Unexpected Second Life

I had my life planned.  It was a good plan.  It was an altruistic, fiscally responsible, family-friendly kind of plan.  It was a dependable and worthy plan.  My plan blew up.

I don’t have a plan anymore.

In May of 2017 I was a part time Music Therapist and full time Stay at Home Mom happily tending to the needs of my young children, cooking healthy dinners, doing mediocre housework and generally enjoying the life that comes from new babies and happy marriages in Madison Wisconsin.

In May of 2017 my husband and our two kids left for a three week East Coast Extravaganza!  A family adventure that would bring us to see most of our friends and family throughout the Northeast through a compact, kid-friendly and well thought out travel schedule.

In May of 2017, my husband died in a hospital room in New York City.

In May 2017, my life imploded in what continues to be the most profound, painful and mind-altering experience imaginable.  Welcome to my journey.  Welcome to the inner workings of my mind as I process, grieve, expand, continue.

Welcome to my unexpected second life.

 

Decisions.

As soon as I walked into the doors of Tisch NYU, I knew that Tim was in good hands.  His nurses greeted me at the entrance of the room before he even arrived.  They hugged me. They called me a hero (I’m not sure I am, but it was nice).  For a little while, they made me feel like everything might be ok.  I told them who I was.   A visibly pregnant one instinctively touched her round belly when I told them the ages of my children.  For the next week, we were all cared for by a compassionate, caring, and highly skilled team of professionals.  Tim received the best care we could have possibly asked for.

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One thing that Tim identified most strongly with was his intellect.  Not in a boastful or arrogant sort of way, but in his passions, his communication, his interests.  Tim was a man who would stay up late watching academics solve complex math equations over YouTube.  He read dense scientific studies for fun.  He was a physicist, a philosopher, a poet.  He expressed himself through complex, rambling writings about the nature of time and space.  Any political conversation could turn into an intense and in-depth debate.  His brain would turn on at 1am, as he sat in bed, keeping me awake with deep philosophical rabbit holes he eagerly explored.  Tim was brilliant.  In the words of a friend, his brain was a “national treasure”.  He was a literal genius.

 

In my own work as a music therapist, I have worked with people throughout the neurological spectrum.  My work with people with profound developmental disabilities, catastrophic brain injuries, late stage Alzheimers, would send me home with questions about the nature of life.  What is life?  What makes a life worth living?  Saving?  Where is the threshold we cross that changes this?  Who can make such a judgement?  How do we make these choices for fellow human beings?  How can we not?

Tim always feared dementia.  He often expressed paranoia around the concussions he sustained as a young football star.  He didn’t want to loose his cognitive functioning.  He didn’t want to become a shell of who he was.  He expressed on several occasions that suicide, physician assisted or otherwise, was what he would want in such a situation.  Decades from now.  When we were to be old together.  If it ever came to that.

So in that week he spent in the in-between, I needed to know about his brain.  I needed to know if the interventions and surgeries, the pain and suffering on his part, were worth it.  I needed to know if Tim was still in there…because I suspected he was not.

But the thing with Grey Matter is that it leaves so much grey area.  Because how damaged must a brain be to deem it unsalvageable?  At what point can we determine that a life is no longer worth saving?  How could we know what the outcome would be?  What if Tim made it…but lost himself, everything that he was, in the process?  What if he came back a deeply damaged, but very much alive, human being?

Would he want to live?  (Would I want to see him live like that?)

 

I thought about these things incessantly.  Because, as his wife, I had to make the choices around these things if he could not.

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Tim’s neurologist, Dr. Aaron Lord (quite the name), was a competent, kind, and highly direct man.  On our first meeting, he asked me about Tim and I’s spiritual beliefs and what we believed happened after death.  I regaled him with our Secular Humanism and wonder with the Universe, thrilled to be able to share our belief system with someone who cared.  He was feeling me out.

I watched him closely when he performed his status checks on Tim.  For any signs of change.  Of progress.  Any indication that Tim could possibly reemerge.  I watched his eyes in the glances he would give his assistant.  I would watch for him the the hallways and jump to attention the moment he came into my presence.  He was the man who would hold the most important pieces of this puzzle.

 

Tim’s body was incredibly sick.  His liver and kidneys were failing.  He was on 24/7 dialysis and his skin was a putrid shade of yellow.  A mechanical implant worked on behalf of half-dead heart muscle, the aftermath of a 100% blockage of his LAD.  (He would have been THRILLED to know he had become part cyborg.)  Even on his best days he was touch-and-go.  So it took him until May 21st to be healthy enough to be unhooked long enough to get an MRI.

I had originally planned to send my parents home with my children that day, to get the kids out of the city, to give me some more space to be with Tim.  We woke up that morning and I changed my mind.  I might need them close after all.  I went to the hospital during the morning rush hour.  It was Sunday, and unlike the previous mornings the train was quiet.  I went to Tim’s room first thing, as usual, to talk to him, give him hugs and kisses, to check in with his staff.  They were confident that he would be able to get the MRI that day, they said.  He would go in as soon as he could.  We would get our results in a few short hours.

So we waited.  I colored in the coloring books friends had sent me.  I paced the halls and walked in circles.  I sat with the family in the same corner of the small waiting room we had claimed as our own.  Friends came to visit.  We waited some more.

Tim was brought back from surgery to re-implant his heart device, and I went into his room to turn his music back on and greet him.  I stood in the corner, overwhelmed, nervous, fumbling with the phone, when the Cardiologist came in.  Dr. Zackarey with his kind, wet eyes, and permanently somber expression.  I broke down when I saw him appear next to me.  He took my arm, and gently asked me to come to the conference room.

We gathered with Tim’s team.  His mother, father, sister, brother, and myself.  Dr. Zackarey and and Dr. Lord.

Dr. Lord opened the conversation immediately, ” We have gathered in the conference room, so I know that you all know this is a difficult conversation.  Tim’s cortex is profoundly damaged.  If he were to live, he would live in a vegetative state.”

A moan rose out of my belly and filled my head with sound.  My entire body went numb. I doubled over in pain.  Tim’s mother started to cry, and I covered my ears to block the noise, her pain being overwhelming to me in that moment.  She asked if anything could be done, the question a mother must ask, and I snapped at her.  Because I was terrified of  the weight of this decision.  The consequences of this decision.  The people I had seen in nursing home beds for decades of their lives.  The human shells of people that had been, before their accidents, their stokes, their heart attacks.

The things that happen to people.

The things Tim never wanted to happen to him.  

 

But the prognosis was clear.  Tim’s beautiful, brilliant brain was gone.

 

And so on May 21st 2017, I made the most difficult decision I hope I ever have to face.

 

I made the choice to allow Tim’s life to end.

 

 

 

His family understood.  They agreed.  Because they knew him too.

So they went into the waiting room to tell the loved ones who had gathered.  And I went to see Tim.

I walked into the room to see a circle of interns surrounding Tim’s bed.  The looked up in surprise, then sympathy.  “Do you have any questions?” the resident asked me gently.

“What are the laws here?  Around death.”  I was flat and cold.

“I’m not sure I understand.  You can remove your husband from life support and we will do everything we can to keep him comfortable in the process.”

“So you can’t just help him die?  I don’t understand why I can put my fucking dog down but I can’t put down my husband.”  A dark, brittle laugh came out of my throat.  Because I was hurting so deeply.  Because the whole situation was so fucked up.  Because I didn’t want Tim to suffer in any way.  I wanted to make everyone as uncomfortable as I was, and I just couldn’t keep it together any longer.  And then I started to sob.  The interns quietly filed past me, expressing their condolences with their eyes.  The resident hugged me close and said “We will do everything we can do to keep him comfortable.”

 

I walked out to the lobby, to the loved ones waiting, and told everyone I was getting the fuck out of the hospital.  We would give Tim a couple days, so people could say goodbye.  (In retrospect, I would have given him longer.  There were so many people who wanted to say goodbye.) and my dear friend, Molly came with me for a walk.

When Tim and I were younger and living in the Boston area, we went to New York regularly, every 8 weeks or so.  One place we loved to visit with friends was a rice pudding shop in SoHo.  So Molly and I stepped out into the brilliant May sunlight, and I decided to get myself some fucking rice pudding.

So we started to walk.  Down the East River, past middle aged men smoking pot on a bench, past bicyclists and runners and dog walkers.  Across a footbridge and past a mother yelling at her toddler.  Past friends playing basketball and couples drinking wine, and couples making out and couples arguing in public.  Past murals and billboards and overflowing trash-cans.  Down St. Mark Place where we had bought a mango wood vase for my mom that smelled like woodsmoke.  Past wig shops and beauty parlors, and around a corner where my mom and best friend Matt were waiting for me.

And we got some rice pudding, and brought it home to Brooklyn.

And I hugged my babies with all the love in my heart.

And I realized that life was just going on.  On the worst day of my life.  The worst decision I could possibly have to make. Life was just going on.  And everyone else out there in the world was having a day too.  And the sun was shining and the weather was nice.  And maybe it was a great day, or maybe it was even worse than mine, but everyone was just out there.  Living their life.  Because that’s all you do until the day you die.  You just live.  All together, billions of us on this little planet in an infinite Universe.  And I realized that, there, on that worst day, Tim’s life was coming to and end.  And my life was coming to an end.  But he was going to die, but I would have to live.

And so, on May 21st, I remind myself that I am still here to live.  I choose that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Year

It’s May 15th.

Today marks a full year since the last time I heard Tim’s voice.  Since the last time I was able to hug or kiss him with his arms wrapped tightly around me.  Since I smelled his scent or looked into his inhabited eyes.

May 15th 2017 seemed like a normal day.  Tim woke up not feeling well.  His left arm was bothering him.  He was having allergy symptoms.  We were on the road, visiting family in the Northeast, and we had stayed with his grandmother the night before.  We assumed it was travel and sleeping in different beds.  He must have slept on his arm funny.  Maybe it was his grandmother’s cat causing the wheezing.  I sent him out to take a drive and get some fresh air away from the kids.

I was irritated with him.  Here we were, visiting his family, traveling with a three year old and a 9 month old, and he wasn’t feeling well.  His grandmother suggested that he would go to a local urgent care, but Tim had a tendency to over-react to illness.  The common cold might as well have been ebola to him…so I rolled my eyes and focused on packing up our belongings, wrangling and dressing our kids, and prepping for the next leg of the trip.  All the while being annoyed by the allergy symptoms that always had a way of popping up when he was stressed or over-tired.

(I’m sorry, Tim.)

He got back from running errands.  I started loading out suitcases into the car and asked him how he was feeling.  We were standing in the driveway of his grandmother’s condo development.  He stood before me, his eyes wide.

“RoseAnna, I’m scared.  I feel really weird.”

All my irritation melted away.  I grabbed him around the shoulders and hugged him close for a long moment.

“Ok, go to the urgent care clinic.  I’ll take care of the kids”.

So he got in his grandmother’s car, with her, and they went to the clinic ,while I brought the kids to a local raptor preserve to look at birds.  An activity we had planned to do together.

 

I felt concerned that morning.  But I was distracted.  By my kids.  By my timeline.  By the stress of travel and family dynamics.  By all the things that don’t really matter anymore.

 

Tim told the clinic his symptoms.  He was a healthy 34 year old man experiencing chest tightness, wheezing, and left arm pain.  They did an EKG, it was normal.  They gave him a nebulizer treatment, he responded well to it.  They sent him away.  They didn’t do any follow up tests.  They didn’t send him to an ER…but according to the standards of practice, they did what they were supposed to do.  Even if it wasn’t enough.

 

Tim and his grandmother met us at a playground I had found in my desperate attempt to keep my kids occupied in an unfamiliar town.  We went out for lunch.  Tim was feeling better.  He ate.  He talked politics.  He was tired, but he was Tim.  We got in the car, and he asked me to drive.  After the eventful morning, this seemed normal.  We talked and listened to music as our kids napped.  We stopped to pick up some beer and wine to bring to our friends in Brooklyn, our next destination.  Tim took a short nap.  This was not unusual.  We drove across Staten Island and the Verrazano Bridge into Bay Ridge Brooklyn, and found parking just steps from our friends’ building.  Tim’s arm still hurt.  We carried our things upstairs and settled in for the evening.

 

We were staying with our friends that night and had plans to visit the Museum of Natural History the following day.  Our friends, Matt and Adam, are musicians, and the kids were having a blast dancing around Matt and his wife Molly’s living room as they played piano, accordion, and emptied the storage bench of rhythm instruments.  Tim was dancing around, laughing.  He had some coffee, then a couple beers.  We ate cheese and grapes and placed an order for take out.  Tim ordered a “Cardiac Burger”.  Huh.

 

It was time for bed, and Tim was exhausted.  He asked me to bath the kids and get them in their jammies, and he took a short nap.  He woke to read them books in the spare room and tuck them into bed.  The kids settled quickly, and for the first time all day, Tim and I had a chance to sit in the living room and chat.  I asked him how he was feeling and rubbed his back.  He said he was feeling fine.  His arm still hurt, he was tired, but he was fine.  We talked about the Urgent Care visit.  How thankful we were that it was “nothing serious”.  We wondered what the bill would be.  It didn’t matter, I said, “At least you’re ok”.  For 15 minutes we just talked and laughed and reconnected after a long day.

Then, suddenly, Tim’s head snapped back.  A horrible snorting sound came out of his mouth.  Matt came out of the bathroom.  We thought he was fake-snoring at first, but he didn’t respond when I called his name.  Matt was on the phone with 911 immediately, I rushed to Tim’s side and cradled him in his arms.  His face had an expression of shock, his eyes fixed to the ceiling as he desperately pulled for breath.  I rubbing his chest and whispered “I love you, I love you, it’s going to be ok.  I love you”. Over and over again.  I told Matt what I was seeing.  Was it a seizure?  A stroke?  Then his lips started to turn blue.  He stopped breathing.

Something in him left.  I felt it.

I pulled him to the floor.  I will never forget how heavy his lifeless body felt in that moment.  The CRP classes I had taken for 4 years kicked in and I began robotically tilting his chin, breathing into his mouth, compressing his chest.  I went totally numb as a counted.  My friend appeared in the doorway, I didn’t recognize her.  The sick feeling in my stomach grew as I heard my own breath rattling violently out of his flaccid lungs.  His body moving up and down with my force.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…mentally willing him to breath.

Then I felt a presence in the room.  A man’s  soft, firm voice, “We’ll take it from here.”

 

I pulled back as a mass of NYC first responders flooded the room with bodies and equipment.  They started asking questions.  “Does he have any health conditions?” “No, he’s healthy.” “Has he taken anything?”  “Some Tylenol?  He might have taken a muscle relaxer”.  “Has he taken any drugs?” “He smoked some pot last week, but…”

 

They took turns working on his body.  They injected him over and over with Epinephrin, Narcan, anything that might revive his heart.  They intubated him as I sat and watched, numb.  Matt’s arms around me.  They shocked him with the AED.  Over and over and over.  I sat and stared.  Powerless.  They started to wonder if they should “call it”.  Then another EMT volunteered “I’ll try”.  The large, muscular men pressed on his chest, sweat running down their faces.  For 20 minutes I watched.

Then a heart beat returned to the little portable screen at his feet.

“He has a pulse.  He has a pulse.  Matt, it’s been a long time…”

They lifted him on a stretcher and began debating how to get him down narrow elevator and stairs.  Nobody would look me in the eyes.  I grabbed my purse and his sweater, slipped on my shoes.  I gave my friends directions of how to care for the kids.  “Claira has never had formula…I don’t know if she’ll take it…she gets up a few times a night…”  They reassured me.  I trusted them.  Thank goodness for them.

 

I walked down the three flights to the ambulances parked out front.  I climbed in front with the driver.  I could tell from the conversation in the back that Tim was not stable.  He had been gone a long time.  The driver and I sat silently.  I watched the lights blur and heard the sirens wailing as we careened through the streets of Brooklyn.  I marveled at how skilled his driving was.  How surreal this family vacation has suddenly become.  I didn’t feel a thing.

I held Tim’s hand as they rolled him into the waiting emergency department.  They knew he was coming.  The nurses looked at me with sad eyes as I walked past.  They put me in a small room next to his and offered me water.  Matt had come in the other ambulance.  Tim’s twin sister, Kelli, arrived shortly after.  We sat and waited.

The police came to ask me questions.  Doctors came in and out, with few updates.  They were just trying to get him “stable” they said.  They were just trying to keep him alive.  They asked me about his health history.  His family history.  I would be bombarded with questions, then left in silence for long stretched of time.  Only one doctor looked me in the eyes.  I thanked him.

I left the little room to return a nurse’s phone charger.  I saw them working on Tim again, doing CPR up on his gurney.  I stood and watched with the crowd of medical professionals around me.  “You might not want to be here”, the social worker said.  I went back into the little room.  She came in. “It’s not looking good.”  “WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!”  “It’s not looking good.”  She was cold.  I called her a bitch as she walked away, because she was.

They came to tell me that they were going to bring Tim to the Cath Lab to run a catheter into his heart.  They didn’t know where to bring me, so they brought me to activity room on the stoke unit.  Tim’s family arrived and joined me there.  The massive TV was blaring CNN and I turned it off.  I looked in the cupboard marked “Art Supplies” and only found a box of broken tiles.  It all made perfect sense.

We waited for over an hour.  Nobody was able to tell us anything.  Everyone told me to be positive.  But I knew what I knew.  Finally, the cardiologist came into the room.  Tim was stable, he said.  His body was fighting…but he had gone a very long time without oxygen.  They were worried about his brain.

I let out a primal scream that filled the room and echoed down the corridor.

A nurse came into the chastise me for yelling, so I screamed at her too.

All we would do was wait.

They brought Tim to the trauma unit.  They let us see him.  He looked bloated and pale.  He was unconscious.  He was hooked up to machines.  I rubbed his feet and sang “Dream A Little Dream of Me”, the lullaby I always sang for our babies.

 

We went to another waiting room.  There were no windows.  We sat for hours, waiting.  There were no updates.  He was barely alive.  That was it.  So we all just sat.

Morning came.  I needed to see my children.  So I left the hospital and stepped out into the early morning sunlight, barely able to function.  Matt hailed a cab. We rode back to his apartment.  The kids were up, waiting for me.  Byron wanted to know where Papa was.  He’s at the hospital, I said, he’s sick.  I cuddled them.  I took a shower.  I took phone calls.  Later that morning, Tim was moved across the river to Tisch NYU on 1st Ave in Manhattan.  Groggy and shaken, I got on the train and went to him.

Revisiting Madison: Going Home

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The day we left Madison, May 11th 2017, I had a feeling of dread.  It was not something I could explain.  It washed over me like as wave as we drove on E. Johnson Ave from our apartment to the Dane County Regional Airport.  I reasoned that it was because we had forgotten something, our camera, but it felt stronger and darker than a feeling of forgetting.  It was a deep feeling of foreboding that settled into the pit of my stomach and slowly went away.  It was intuition.

Tim died 4 days later.  And again, 8 days after that.  We never went home.

Just two weeks shy of one year since we left Madison, I returned with my children.  I had flown back briefly to pack my apartment in the aftermath of Tim’s death.  It was traumatic and overwhelming.  I mostly operated on autopilot as I went through the belongings of our 12 years together and determined what would be packed for our next life and what would stay behind.  But this time, I went back to visit.  To see friends and loved ones.  To reconnect.

It was a beautiful experience, to be there again, with my children, a year later.  To stay and reconnect with friends who are now family.  To visit the places of our past.  The zoo. The Children’s Museum.  The Botanical Garden.  The city my children were conceived and born in.

I was surrounded with love the entire trip.  It was overwhelming to be so inundated with the love and attention of people I so deeply care about.  The people we met before we were pregnant.  The women I connected with in those chaotic newborn days.  The friends and neighbors we met and loved along the way.  It was rejuvenating to remember just how loved we were and still are.

And it was refreshing to see that they, too, have changed.  Friends with new babies.  Divorces.  Physical transformations.  Sick parents.  Dead loved ones.  They have changed too.  Madison did not simply stop existing the moment we left.  The infrastructure has changed.  The people have continued living.  Time has pressed forward regardless of our presence there.  And that was comforting.  To know that we are not the only ones.  Everyone has experienced change, hardship, trauma, grief.  And for a week, we could be together in that.

The trip home was harder than I anticipated it being.  A few days in, I started experiencing horrible stomach pain and headaches.  I chalked it up to too many drinks (though I had not had many), or a stomach bug.  But it would mysteriously disappear in social gatherings.  And when we got home.  I believe it was stress and grief in it’s physical manifestations.  And it’s probably a good thing I had a chance to feel it.

It was healing as well.  I left some of Tim in Madison.  After dinner with two close friends, we walked a dark trail on the outskirts of the Arboretum and poured some of Tim’s ashes into Lake Wingra.  It felt right to leave some of him there, in this city that had made us who we were.  This place that our family was formed.  Our home.

 

I look forward to future trips to Madison.  To showing my children the city of their infancy, and watching them take it in as they grow.  We were fortunate to have that place.  We still have that place.

Transition and Transformation

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It is no secret that the past year has been a struggle.  In this vortex/dumpster fire, “journey” if you want to make it sound nice, I have been forced to recon and reconcile with my deepest fears, insecurities and sorrows.  A year ago, as I played in our shared backyard with my babies, as I walked the stroller to the playground and treated my little ones to ice cream, as I agonized over the challenges of motherhood and marriage, I did not know who I would become.  I did not know the sadness, anger, numbness a person could experience.  I did not know the choices I would have to make and the experiences I would have to face. I didn’t know how strong I was.

I know now.

I know there is so much I do not know.

 

Beyond raising/supporting my children and getting myself reintegrated, I have had two main focuses in the past year.

  1. Find, buy, and establish a home for myself and my children.
  2. Find or establish a meaningful job-career to support myself and my children.

These are the pillars on which I build the person I am becoming.

 

It has been 341 days since I sat on that couch in Brooklyn and watched the man I love slip away from his body and into the unknown.

 

I am becoming.

 

1.5 weeks ago I closed on my house.  An exciting update for a separate post.  An airy, open home filled with history and creative energy, built with good bones.  Practical and dreamy.  I am in the unpacking process.  There is a lot to unpack.  (Literally and figuratively…see what I did there? lollollol)

 

Today I sit in a hotel room on the edge of the ocean, at a conference surrounded by my Music Therapy colleagues.  It has been years since I took the time to care for my professional self.  5 years+ since I last saw any of these people.  My heart is filled with gratitude and my mind is filled with motivation.  I have been waiting to go back to work as a music therapist and mental health counselor.  I have been waiting to regain the emotional stability, clarity, and presence to support my clients they way in which they need.  While I am not there, yet, I feel myself growing in that direction.  I feel the deep love and support of my professional community.   I feel the pull of my professional being urging me to read, do, learn.

And this is a very exciting.  Because it means that I am on the other side of something.

I am able to look to my future with anticipation and for-thought.  I am able to imagine who I want to be and the life I want to live with clarity.  And I am not so naive to believe that this can all be carefully planned and executed, because life does not go that way.  But I do know I can move forward with intention.  With purpose.  With confidence.  With joy? And that is a gift I treasure.  To have a future to move forward to.

 

Maybe this second life won’t be so bad after all.

 

Maybe joy can return.

 

My tree has been dormant and frozen.  The buds are beginning to emerge.  I’m still alive.

 

A New Home for Tim

 

When Tim died, I had him cremated.  What he would have wanted.  His body was turned to ash at a cemetery just a few miles from the house he grew up in, on a sad stretch of Rt 1 in urban New Jersey.  A cemetery we had passed countless times on drives to visit his family.

The day I flew to Madison to retrieve our belongings from our apartment, his ashes arrived via FedEx.  Packaged in a generic plastic box with his name printed on the front.  For the past year, Tim’s remains have existed in that box, tucked in a cabinet in my parent’s house.

I initially did not know what to do with the ashes I had in my possession.  I have no intention of keeping Tim forever.  I have given bits of him to friends and family, scattered him in Rahway Park, the Charles River, under a flowering crab tree on my parent’s property, and in the gardens outside the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.  More of him will go to Wingra Lake in Madison, WI, The Connecticut River running through the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, the sands of Cannon Beach, OR and China Beach in San Fransisco.  Bits of Tim will be sprinkled amongst the buttress roots of our favorite tree in Sarasota Florida.  Some will go in my flower gardens.  What remains will fly with my children and myself to Ireland, the country Tim always dreamed of visiting but never had the chance to see.

Because I had planned on spreading Tim in all the places he loved, I did not initially buy him an urn.  It seemed like just one more heartbreaking task to take on amongst the legal documents and financial concerns.  As time has gone by, however, I started wanting to find a home for Tim.  A more permanent, dignified vessel in which he could reside.

Throwing an urn at the pottery studio seemed like a good idea, but I wanted to make sure the piece reflected who Tim was and not what I wanted to make for him.  Most urns I found online seemed tacky, too generic, too ornate, too boring.  I started thinking about a wooden urn that reflected Tim’s warm, solid nature and started scouring the internet for handmade pieces.

One night I came across the right urn for Tim.  A hand turned, black walnut urn with a modern, almost space-ship like design.  The grain, color, and shape seemed perfect.  Something Tim would have likely picked out for himself.

It arrived today.  Two days before I close on our new home, Tim’s new home came in the mail.  I placed the bag containing his ashes in it.  I put in his favorite tattered wallet, a memorial card from his celebration of life, the malfunctioning compass he found at a thrift shop and loved to wear, and his “Wisconsin for Bernie” pin.  Little pieces of who he was amongst what remains of him.

I look forward to putting him on a shelf, surrounded by his books and journals.  I’m glad to have him in a fitting container.  One that I know he would have loved.

It’s funny the things that can bring you bits of joy.

My stardust love in a wooden jar.

Revising New York: Re-entry 


Last night I returned to New York City for the first time since May.  We hit the city limits around 7pm.  Traffic moved freely through the twisting freeways and concrete overpasses.  My GPS routed me to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn via Manhatten, down the JFK, past the asphalt plant and the towering high rises, down the East River.  Past the hospital where Tim died.  Under the footbridge I crossed the day of the MRI.  Through the awe inspiring infrastructure that makes this seemingly impossible city sustainable.  Through the Battery Tunnel,.  To my best friend’s apartment, where I last heard Tim’s voice.

The kids were perfect travel companions, considering their age and needs.  We found parking quickly and settled in without incident.  I slept in the same room I spent that last week of Tim’s life.  Sat on the couch where he took his last conscious breath.  

It’s surprisingly good to be here.  To be with loving friends.  To revisit this space.  To make new memories.  

The coming week will bring museums, subway rides, visits with family.  I will bring the kids to the places Tim was so excited to show them.  To finish this adventure he started.  

Holding Tim in our hearts and minds.  Living this new life we have the chance to live.

Last Easter

 

Growing up, for me, Easter was a big day.  We would invite our large extended family to our home for an Easter meal and sugar-on-snow at the Sugar House.  The ground would be muddy and damp and the smell of boiling maple sap filled the air.  We would walk down the dirt road to my dad’s sugar house and drink warm,fresh maple syrup from the canning tank.  We were surrounded by family and friends.  It was a happy time.

As an adult, I would generally mix up my Easter plans.  Tim and I lived too far from family to make it to a Sunday celebration, so we would generally celebrate with friends in their homes or the homes of their relatives.  Every year was different and I grew to enjoy the new traditions we were developing as a family.

Last Easter was my favorite as an adult.  We invited a large group of families into our small apartment for a potluck brunch.  We enjoyed mimosas and set up an egg hunt in our shared backyard for our toddlers and babies.  It was a warm, beautiful spring day, and Madison was vibrant and alive with the energy of renewal.  We were surrounded by friends and happiness.  It was a beautiful day.  A happy day.  It was the last holiday Tim and I were able to truly share together, as our little family of four.

This year is different.  We are here in Vermont, on the cusp of a move into our new home, still living with my parents.  We had planned on a quiet (sad) day at home until a gracious family member thankfully invited us to their family gathering.  The kids got treats and books and flower seeds from the Easter Bunny.  I’m doing what I can to keep it together and share a good day with my kids.

 

The concept of Easter to me feels like a joke this year.  The myth of resurrecting from the dead a cruel reminder of my dead husband sitting in the plastic box in our cupboard.

 

I keep thinking of last year, and the years before when we were able to enjoy the celebration of spring,.  The rebirth of the earth in the Northern Hemisphere, the promise of things to come.  We are undergoing a slow, painful rebirth this year.  The Spring brings memories of Tim’s last weeks, his death, the aftermath.  It brings the promise of a new home, healing family trips, a new garden, a new start.  I wonder what next Easter will look like.  Feel like.  There is hope for the things to come.  And pain in that hope.

 

I would give anything to bring Tim back from the dead.

 

Today, I’ll settle for happy kids, chocolate bunnies, melting snow, and ham.

Equinox

 

It’s the Vernal Equinox today.  When I woke to my daughter’s cries at 5am, it was -2 degrees outside.  The world outside is coated in a thick, icy layer of snow.  We are encased in winter, trapped in what feels like an endless forced hibernation.  And yet, it’s the first day of Spring.

I have always relied on the seasons as a source of inspiration and motivation.  The changing seasons bring me comfort in the constant of change and the life-force rhythms that exists in every layer of our beings.  We experience freeze and thaw, growth and stagnation, bloom and wilt, harvest and rot.  There is a time for everything, and we must give ourselves the permission and grace to experience these transitions and stagnations.

It’s seems appropriate that the Spring Equinox remains frozen this year.  And infuriating.  In many ways I am still frozen in my own journey…yet I see the promise of change on the horizon.  The path ahead of me is getting increasingly clearer.  I will close on our home the second week of April.  With the help of family and friends, I will move and unpack the boxes that contain my old life, clean up my possessions, and decide how they will fit in this new life I am creating.  Some may go.  Some may be put back into storage for another phase.  Some will adorn a new home for the new life ahead.

It’s exciting to be on the cusp of something new.  To feel the power of possibilities ahead. It’s nerve wracking.  And sad.  But I am growing more and more thankful for the life that lays ahead.  I’m having mostly good days now.  I’m feeling more confident in myself and who I want to be.  I’m still working out a lot.  I still have a lot of triggers.  My trauma and loss still sits in the forefront of my existence…but they are bringing integrated into a bigger whole.  A stronger whole.

I’m curious to see what challenges lie ahead, and how I will manage them now, as RoseAnna 3.0.  I’m excited to be taking real steps towards going back to work as a Music Therapist and Mental Health Counselor.  To actually feel like I will be ready for that in the coming seasons.  I’m looking forward to diving into the pain that I have been holding onto and really allow myself to feel everything I have had to dampen for the sake of survival.

This Spring is an important one.  May will bring the anniversaries.  It will also bring a new garden.  A new home.  And new beginnings.  And I know Tim would be excited and proud of that.  “…May we create the best possible Universe together…”  I’m working on it.

 

 

Sad Happiness

It’s hard to imagine, but my baby boy will be four tomorrow.  He is growing physically, mentally, and emotionally by the day.  He is brilliant, like his Papa.  He is creative and expressive, like his Papa.  He’s analytical and curious, like his Papa.  He is strong and solidly built, like his Papa.  He never fucking shuts up…like his Papa.  He is Tim in incredibly beautiful, wonderful, meaningful and sometimes infuriating ways.  Every day I am thankful to have these incredible little children, and the connection they give me to Tim.  To have this physical reminder that he was here, and in a way, lives on in their genetic code.  Their co-creator.  Their father.

And in me.  In bearing Tim’s children, my body absorbed pieces of his DNA.  I physically contain parts of him on a molecular level.  I carry his always in my heart and blood and mind.

 

We hosted Jack Byron’s birthday party on Sunday.  A fun, wild little event where we danced and ate chocolate cake.  I spent the day prepping and putting out all the excitement I could muster.  But really I was sad.  It was hard not to disassociate, as I have found I sometimes do.  In this atmosphere of fun and celebration I felt a deep ache for Tim and his presence in our lives.

I have no doubt that tomorrow will be similar, as I bring cupcakes to pre-school, give gifts, and decorate “the whole world”, as Jack Byron has requested.

Because these happy occasions are forever tinged with the weight of grief.  That dark ocean who’s waves splash over me at the most inopportune times.

There is no escaping it.  I am learning to live with it.  To accept it.

Maybe one day I will know pure happiness again.  Maybe not.  Who knows. Either way, I’m learning to roll with it.  Accept whatever joy I can feel and allow the rest to pass through.

Tim.  Know that you are loved.  Know that you are remembered.  And on these “happy” days.  Every day.  You are here, in them.  And in me.

Vacation and Other Big Things

 

It’s been a big few weeks.  An exciting few weeks.  An overwhelming few weeks.

On Valentines Day I got on a plane with my two wild, out of control little children and flew, by myself, to visit Tim’s family in Florida.  Not only did I fly, by myself with two very wild children, I got a rental car by myself and drove the hour from Tampa to Sarasota by myself, then checked into our vacation rental that I got and paid for, by myself, and spent the week in Florida, in a rental apartment, with two kids, by myself.

Yes.

I’m proud of myself guys.

I feel smug and superior, and while I would normally tamp down those types of feelings, I’m just going to let myself have this one.

Because I took my two wild little children and brought them on a week long vacation that I paid for, ALL. BY. MY. SELF.

And it was fun.  We spent a lot of time with Tim’s family and the kids got to soak up time playing with their grandmother, aunt, uncles, and cousin.  We went to the Botanical Garden and visited the tree Tim and I took photos in front of every year since Byron was born.

We went to the aquarium and the beach.  We visited Tim’s great aunt.  We picnicked with his aunt.

We went to at least three different playgrounds.

Nobody got sunburned.

I did it all by myself.

 

Because I can do this.

 

Want to know what else happened on our vacation?  The reason it’s taken me a full week to post about said vacation?

 

I put on offer on a house.  And negotiated the counter offer.  And hired an inspector and applied for a mortgage.  On vacation.  Alone.  With my young, wild children.

 

And in a few short weeks… it will be MY house.

A perfect, sun soaked, vintage home in a little village with lots of character and even more modern updates.

And I’m doing that by myself too.  Buying it.  By myself.

 

Because I can do this.