Happiness Reclaimed

 

There was a very long time in this second life that I truly doubted I would ever feel happy again.  Joy was elusive.  Contentment seemed like a dream of an experience I would never live again.  The bitter, broken, burned up remains of my heart and soul sat soaking in a pool of loss and resentment.  I was a shell of myself, empty, my innards piled  on the sidewalk for the whole world to see.  Happiness became something that only others could feels.

My friends…I’m feeling happy again.

There has been an internal shift in these past months.  With the move to my new home.  With the anniversaries behind us.  With the sunlight and garden soil and lake water and long evenings.  I have started to feel whole again.  To feel my strength and resilience as part of my core being.  To feel like this is a life worth living.

It started, at first, with a few moments of light that would peek through the fog.  Then those moments began to stretch and weave themselves into my existence until the days started feeling lighter and softer.  The flashbacks started to taper off, and I could go days, weeks without the tortured memories overtaking my consciousness.  I don’t have them much anymore.  I started to notice that I felt GOOD, and if a random someone asked me how I was, I no longer had to fake a presentable attitude.  My mind feels clearer.  I actually have hope, most of the time, enough of the time.

At some point in the process I read something from someone, that compared picking up the pieces of your life to a mosaic.  Your heart, soul, mind, body shatters into a millions little pieces and you must collect them back up again to survive.  So you have these shards filling your hands, and you begin to lay them down.  There is no way to put to put them back quite the way they were…so you create a mosaic.  And it’s different.  It may not be what you expected or wanted it to be, but it is beautiful and it is complete in it’s own ways.  It’s what is.

So, for me, at this point in the process, I’m good.

I’m figuring it out.

We’re going to be fine.  (And it’s a privilege to be able to say that.)

Summer Solstice

 

Once again, as every year, it has returned.  The longest day.  The light.

It always returns.

Summer Solstice is our annual celebration of the bounty the earth provides us, the light of the sun, the comforting cycles that bring us back to where we need to be.  Reflecting on this day last year, I was in a dark place.  The sunlight and boastful flower blooms were an offensive affront to the dark numbness that had eaten my core.  My overwhelming sadness.  The dark haze that consumed me.  I could not see the light.  I did not want to.

Today brings us back, one year later, and I have changed.  I am in a different time and place.  My sense of self and life and purpose slowly transitioning and emerging.  I can feel the sun now.  It feels good.

The week of the death anniversaries, I got sick.  A horrible head cold that settled deep in my chest and left me lethargic and miserable.  Then came a sudden pain in my shoulder, which migrated to my back, to my hip, to my foot, serving no purpose but a physical manifestation of the hurt I had carried stoically for the past year.  Then it subsided, and I began to emerge a changed person.  In the past weeks, I have felt happiness regularly.  I no longer experience flashbacks, self doubt, tortured thoughts of the trauma I survived.  My ideas for my future are becoming clearer.  I can breath again.

Today, on the Solstice, I drove my kids to the Montshire Museum of Science 1.5 hours away.  We played in the exhibits and stopped for treats at the King Arthur Flour Bakery.  We stopped at my parents on the way home and filled my grandmother’s mixing bowl with berries from my father’s garden.  Tomorrow I will attend a much anticipated music show at my friend’s barn venue.

I’m living my life.  Moving forward with hope and intention.  I don’t feel guilty for feeling good, I just feel good.  There are times of sadness…many.  But not as many as there were.  Because I’m healing and growing and transforming.  I’m capable of joy.  I deserve happiness.

I’m getting there.

 

 

 

Sad Salad for Singles!

 

I had a realization the other day.  I have a large garden that will soon be full of rich, beautiful vegetables, and unfortunately nobody’s going to god damned eat it but ME.

I met Tim when I was 21 years old, and we moved in together a year later, where we lived in a dilapidated two bedroom apartment with Tim’s brother and best friend.  I went directly from dorm dining hall lines to family dinners.  So living on my own, as a single Mama with young kiddos, has been an adjustment in the kitchen.  Despite the pureed kale and flavorful curries I fed my babies, I now have two picky eaters who are hell-bent on surviving off of turkey hot dogs and peanut butter jelly sandwiches…so when it comes to home cooked meals, I’m on my own.

I need to properly fuel this hardworking body.  I deserve that much.  So I’ve developed a method for eating salads perfectly designed for sad single people.  Here your have it:

Sad Salad for Singles

Vegetables

Proteins/Legumes

Maple Mustard Vinaigrette

Go out to your garden.  Pick some lettuce.  Feel the muddy soil beneath your feet and breath in the life-giving aromas of earth and growth and sunlight.  Or just tear open a bag from the store.  Whatever.  You do you.

Get a bunch of veggies.  Carrots, beets, onions, avocado, cucumber, sprouts, whatever you have around.  Finely slice or grate.  I keep a bag of root vegetables in my fridge and just shave off whatever I want with my cheese grater.  Put in half an avocado.  Scratch that, you put in the WHOLE AVOCADO, sweetheart, YOU ARE WORTH IT.  Dump in some olives.  Or not.  Fresh herbs are good too.  This is your salad and I’m not here to tell you what to do.

Add some other stuff.  Like chickpeas.  Or leftover hand-breaded-oven-fried chicken tenders that your four year old turned his nose up over last night even though you birthed him without an epidural and breastfed him for two fucking years of your life.  Cool.  Whatever works for you.

Mix in some salad dressing.  Here’s the recipe:

____________________________________________

Maple Mustard Vinaigrette

3/4 cup decent enough olive oil

1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup

2 Tablespoons Stone ground or Dijon Mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and Pepper

Pour in a mason jar.  Shake.  Now you have salad dressing.

____________________________________________

Put all your stuff in a big, fancy salad bowl.  The kind you use to serve salad at dinner parties.  Mix it all up with a fork.  Sit down at your table.  Just bring the bowl and the fork and some water or whatever, that’s all you need.  No need to dirty another dish, honey.  You rest.

Pull out a magazine about mindfulness or yoga or whatever makes you feel better about yourself.

Don’t look at your phone.  Do. Not. Look. At. Your. Phone.  Your phone will not fill the void.

No, you didn’t get any messages.

Dontlookatyourphonedontlookatyourphoneyourphonewillnotfillthevoiddontlookatit.

Eat your salad.

 

You did good, Honeybear.

 

 

 

 

Celebrations

 

June is Wedding Month.  And Tim’s birthday month.  It’s the month that the garden sowed in early May blooms with verdant, tender leaves and tendrils emerging from the soil and spreading into the freedom of space and light.  It’s the month we transition into summer life and celebrate the light of the longest days.  It’s a time of fullness, vitality, warmth.

I had the pleasure of attending a dear friend’s wedding in Provincetown, MA this week.  After 20 year of commitment and love, he and his partner decided to marry in a festive and fancy Tuesday soiree. I had agreed to do the table decor two weeks prior, and drove down on Sunday with an SUV full of 55 potted purple annuals and rolls of burlap.

Monday, June 11th would have been Tim’s 36th birthday.  I woke in the hotel room I shared with a good friend at a reasonable hour, on my own internal clock.  I walked the mile into town and drank a strong latte in a quiet cafe, before the other revelers and vacationers had emerged from their vacation rentals.  I journaled and doodled, listening to music, watching people, feeling Tim’s energy.  I ate a cannabis edible.  Because that’s what Tim would have done.  I walked through town and explored side streets.  I drove with my windows down and music blaring.  To nearby beaches and wandered the shore, picking colorful rocks from the waves and fixing my eyes  on the horizon in quiet meditation.  What Tim would have done.  I treated myself to brunch.  I found quiet places to read.  I bought myself a few trinkets and a small piece of art.  I took the day minute by minute, letting whatever needed to unfold unfold.  I celebrated Tim, his spirit and energy around me, through the things he would have wanted to do had he been by my side.

I felt happy.  Full.  Warm.

At the wedding ceremony the next day, through thoughtful readings on love and fanciful purple suits, I cried.  Because I felt the love in that room.  Of the men marrying.  From the people around them.  I felt what I had felt on my own wedding day, and remembered the years of careful work and commitment we had put into our partnership.  I cried for my own loss.  I cried for the beauty of the moment.  I sat in awe of the loving energy that existed in the room.

Through the 8 course luncheon (with wine pairings.  FULL wine pairings) I conversed and laughed and relished the joy and community of the moment.  We drunkenly promenaded with purple pashminas and heart shapes umbrellas.  We posed for pictures on the water.

That evening, despite my desire to stagger back to my hotel bed, I switched to water and went out with a group of old and new friends.  And for the first time in a very long time, I felt alive.  I felt connected.  And I had a lot of fun.  A. Lot. Of. Fun.  And today, back in the reality of my every day, I feel deep gratitude.  For connection.  For love.  For friendship.  For the ocean.  For joy.

 

Tim would have loved it.

I lived it for him. I lived it for me.

Hopewell House

 

It’s been a difficult time, these weeks, months.  This year.  There has been a lot of pain, hardship, anger, uncertainty.  There was been countless moments that I felt on the brink of collapse, bewildered by this life and how it all came to this.  Angry at the Universe for leaving us here, stranded on the island of grief.  At a loss as to how I could possibly move forward from here.

I found a foothold, though.  In some small capacity, I have found a way toward the future.

I call it Hopewell House.

Tim and I always dreamed of homeownership.  After twelve years, seven apartments, four cities, two cats, two babies, we dreamed of the day that we would find our home.  A house that we would buy, set up, live in, celebrate.  A farmhouse, we dreamed, with a few acres of land.  Tim wanted to be able to see the night sky in it’s glory.  I wanted a real garden to tend.  Something we could fix up together, make our own.  We wanted room for our children to run and roam the outdoors.  A space in the world to call ours.

When Tim died, I immediately started scouring real estate listings.  In my core, I needed to find a place for my children.  A safe space to shelter and raise them amongst the fallout and chaos of death.  We moved in with my parents, a safe and loving triage, but I needed to find my space to re-begin.  In October I started working with my realtor, but I knew finding the right home would take time.  I wanted a vintage home.  Something with character and history, but as a solo parent I needed to be practical about what kind of house I would take on while caring for young children.  So it took time.

In February, the day before I was to take my kids on our first plane ride, just the three of us, my realtor, John, emailed me.  A new listing, he said, he wondered if I had seen it.  It was the first day in months that I was not obsessively looking at Realestate, so I clicked on the link.  It was perfect.

He scheduled a showing for that evening.  I put an offer down that night, driving to his office at 8:30pm to fill out the paperwork my computer refused to process.  The next day, while driving through Tampa, I negotiated the counter offer over bluetooth.  Two months later, we closed.  It’s mine now.

Hopewell House was built in 1915 in a neighborhood developed by the manufacturing factory that once employed the majority of this border village.  It’s on a quiet street where children play and ride their bikes freely.  It has a small lot with a large garden and minimal grass to mow.  It was owned by the same family for over five decades, a widow and her second husband.  It was cared for with love and thoughtfulness.  It was tastefully renovated and modernized in the months before I bought it.  I named it the day I closed on it.  It’s beyond what I ever imagined my home could be.

We are settling in to our new life here.  There are challenges that arise. Raising young children alone is an exhausting and challenging task, but I’m doing it.  The kids love their rooms, their garden, and the wooded area in the adjoining lot.  We have friendly, caring neighbors, large windows with ample sunlight.  There’s a mantle for Tim’s urn, amethyst crystal, and photographs.  Shelves for his journals and books.  A master suit for me to seek refuge in at the end of the day.  There is room for all of us to grow and flourish as time moves on.  There is a future here.

It’s a bittersweet thing, to buy a house on your own.  To unpack the belongings of a soul-mate who is no longer.  To set up a home for three.  But it’s a good thing too.

Onwards.

Starstuff

 

 

On May 23rd, 2017, we removed Tim from life support.

The previous day had been a tough one.  Tim’s family wanted to remove him sooner, to release his soul from his body, as per his parent’s spiritual beliefs.  I wanted Tim’s friends to have the opportunity to come say goodbye in person.  He had been an empty shell for a week already, there was no reason to rush the process.  They asked for a priest to come, which I was fine with.  The priest could not come until late though, almost 7pm, and I refused to remove him from the ventilator that late in the day, knowing how long the process could take.  We had a tough conversation in the waiting room, our home for the past week.  A loud conversation (that’s on me), that made the others in the vicinity scatter awkwardly.  Arguing over death in a public place.  Add that to your bucket list.

I insisted on waiting.  I demanded that everyone go home.  Shower.  Eat.  Rest.  Come back first the the next morning properly dressed and ready to give Tim the presence and energy he deserved in his final hours.  They agreed.

We gathered at 7:30am outside Tim’s hospital room.  Tim’s parents, brother, sister, and myself.  I instructed everyone to go in, one by one, to say our final goodbyes in private.  I kissed his cheeks and forehead and brushed his hair with my fingers.  I laid on his chest and felt his body rise with each mechanical breath.  I told him how much I loved him.  I promised him I would take care of our babies.  Raise them the way we had planned to do together.  I’ve kept my promise.

The hospice team entered the room and we gathered around Tim in a circle.  They removed his intubation tube as we stroked his skin and spoke words of comfort and love.    We told his it was ok to go.  That we would be ok.  He had permission to leave.

And then we waited.

I put on music, Aimee Mann’s “Mental Illness” album to begin with.  We had been listening to that a few days before the heart attack, he had been enjoyed it.  Tim’s grandmother and aunt arrived, and we sat and talked.  Then friends started to arrive, his best friend with her partner and baby had driven through the night.  Friends of mine from college and high school.  Tim’s dear friends from college and grad school.  They came in groups, in waves.  They brought beer and bourbon and cupcakes.  An old friend of mine who lived nearby sent boxes of sandwiches and snacks from Panera.  On Tim’s last day, we had a party.

We sat and stood, the room bustling with energy.  We cried and laughed and shared our stories and memories as Tim’s chest rose and fell in the center.  We drank and ate and had exactly the kind of gathering Tim loved to be a part of.  Intimate, loving, supportive.

In the morning, I swabbed Tim’s mouth with good coffee.  In the afternoon, I swabbed a hoppy IPA.  I rubbed essential oils on his neck and massaged his hands.  I laid amethyst crystals on his chest and tucked Claira’s stuffed bunny under his arm.  We played the music he loved, Bouncing Souls, Bruce Springsteen, Conner Oberst, Bright Eyes.  This was his day.

In the mid-afternoon, the room quieted.  Friends had left, or stepped out for a break.  His parents had gone downstairs to get coffee and respite.  His uncle sat on one side of him, his sister stood at the other, holding his hand.  Bright Eye’s “Cleanse Song” played over the speaker at his ear. I heard a long breath release from Tim’s lungs.  I stood, went to his side, cradled his head in my hands.  One last breath, short, puffed from his mouth.  Then nothing.  I laid my hand on his chest and felt it’s stillness.  Then the hospice nurse appeared from beyond the curtain.  We locked eyes.  She nodded gently.

He was gone.

A cry tumbled out of my belly.  Then the room erupted in sobs.  His friends and parents rushed in and encircled him in love.  A dear friend had missed him by just seconds.  We touched his body, kissed him face and hands, and felt the last of his warmth while it still lingered.

We could have two hours with him.  After that, he needed to be moved.  He was an organ donor, and while his organs were damaged beyond use, his skin, tissue, nerves, arteries, and corneas would provide precious use to hundreds of others.  I asked a college friend of his to pour shots.  He was a bourbon man.  We toasted him.  I played a singing bowl over his body to clear the energy from the room.

I sat to fill out the death paperwork and realized I could no longer read or write.  His aunt wrote in the information for me.  I packed up a box of the belongings, cards, gifts that had accumulated in the past 8 days.  I gave him one last kiss, his cheeks cool now.  I stepped out of his room, down the hall, I thanked the nurses, we filed the paperwork.  My friend, Adam, hailed a cab on 1st Ave, and for the last time, we drove away from Tisch NYU.  From Tim.

__________________________________________________________________

That night, and in the following days, I was held up by the love and support of my friends, chosen family, who supported me in the post-loss haze.  I was driven from Brooklyn to Northampton to Vermont.  I was fed and cared for and loved.  I told 3 year old Byron that his father was dead on the front porch of my parent’s house.  Then had to explain what exactly that meant.  I flew to Madison to pack up our life and drove 1000 miles with Matt in a moving truck, back to Vermont.  In the past year I’ve slowly worked to re-establish my life.  My personhood.  My being.  I’m still working on it.

 

Tim was a person.  He was a good man.  Better than many.  He loved people.  He was an incredible father.  He was altruistic.  He was a loving partner.  He was brilliant.  He loved peanut butter cup ice cream and pizza.  He really annoying about doing the dishes.  He loved football and punk music and Quantum Physics.  He loved bird watching and identifying rocks and minerals without any actual knowledge of what kind of rock it actually was.  He loved riding his bike but rarely did so. He loved sitting at a bar on a quiet afternoon and writing poems and thoughts and doodles. and mathematical equations in his journals.  He loved being around people and staying out late.  He loved Bernie Sanders.  He loved backpacks and hats and graphic tees.  He was all at once an intellectual and an every-man.

He was far more than I could ever try to describe.  But I will spend the rest of my life remembering him and loving him and making sure others do the same.

 

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.

————————————————————————————————————–

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.

—————————————————————————————————————————

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 residents surrounding Tim’s bed.  The looked up in surprise, then sympathy.  “Do you have any questions?” the attending 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 residents quietly filed past me, expressing their condolences with their eyes.  The attending 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.