- wouldn’t fake a smile. Why infect others with that sadness, hopelessness, anger?

I remember sitting on a bench downtown and watching families walk by. The sun was warm but the air was cold. I remember moving to a bench on Coffee Street because it was one of few in the sun at that time of the morning. Watching couples walk by, older- I wondered what memories they shared that day and wondered why we couldn’t. I decided to walk down to the Reedy and found a spot under the bridge and stared and thought, cried and wrote. I laid myself down for a while and listened to the families walking on both sides of the water. Its crazy how well water carries sound. What seemed two football fields away, a boy and his father were having a conversation about me. Hiding under my black toboggan and downy beard, I had to laugh as the father explained what it means to be homeless. In retrospect, I see that I was homeless.

Today, I am thankful. I made new memories today. I smiled, I laughed, I celebrated family and friends, hope and grace. I miss Carla- that will never change. Linen prayed tonight, “Dear God, mama’s gonna come down and sleep on my pillow. Amen.” Maybe it is so but I have discovered that Carla’s purpose in life was not for me, regardless of her or my assessment. She lived to glorify God, as we all do, whether we know it or not. But, I am thankful to have shared some of that time with her. I have much to be thankful for. Above all; knowledge, hope and love through Jesus Christ.

Miss Kim ran out to the car and asked, “What does Linen think when she hears other kids talking about their mommy?” “The other kids were sitting around saying, ‘My mommy (this)’ ‘My mommy (that)’ and Linen was just listening for a while and she finally said; “My mommy is in heaven with Jesus.”

This hurts. I wish I knew how a two year old processes a statement like this. I’m not sure if Linen actually feels hurt over not having a mommy (in the way kids ‘have’ a mommy). She has, on a few occasions, declared, “I need my mommy.” I hurt for her and that is worse than any pain that I have personally endured because I cannot take it from her, hide it for her or deal with it for her. I guess I can coach her and maybe get her to talk about her daddy. Something petty like, “My daddy can cook better than your mommy.”

Seriously, what more truth can be stated than what she has already declared, “My mommy is in heaven with Jesus.” Oh that she could understand what she is indeed saying. Mommy is wrapped in light, consumed by our Lord, perfectly happy and complete, more alive than ever. But, she doesn’t and many times I don’t get it either– I let my selfishness and what she meant to me get in the way of what she is experiencing right now. I wish I could take this from Linen. The feelings of unfairness that have passed in me arise again when I think about this. I don’t want them though- it only takes a drive downtown or flashes of India and Afghanistan to squash the hollow arrogance of my right to Fairness. I guess it is just being a parent and realizing that your child has to fight a battle at such an early age. I know it will only make her stronger, and one day maybe even a blessing to someone else.

Missing What I am missing.

September 16, 2009

I remember feeling this same feeling a few months after Carla died, even though it felt too soon to start missing what she provided for me. ‘I should be focusing on her, not what she gave me… that’s not real love.’ I’d be willing to bet that it doesn’t take long for anyone to start missing what they are missing, because even in our best attempts at love, which I know we had… there is selfishness, for we are human and are not capable of Love, only love. Yes, I missed her but I began to focus on the things that were severed as “contingent losses.” I had no outlet for sharing concerns or crashing into someone at the end of each day and reciprocally being there for someone to need. I missed being held. I missed affection and passion. I missed being taken care of in all the ways (at risk of sounding sexist) a southern wife cares for her home and family. In all areas of receiving love from someone while also providing love for another, too many to individually describe, I was missing “her”… and “me.” Like a habitual gambler, it was like the losing never ended. Every day, tears would wash and erode to reveal another element I was missing. As much as I wanted to face and fight the battle strongly, I had to smother these things because no matter how strong the mind is, I do not believe it can fight in the complex arena of the heart– perhaps suppress but not fight. And so I did. I focused on what I could; raising my sweet Lady, writing, singing and this worked for some time. I can see how a broken heart is vulnerable and my heart feels more like it has suffered an amputation. Simple recognition of a susceptible heart does not make it impervious, though. Although it feels like my heart has room to echo without the arresting lithium of my head, I feel weaker in the recognition. A wounded heart seems to feel more—writing sad songs and making clumsy choices.

I have lived most of my life, upright, with my head above my heart. This year has caused me to live more from my heart. In most ways, it is freeing and moving. I care less about things that don’t really matter, which is probably much more than I realize even now. I feel things more. I remember the first three or four months of going to church, I could not hold back the tears. I would cry at commercials. I remember thinking on many occasions, “Is this how it feels to be a woman?” I cried a few weeks ago for the first time in while when Linen said, “I need my mommy!” She said it three or four times and I just couldn’t fight it. Sharing that on this black and white just isn’t the same as the face to face, holding someone and sobbing on them, having them just listen and be there. I miss that. Just the same, when Linen does something amazing or funny, there is no talk at the end of the day of what she did. I can only imagine conversations and laughter in the bed as a couple is surprised at something their children said . Shocked at how quickly they are growing up. Amazed at where they are in life. Someone to share dreams with. Someone to grow old with. Someone to look in their eyes and speak without sound. Someone to live life “for.” I know that no one can ever be fulfilled by another human because we have been created to be fulfilled by Him alone- I believe that is why so many relationships fail. Still, I am now again missing what I am missing. It’s funny how fickle the heart can be and I have found that living from it can be tiring. The sense of letting go of control, which I now feel was an illusion, is nice and scary. I find myself elated at this life more- living more, planning life less. I am not as strong as I have told myself I was; another illusion. I do need. I can do much on my own, but it is nice to share life. I am thankful for friends and family that have helped me through this, but I am still missing what I have been missing.

I am in disbelief at how the days have puddled into weeks and how, in turn, those have pooled into months and now reflect as a year- a year that will likely be the worst year of life for me. I recall those early days sometimes. Many times, they are vivid like the beeping of the machines that kept her lifeless body working. Often, I get flashes of emotion out of nowhere like waking up the next day after she died and the suffocating weight of reality sitting on my chest. I remember the shower I took that night after 3 long days in the hospital, shaking my head, wondering what I was going to do as what I thought life should be fell into the drain taking the form of my tears. I recall the deep breathing, almost like a nervous tick that I had for a few weeks; what I now feel was a physical manifestation of my disbelief… shock.

Somehow, it seems that I should be out of a transition stage and into a “new reality”, but I think they may be synonymous. How exactly can one “move on”? Doesn’t that beg for some sort of finality? Closure? Resolve? I’m sure that I could present many words that don’t surgically describe “it” or what “it” “is”.  But, I am convinced there is no finality. Why should there be? Something screams that I cannot both honor her and “arrive” at some destination. I feel as though I am living in a perpetual suitcase, thinking one day I’ll arrive at where ever it is I am to go now. I’ve been in the gatehouse and I am ready for these big black doors to swing open and allow the future come in. But, my future is now.

I have learned to tolerate this reality. Maybe that’s all one can do until the tolerance becomes acceptance and the acceptance becomes permission to let go of some of the pain. The pain that has become a beautiful remembrance, thinking somehow she is honored and that I am being loyal. The truth is she doesn’t need anything from me, anymore. In fact, if I think it through enough, I realize that she would want me to smile more than I ever have and stop being so damned sad. And, if my love for her is real love and not just the way she made me feel, I should be the happiest I have ever been because of where she is and the real joy she is experiencing.

Even so, it’s harder to smile without her. Linen keeps me going though. She has been my salvation through all of this. I realize now that I needed her more than she needed me. Fathering the transition from baby to little 2 year old girl has been tough but has also allowed me to escape this new reality 15 hours a day. The nights catch me lying awake with my questions more often than sleeping. The weight of the grief has stretched my eyes as well as my faith. I have had a few friends that have listened to my questions of faith, existence, providence and sovereignty, and I appreciate their honesty in not having all the answers. I have read the books on grief that all seem to say the same things. In my opinion, they should all be found in the comedy section of the bookstore, not because they are not helpful, as they must be for some… or most, I don’t know? But, when you are living it out and you read it; it’s just ominously droll.

When you are in the hell of grief, you have many friends in numbness, loneliness, hopelessness, emptiness, depression and anger. They all hate me and love me. They take their unsystematic rotation in my home. I loved numbness the best but she doesn’t come around much anymore without manufacturing and I made a promise not to get lost in those things that would keep her with me. I made a decision to go deep, hoping that the healing would be deep and I would come out better for having endured one of life’s toughest punches. The day after Carla died, my friend with which I feel sometimes we share the same brain, drove me to see Dr Rhoades, my old psychology teacher who is now, once again, practicing. He had lost his wife, Sharon two years before. He told me that he made a promise to himself to not lose himself in drugs or alcohol or to hide in another relationship. That was the last time I went to see him. Either he’s that good or I fight alone. Whatever the case, I took his words and made them my own promise. But, this allows no room for hiding from the pain.

Prayer was no help at first either. How could I talk to God about the pain when he put me here to endure it in the first place? How could I ask God for anything when the only thing I asked for was Carla’s life? I still believed in Him. How could I not? The intricacies of life scream design. No, my real problem was “Who is this God?”

After Carla and I had been dating a few months, I went to Ft Leonardwood, Missouri for basic training and AIT, as if that wasn’t enough to endure in one lifetime. Missouri loves company and Carla was a faithful writer. It was there; in our separation that I knew that I loved her and that I would marry her. We used to seal each letter and draw joined puzzle pieces over the seal as a symbol of our “oneness” and “fitness.” This seal continued as I served in Afghanistan 2005-2006. A week after Carla died, I was in Barnes and Nobles buying The Shack (very good fiction), A Grief Observed (my year on paper, love it), 90 minutes in Heaven (less than okay). While there, I wanted to get a journal to start writing. I circled that doubled rack of paper bound by colors and cheap tricks and couldn’t find what I wanted. I needed one black, like my heart at the time. On the third trip around, I saw it. It was hard cover, black with the exact same puzzle pieces with which Carla and I used to seal our letters. This was one of two times that I felt Carla after she died.

It’s a confusing amalgamation of faith and skepticism in which I exist. I don’t believe in coincidence but I believe that most things have a naturalistic explanation. I believe in miracles, but I think, subjectively, God missed a great chance… or maybe that was just the beginning… we’ll see. This made one of my many questions tough to resolve. Besides coming to a (now resolved as wrong) conclusion that God is a scientist, putting us into situations and watching us fight for breath, I had come to the conclusion that I would never be able to know if Carla could “hear” me. And by “hearing,” I mean sensing in whatever capacity she has or would have to sense things from this shadow of earth which she left. I wondered if she could see how miserable I was. I wondered if I could make her proud in the way I raised our baby girl and in how nurturing I had become. I wondered if she could see me press my lips to her two dimensional lips every night or feel the wetness of my tears on her two dimensional cheeks as I told her picture that I loved her and missed her through the sobs until finally my eyes shut down. Of course being who I am, I put it into a system:

September 28

Your parents came by today. They were pretty torn up the first 15minutes. They stayed for a while. Linen woke up from her nap and was showing out for everyone. I told your parents that I wish you could have been here when they arrived. Its painful to see them. I want very much to remain in their lives and them in mine, but it is tough. I think Linen may go stay with them this weekend. I feel like I have given up trying to find out if you can “sense” what is going on with us “down-here.” What would it hurt if I were able to know for sure? Especially if it is an unambiguous “No.” I could begin to heal. I can see the troubles if it is a reassured “Yes.” The yes, itself; if true, great, but the confirmation might cause one to live life a little differently. Should I assume; “Yes”, you can sense our lives here and how much we miss and love you? Because a confirmed “No” is better that a non-confirmed “No” and a confirmed “Yes”, but not better than a non-confirmed “Yes”…what am I saying? Am I only getting my hopes up? I will have to believe or not believe. You died knowing that I love you out of this world. If you can hold that somehow, I am glad for that. I miss you Babe.

I remember the feeling that I had decided that she cannot sense me and when I go back and read it now, it’s almost comical and my self-awareness makes me aware that it still has room to grow.

September 29

I opened that book that you and I never finished reading by Alcorn, Heaven. For some reason, I found that book in one of the ten boxes I unpacked on Saturday and placed it on my bathroom counter. One night after drawing the 2X2 box of confirmed Yes/No, I opened that book and found an anniversary card from you. It had to have been from 2007 or 2006. After smiling over the card, my eyes fell to the words on the page where that card had made its home for at least a year. It was entitled “Do people in the present Heaven see what is happening on Earth?” After I read the chapter, I laid in bed, looked up at the ceiling and laughed. I trust you were laughing too. I believe now that you can “sense” me. Now, I am not really sure how or what or to what extent but I believe you can talk to God about us and for us and maybe somehow “talk” to me and Linen and perhaps even “feel” our love permeating through my grief, like some filtered aroma or warmth. At any rate, I love you Carla and I miss you. I do wish that we could still be together but I am happy for you and where you are. You are still my bestest. Can you believe how much Linen is growing up? I know you can see her. I wish I could see your face as you watch her and laugh. Do you like the song I wrote for her? I bet you do like it. I sing it to her every night, before she goes to sleep, but I bet you see that too. I love you babe.

I don’t talk to her much anymore. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I really cried. I guess it was our anniversary, one month ago today. I do feel the urge to cry well up in me often, but real sobbing hasn’t happened like it used to. I have begun to remove some pictures off the wall. They really do seem like images framed in pain; all those smiles smiled in vain. They tell me of another life, and I can feel the sullenness enter my veins where the sadness used to cloud. There is no secret formula for conquering grief. You cannot know that taking 21% of the pictures down at one year does the trick. But, I am staring at these stills of a great life with less of an enduring sadness and more with a smoldering exasperation. I know that no smiles were in vain- I am just tired of carrying weight. One can only endure so much- I miss her terribly and I am beginning to miss myself. Diving into  becoming the best father the world has ever known was a great place to hide but I realize that this is not healthy for a long period of time. Sure, I can still earn my place as the best dad but I am so much more.

With God, through something like this especially, there is no standing still. I remember yelling at Him and fighting to believe in Him in spite of the dark silence. All those infinite “why’s” still have not found their home, but I believe now more than ever that God has no reasons. He needs none for He knows all. He simply is. I am small, and that is hard to admit; but, man is not the measure of his maker. And, it is only because of Him that I have made it to this day, alive. I do look forward to the day when I can know as I am known and see clearly, but for now, I am bound by my small understanding, longing for my intended home. As hard as it is to say, God has put me through this in order for me to point towards Him. In losing my wife, I must count it as gain. To have nothing is to have everything.

I am not saying this in some sort of chritianese. In fact, I cannot stand the regurgitated sayings that float around. Early on, when I could barely manage the pain, I wanted to punch many people in the face for their “encouraging” words. I wanted to let them know how their easy words made me feel. “Don’t talk to me about God’s plan or being in His hands or restoration or any of those tired sayings. Just, be real for one second of your life.” Of course, I never said this out loud. I haven’t ever had much patience for clumsy and/or borrowed words; but, in spite of feeling like I had “earned” a platform for saying whatever I wanted to say, I had to force myself to look past their words and into their intentions. No one meant to sound like a crashing cymbal- that’s just what I heard.

I struggled with losing God more than I struggled with losing Carla. I am glad now that God shattered the house I built for him in my mind. I hope I never begin construction on another. No amount of pain, although crippling at times, or amount of happiness, although distracting at times, can compare with knowing and trusting in God. Nothing in this life compares to knowing my God, through Jesus Christ. I know He is big enough for my questions for He created and keeps this large chunk of matter spinning around a huge ball of fire, which is insane if I think about it for more than a few minutes. I know He is loving enough to endure my anger for He endured the margins of manhood to let me know of Himself and His love for me, which is unfathomable no matter how long I reflect.

Today is both milestone and millstone. The weight I wear and the year I have worn it are dear and dreadful, but I believe that I will be a better man for having endured.

We would have been married 7 years today. I have been married 7 years today. Which is true? Either way, I have been married to something, if not Carla, something I have replaced her with, some flashes of memory, some black and white images, some ideal of “what she would want”. Its really not her. No matter how intentional I am of not replacing her with some function of myself and/or the feelings, it happens. The truth is, she needs nothing from me and any sort of picture or memory or ideal cannot do justice to her. Like she needs “justice.” She was unpredictable, an enormous element in my absolute adoration of her. Anything I dwell on now is some form of me trying to create the past in the present. I cannot live in the past. Even if I could live in the past and therefore make it my present, I would have to endure wind that blows right through me and sun that doesn’t warm me because nothing can be changed. I would live with the weight of knowing and I would be less than I am.

The truth is that this anniversary will be spent alone. There will be no romantic dinner, no smiles exchanged, no flowers delivered, no cards filled with expressive words, no passion shared, no talks of the future, no holding hands, no “I love You” whispered in ears. The truth is that my wife is dead. No matter how many pictures I keep or songs I sing, she is gone forever. The truth is that I am tired of missing her. The weight of it is agonizing. She doesn’t need me to miss her. The truth is that my misery is my selfishness with its face painted. I never wanted to be the victim and have refused most help, but the truth is that I have told myself a lie and have played the victim in my own head. While “Get over it!” or “Suck it up!” doesn’t quite do it, I must remember where she is now and that she is better off. I just need to get over myself.

The truth is that Carla is gone and I am not. The truth is that I am left to raise Linen alone. The truth is that she will never know Carla, only a collection of memories and no matter how complete I make that collection; it could never be her or even a worthy depiction of her. Mostly likely, although equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful, Linen will know a mother who is not Carla. She will love another, take instruction from another, trust and confide in another and want to model another mama who is not Carla. The implications for me and the delicate balance required for my feelings and another’s, because of my beautiful scar, seem impossible right now no matter how hopeful.

The truth is that Carla is alive finally, awakened and aware of her created intention, her planned perfection before there was time and I am left here with more growing to do. The truth is that I must take what I have been given and become stronger. A friend that I have shared some thoughts with told me that we are all alone here, transient strangers. I think that is such a sad view of this life. I believe we are eternal and that we were made for community, which is somewhat of a bizarre declaration for me since I have a tendency to be a loner. I have seen so much damage being committed in community but I know that giving up on it is the easy road. I believe that Carla is experiencing all that she was made for. Why can’t I be happy in that? No amount of reasoning or logic in what I believe to be true can take away the sting of death. The truth is that in all my attempts to understand why, both physically and big picture, I cannot comprehend.

Carla was, in so many ways, the link to a world going on outside my head. She made most of the plans, at least the ones that mattered. She got us involved with friends. I never had to remember a birthday, and hopefully I get a free pass on that this year. She made me aware of my blindness to so much that really matters. I know, at first, this is why the world seemed strange and I just floated, numb. I know that I created my life around her and that is why I was so infuriated at God for taking her away. It sounds so selfish on this side of things. My happiness was totally contingent on hers and without seeing her happiness, physically, I had none.

The truth of this day is that I have hope for myself and my remaining earthly days. The absolute truth is that God has allowed me to endure this for a reason. I surrender my attempts at knowing why. I hope that through it all, He is increased in me. I know that would make Carla smile. I know that she would want Linen to have a mother to nurture and raise her. I know that Carla would want me to marry again. I know that whoever “she” ends up being, she will have to be extraordinary, not only to handle this with grace but just to put up with me at all.

I believe that we will look back and find that specific days are insignificant, for time doesn’t exist, for we are all eternal.  This day is a grain of sand that I pulled from the bottom of the ocean- so focused on it, I hold it in my hand feeling its texture and noting its color and size, closing my eyes as I embrace how it makes me feel while I float in the deep of life. The truth is that I will eventually let go of this piece of sand and watch it fall as I embrace the sun on the surface.