Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Sometimes the cheap becomes priceless

There is a shitty teal picture frame that sits on a living room shelf in my house. It's a pretty small, unsuspecting item we have here in the house I bought for the kids and I after my husband Matthew died over two years ago. I got the frame years ago at a dollar store only because of its color. I was redecorating our master bedroom in whites, greys and teal. Every now and then Matthew would humor me when I went on these decorating rampages, buying new comforters, new pillows, window treatments and the like. I was never really any good at home decorating, but Pinterest sure made me think I could be.

I'm not sure what I was looking for that day, because I'll be honest, it wasn't really my thing to outfit a master bedroom in Dollar General décor but I passed by the shelf of cheap, plastic brown and black picture frames and stopped. I grabbed an odd-shaped teal one because it matched perfectly the color I was looking for to accent the room. It was so chintzy and light you could blow on it and it would have fallen over. The face isn't even glass, it's plastic too. Nobody will know this came from a dollar store though, right?

So I got home and printed out a 5x7 black and white photo of the kids from a photo session we had just taken at the farm. I posed the kids exactly how I had seen the "perfect farm picture" on a Pinterest photography page. The three older kids walking alongside an old Radio Flyer wagon with our youngest one being pulled inside it. They are all turned away from the cameraall except our baby, 2, who was smiling. I love this picture for so many reasons. It was taken on a beautiful October day in my favorite season of fall. It was at one of our favorite places to be, the family farm where my children enjoyed countless days running through fields or exploring with their daddy. The wagon pictured, weathered and rusted, was the actual wagon their father was photographed in when he was a baby in the 1970s. Then there's the fact that my children were all quite happy that daynobody was bickering or whining. I didn't have to bribe anyone for smiles or threaten to take away dessert just to get a good shot. I look at that picture and only see happiness. I see harmony. I see love.

I put that picture on Matthew's nightstand in our bedroom, because frankly he had more room on his nightstand than I ever did on mine. There, next to his alarm clock, is where it sat for years, even despite future bedroom décor changes I attempted. Even through his sickness, when water bottles, pills and medicines, syringes and gauze pads cluttered that nightstand, the picture remained.

On the morning Matthew died, I found him on our bedroom floor, steps from his nightstand. After everyone had left that horrific day and my children were at a relative's house, I sat alone in our bedroom embracing a mind-numbing sadness that wouldn't go away. I sank to the floor and laid there where I found him. I wanted to see what he saw, to look around at what he would have looked at last before he left this Earth. I desperately wanted to feel, if only through vision, what he could have felt in the sights here before he died.

I clinch my eyes shut even now, willing this notion to be truththat it was this picture he saw last. That it was this picture of his four, beautiful children that he loved so profoundly, that he beheld before he took his last breath. This picture of pure happiness, harmony and love is what he last thought of as he left.

That's why this picturewhich to anyone else just looks like four kids in a crappy dollar store frameis and always will be utterly priceless to me.






Friday, January 31, 2020

The stage that sneaks up on you

I've got a teenager. My firstborn, my only son is 13.

Just as quick as they all said he would, he grew up and out of that little boy stage I used to know.

You really don't think about this stagethe big-kid-not-quite-yet-a-man stagewhen he's that cranky little baby who won't sleep (and didn't sleep a solid night through until he was about 2).
You don't think about this stagethe quiet, keeps-to-himself-and-wants-his-privacy stagewhen he's flying around the house in his Buzz Lightyear costume all afternoon.
You don't think about this stagethe voice-awkwardly-changing-an-octave-deeper stagewhen you're busy listening to him sing the Caillou theme song every day before his nap.
You don't think about this stagethis texting-friends-and-discovering-cute-girls stagewhen he's holding your hand dragging you toward the slide at the park.
You don't think about this stagethis prefers-to-be-dropped-off-at-the-movies-alone stagewhen he's begging you to play trucks and cars on the floor with him.
You don't think about this stagethe eats-everything-in-the-fridge-all-day stagewhen he refuses to take his paci out at the table during mealtimes.
You don't think about this stagethe sweaty, after-soccer-practice-stinky-sock stagewhen you're watching him splash around in a bubble bath after his first day of preschool.
You'll not think of this stagethe won't-be-caught-dead-hugging-mom stage —when you're holding him tightly through his cries during shots at the pediatrician's office.
You won't think of this stage—the only-wants-the-most-expensive-iPhone-for-Christmas stage —when he's peeking behind doors and corners looking for his mischievous elf every day in December.
You don't think about this stagethe impossible-algebra/integer-homework stagewhen you're snuggled up next to him in a toddler bed reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom at night.

You won't think about this stage until you get here, wondering where the last few stages went. 

Wondering where the soft baby hair on his head went. Where the wiggly teeth, toy dinosaurs and his stuffed piggie have all gone. It's going to sneak up on you. It's going to tear you up inside a bit. It's going to make you cry harder than you did on those sleepless nights 13 years ago. But you'll learn to appreciate this stage too. Because it's working. All the things you did at every previous stage. The parks, the giggles, the hugs, the lullabyes, the picture books and snugglesall the things that have made him HIM. Everything you did up to now is still alive here in him today at this beautiful, big-kid-not-quite-yet-a-man stage.

This post was published Jan. 31, 2020 here at Her View From Home.





Monday, January 27, 2020

To Kobe's widow

I've thought about you all day.
While I can't begin to fathom the loss of a child, I can sympathize with you a little regarding the loss of your spouse. My late husband was also 41 when he died. I know that this, the day after his death, was probably almost as excruciating as yesterday. Because you had to wake up again to the fact that life as you knew it is over.
I remember the feeling of waking up that next day afterI had probably only slept an hour or sohoping and praying it was all just a nightmare. But like me, you probably opened your eyes to a reality that told you it wasn't. He was still gone. No amount of money, prestige, or power could change that. And here, as people around the world mourn your husband and what the loss means to them, you only know the hurt and heartbreak of what it means to you and your little ones. You and you alone knew the intimacy of who and what he meant to you and your children.
People will tell you their thoughts. They will offer advice, they'll try to comfort you with things like "well at least xxx" or "it's a blessing that xxx" but you'll be numb and deaf to every word. You'll wonder how you will ever go on. You'll cry yourself to sleep wondering if anything will ever be ok again. I hope you'll find a way though to keep getting up, to keep picking yourself up every day. I hope you will keep living and loving even when it feels like there is no point.
My daughters told me about the kids at school today who were talking about the basketball player who died. They didn't want to believe that his little girl, the same age as their own brother, died too. I told them we were going to send special prayers for Kobe's family, and his widow especially. My daughter said, "Mom, are you friends with his wife on Facebook? Can you tell her she'll be alright?"
I suppose in her eyes, all widows are supposed to know each other and although I don't know you and never will, I just wanted to tell you that you are going to be ok. I know it doesn't seem possible ever again, especially on this, the brutal day after. I can only tell you I'm so sorry. And you will be ok.
This post was excerpted and published Jan. 28, 2020, here at Popsugar. This post was also published Jan. 29, 2020, here at FoxNews. This post was also published Jan. 30, 2020, here at Good Morning America.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Happy birthday to the man, just 'Daddy'

Last night my youngest told me a memory she had of Daddy, in our old house, before he was sick. She would have been 3 then. She said she remembers when they were in the bathtub with music on in the background and while I was washing them up, Daddy would sneak behind me and start dancing silly. But as soon as I'd turn around, he'd stop and pretend he wasn't doing anything and they'd all laugh.

I told her to go write it up in her journal, so she'll always have that memory of dad because that's exactly who he was. That's who she should always remember.

A brochure came in the mail the other day. It was addressed to the homeowner that built this house 20 years ago. I almost threw it out. But then I glanced at the front. I saw that this nonprofit organization, which helps people with disabilitiesa charity my husband tirelessly helpedis dedicating one of their new group homes, "The Matthew Remke Home" in his honor this spring.

My children were silent when I showed them this page. They are rarely silent.

They don't understand fully yetand even I am still discovering dailywhat an amazing man I was married to and shared life with for more than two decades. How far-reaching and impactful his life was in this small corner of the world. Because to them, he was just 'Daddy.'

I know his business colleagues and co-workers mourn a man who was brilliant behind the desk, friendly in the office breakroom, patient and funny in the boardroom. I know his friends mourn the guy who was great at showing up for them, planning boat trips, laughing at the bar the one who really kicked ass at camaraderie. I know his parents and sisters mourn the profound loss of their only brother and son, the perfect boy who grew up to be the epitome of what the perfect man should be.

But the kids and I mourn a different man. Not so much the guy who donated money or coordinated charity auctions for organizations like the ones in this brochure. We didn't care too much about the cost-saving he did for his business behind the scenes or how amazingly he handled work life or what a great buddy he was to his best friend Adam.

We mourn bathtub-time-singing Daddy. The man who made us giggle and laugh, who made us happy by just walking in the door. The man who made us feel loved and safe and cared for. The man who gave us 110% at home only after giving 120% all day at work. We mourn the guy who read bedtime stories and cuddled on the couch on Sunday afternoons. The man who blew up bike tires and raked the yard (but mostly the toilet plunging he did). We mourn the man who could cook and grill and still have energy enough to make homemade chocolate chip cookies. That's who we miss.

We still mourn just 'Daddy.'




Wednesday, January 8, 2020

A therapist and a cake for my birthday

I called a therapist for my birthday.

Quite the non-traditional gift, I know. But as I turn 44 today and assess my happiness or lack of latelyI'm thinking this is the only gift I really need right now. My family and close friends already know this, but you see, I've got some demons. I battle with some anxiety. I fight varying degrees of OCD. I have a short temper. I am pessimistic (I prefer to call it 'realistic'). I have a strong intolerance for imperfection if that makes sense. I'm a complete disaster who ironically craves flawlessness.

My late husband Matthew and his buddies jokingly called me 'Gellar'a reference to Courteney Cox's Friends character Monica Gellar, who was a neat freak and a perfectionist who needed a schedule and order for everything. Remember the episode where she explained how the comforter HAD to be put on the bed a certain exact way? That's me. I envision the way I want things to go and I don't like when any plans go awry. I can't stand messes. My brain starts telling me to freak out when things are out of place. It physically pains me not to vacuum at least once a day. I get agitated if the kids make a mess and don't clean it up. I lose my shit if they don't wash their hands directly off the bus (in my defense, the school recently sent a message about Hand Foot and Mouth Disease going around and my brain legit had a stroke).

My college friends used to think it was funny to rearrange things in my dorm when I wasn't looking, just to see if I noticed. Um, yeah girl, I noticed. But even now, 20-some years later, that's the thing I can't NOT notice. In all my years I haven't ever been able to relax this part of me, to be just as 'normal' as everyone else. I realize that I don't think I ever will either. I am bothered by EVERYTHING. My husband used to say (sometimes in jest, other times in frightened seriousness) "you need help."

People always tell me, "just take care of yourself" by eating right and exercising. Get enough sleep at night or go meditate or pray. To them I say, it doesn't matter how many miles I ran today or which salad I chose to eat for lunch or how amazing seven hours of sleep might have been or even how many times I mutter 'God help me' during a road rage episodethe brain inside this skull is still the same damn brain pulling the strings and pushing the buttons and freaking out about germs and imperfections around me.

Someone dropped off a cookie cake for my birthdaya delicious concoction of chocolate chip batter and icing that would make any birthday girl giddy. But my brain is only perturbed at it because the cake decorator didn't cross the 'T' in birthday. I mean, how in the hell did she not glance over this before she closed the lid?" my brain screams. "How does anyone get to the checkout line with a typo emblazed on the front of this cake?" Oh the stress of it all. Sad, right? I know.

That's how I realize it's a problem I need to addressnot only because my children are no doubt going to become what I am (my daughter has officially become a dictator already at age 10 and everyone is scared of her) but it's become an obstacle in my relationships. Specifically one I care about and want to be in as of late. Because sure, I can joke around and laugh and be fun on a date; but in the end, nobody wants to be with the negative girl who is going to be a tad psycho about germs and messes and cake typos.

Some days the tension and anxiety inside consumes me. I read into things. I can't let little things go. Add a little grief in there too some days and I'm a real peach. Why am I like this? Why can't I change? None of my three sisters are like this and we all came from the same parents and grew up in the same house. A friend told me it's all hard-wired. This is who we are from birth. My parents and sisters didn't have anything to do with it. 

So here I am realizing at age 44 that this is always who I am going to be. It's just who I am. And who I am needs help.

I called a therapist for my birthday.


This post was published Jan. 15, 2020 here at Today Parents. 



Sunday, December 29, 2019

Birthdays and fish funerals all in a day

It's the twins' birthday today. I swear when they put those two scrinchy-faced babies in my arms that late December day in 2009 I never thought time would fly so fast and they'd go and turn 10 on me in a blink. But they did. Diapers, late-night feedings, toys and bottles, tantrums, walking, talking, sassing, tears, giggles, stitches and staples, antibiotics, vaccinations and band-aids, first days, last days, in between days. Happy times, sad times, heartbreaking times.

We've come a long way in 10 years but life is still fun, exciting, magical and brilliant because of them. They are LIFE.

I got sucked into old videos and pictures on the computer tonight. I remember the medicinal smell of the O.R. at the hospital where I gave birth to them. I remember the nurses throwing scrubs at Matthew, telling him to hurry because they were coming fast. I recall the sheer amazement on his face at holding two little girls in his arms. I'll never forget his smitten look. He was so excited for life with them. I remember how they left me alone in the room with them hours after they came out and I just said, "happy birthday girls." I was so scared. I didn't know if I could be the mom of girls.

This morning I woke up and kissed them and told them "happy birthday." I had a fun 'nail polish and makeup' party with their friends planned but first we were going to eat donuts for breakfast and bake cupcakes together. I went to the laundry room to feed the dog and screamed. They all came running to see all three of their pet goldfish dead. The festival goldfish they brought home after winning this past summer. We were so proud (me really, I was proud) at keeping them alive so long. I had killed them. Because last night in a flurry of running around, hanging streamers, blowing up balloons, vacuuming and doing laundry, I decided to clean out their fish bowl and I put them in a small cup of water just for a bit until I changed the new water out. But as life goes, I got side tracked and long story shortI went to bed and forgot to put them back in their bowl. So the girls got three dead fish for their birthday.

"I can't believe you killed my fish on my birthday, mom," one of them told me.
"I can," the other one said.

So we had a fish funeral before a birthday party today. We said goodbye and sorry (mostly me) and told them to be happy in whatever Heaven fish get to be in. There was some whimpering and a couple tears (mostly me) and we came back inside. It's almost like this kind of thing is supposed to happen to us. Like, why WOULDN'T we be standing out in the rain burying three dead fish in the mulch bed on a Sunday morning, right? It's so very … us.
But we still had smiles today. We still laughed today. We ate cake and blew out candles. The girls put on makeup and fought over pink or purple sprinkles on their ice cream. We still celebrated today.

Because that's what life is all about birth and death, ups and downs, happy and sad, shit happens, good happens. It goes fast. It sometimes drags. You are scared most days. But that is LIFE. They are life. And after 10 years I'm just excited to still be in it with them.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

November 19 feelings

It's November 19 again. It's the 'Deathaversary' as we widows call it. Two years ago on this date is when I lost my husband and my kids lost their father. I know. It's stupid to sit here and stare at this Shutterfly calendar and ponder this arbitrary date— a Tuesday. It wasn't even a Tuesday when he died. It was a f-ing Sunday. But it's just a date. It's not like he's in the afterlife abyss sitting at a desk looking at calendar dates too, let alone watching us cross off the days on our dumb calendar.

But it's here again. And it's not just on November 19 when I want to crawl in bed with my head under the covers and do absolutely nothing and say absolutely nothing to anyone or remember anything at all about it. Because there are a lot of those days throughout the year. The price of loss doesn't come knocking for you just on one date a year.

My little one asked the other day if she could go see the counselor. Yes, a second grader is requesting therapy y'all. Is that good or bad? I asked her why and she said, "because I'm having feelings."

I know, little one, me too.

Feelings of guilt lately because I've been finding some happiness in the heart of someone who isn't your daddy. Feelings of inadequacy because your daddy would have been so much better at the homework hour than your impatient mom. Feelings of heartache because your brother out of the blue said to me with a smile last night, "I remember how dad used to hang his towel on the inside of the shower door." That's right buddy—he did. It's because he hated being cold in the bathroom and if it saved him one second of being wet and cold, he was going hang that damn towel inside the shower.
Even mixed feelings of laughter and despair find me - like when I see a card that little one wrote and left on the junk table:

"Deer dad
We all wish you could come back
A boy Luke likes me.
I wish you could see him"

Yep. All these feelings can go kiss off. I wish they'd leave us the hell alone. And then again I don't. Because the feelings are also what make me still feel alive. The feelings are what tells me it was all real. The feelings keep him real and here with us. So we're rolling with these Tuesday feelings. November 19 feelings can hurt, yes. But being alive to feel them is sure worth it.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

When our anniversary became an ordinary day

Matthew,

Today was supposed to be our 17-year wedding anniversary. We used to do fancy dinners. We did trips. We did sappy cards. We did... other stuff. Not today. Last night I went to your grave because I guess I thought we'd always be together every anniversary. Sitting there picking grass in front of your headstone, I realize October 26 has turned into just another day now.

According to the Internet, the traditional gift for 17 years of marriage is furniture. I thought about how if you were here I'd tell you that and I'd try to get you to buy me a new chair or something. Actually, there's a cool sofa table thing I saw at a home store I am thinking of getting. I took your silence and the absence of signs (no butterflies, no lightning and thunder) to mean you don't care if I buy it. I'm probably wrong on that one though.

The kids visited here a couple weeks back with your mom and walked around the gravestones. They came back telling me how somebody stole the ceramic angel flower vase off your grave and at first I wanted to be mad. But then I kinda laughed. And laughed some more. Because I think you'd have probably laughed too.

It made me remember the time you told me you were driving home from work and you saw a guy pushing one of the Remke Markets grocery carts down the street, away from the store. Knowing that those carts are pretty expensive, you pulled over and asked him where he was going with it. You laughed when you told me the man (who clearly realized he was caught with stolen property) told you he was "taking it home to fix it" because it was broken, and that "it was ok, because he knew the owners." LOL right?

You politely told him you were the owner and that you'd like him to just put it in the back of your truck so you didn't have to involve police in the theft of one of your carts. You didn't say a word even when the man accused YOU of being a jerk by asking for it back. I was so fired up and pissed off about it back thenbut I remember you weren't. You were always good and calm about stuff. Even when someone was right in front of you trying to steal your shit, you just let it roll. I tell the kids about it. I tell them about your compassion and your tolerance for others, even when people were being jerks. Be that way too, I tell them.

I still get fired up about stuff. Like on the way to the cemetery, I was stuck behind an old lady who thought the speed limit was 2 mph. I think I may have mumbled an explicative under my breath. I'm sure I tore around her at some point and gave her my best exasperated, annoyed look. Seems dumb now though doesn't it? Like, "Hey lady I'm in a fucking hurry to go wish my dead husband a happy anniversary, so move it!" When I was pulling out of the plaza by the gas station later on, some guy honked at me thinking I was going to ram into his car. "For God's sake I see you! Calm down," I screamed (ironically) at him through the window. I guess that was easier to yell than "Can't you see my tear-stained cheeks from all this crying I'm doing!? Cut me some slack it's my fucking anniversary!"

But this is the way I am. I never was like you no matter how hard I have ever tried to change. Why does my mood get so dark and my temperament go from zero to blow up in a blink? I know there are probably a million reasons why, but today there's only one that's evident... I wanted more anniversaries. I wanted years of clinking wine glasses over the table and plane rides together to tropical all-inclusives. I wanted to be old together. I wanted all of it with you. It makes me mad we never got it. Our kids never got it. Our youngest started crying at bedtime the other night and asked me, "Why did daddy have to die?" And I got so mad because after almost two years, I still don't have an answer. I don't fucking know.

The kids and I decided we wanted to do laser tag today and we all shot each other up and laughed a lot. We ate at a loud hibachi grill with your dad, yummy but nothing fancy. I probably won't buy any furniture today either because it's raining cats and dogs and I don't have the patience to fight rainy mall traffic. I brought our son to the shooting range too. Because what better way to blow off some steam than shoot up shit? We blew off tension and sadness and anger over missing you because some days those feelings are palpable. I even took our son out on a date this weekend. We ate burgers and shakes. Afterwards we stood in line waiting at the cashier forever because the register was down. My patience was wearing thin, like it always is. But I turned and looked at our son, a mirror image of who you were, and he was smiling. Laughing actually, at the fact that these tiny, hellish inconveniences I experience are really no big deal. Just like you would have done. I didn't lose my mind because I looked at him—I looked at you. 

Many days I am still mad. Like fire out of my ears mad. Because you're still gone. We're still here doing this alone. And no special observance of a miscellaneous date in October will ever change that. But shooting up stuff with the kidsespecially with a boy who is a beautiful reflection of who I married 17 years agosure felt good. 

Happy anniversary hon.





Friday, October 25, 2019

Advice for the bride to be

Recently I was stuck in the waiting line to get help at the Apple Store at the mall—because of course when my husband died nearly two years ago, he took all the passwords and pretty much all the technological knowledge about our home computers, iPads and devices with him. I am a complete moron when it comes to figuring out anything in the 'general/ settings/ preferences' tabs on anything in this house. So I sat there waiting for someone to help me get through my Apple ID issues that were close to forcing me to toss my computer out a window.

And as the tech was trying to help me by completely re-loading my phone (which by the way didn't work) she sat a girl next to me who needed help getting her Airpods fixed. Airpod girl and tech girl started to chat and the topic turned to Airpod girl's upcoming wedding to her fiancé, because you couldn't miss the huge diamond engagement ring on her left hand. She went on about wedding planning details and dress shopping, annoyances with wedding party attendants—the normal bridezilla-type stuff that old gals like me know don't mean shit in the long run. She went on for about 20 minutes, and it took everything in me to calmly and quietly sit there and listen... because "can you believe they wanted to charge $200 more for the dress at a shop in Columbus than at a shop here?!"

... But I broke y'all. I know, I know. I shouldn't push any bride off her wedding planning bitchfest soapbox and I don’t need anyone to tell me now that I should have kept my mouth shut because I know that. But I just couldn't help it. I looked at this girl and said, "You know, someday you'll see that none of this will matter. None of what you waste time and energy on worrying about now will matter one bit in the end." I told this poor, stunned bride-to-be that I was a widow who knew a little about weddings and more about marriage even if it was a little too late. The only thing that really matters, I told her, is whether or not you can see yourself in absolute thick and thin with this person forever—money or no money, job or no job, sick kids or healthy, miserable in-laws or perfect ones and God forbid someday fighting a terminal illness.

Will you still look at him with love and endearment when he can no longer speak and his body is weak and sick and on the brink of death? Will you hold it together when you bring him fistfuls of medicine daily, realizing there likely will be no more happy times with him on this Earth? Would you unabashedly say yes to do it all again if you knew you wouldn't get any more than 15 years together? Because, sweet Airpod girl, I was exactly you just 17 years ago, full of worry about church flowers and wedding photographer woes, DJ playlists that wouldn't be followed and a thousand other little crap things I wanted to go right but didn't. 

Nobody told me I wouldn't f-ing care someday. Nobody told me that my biggest regret would someday be time—time to share, time to laugh, time to travel, time to enjoy together with kids... time to love.

The health of your marriage and of your person is and forever should be what you care about. All the other things are just noise in the background. Ok, I won't lie, it actually will help if you can get him to write down all his passwords and computer wizardry tricks and shortcuts just in case... but truly nothing you fret about right now will ever matter. The only thing you should focus on and cherish together right now is your TIME.

This post was also published Oct. 28, 2019 here at the Today Show Parents page.
This post was also published Nov. 12, 2019 here at Love What Matters.


Thursday, October 17, 2019

As two years approaches, I grieve memories lost

A friend of mine told me the other day how that new song on the radio, "Memories" makes her think of my late husband Matthew. She said it reminds her of all the fun memories we all had over the yearslike summer lake trips before we all had kids, dinner and drinks out downtown, of him just having a good time with all of us. I remember them, too, I said. But I didn't, however, tell her about all the memories of him that are starting to fade.

I'm nearing the two-year mark without him. Fall used to be my favorite time of yearrunning with the leaves crunching under my shoes, the football games, my wedding anniversary. Now there's only an ominous feeling. Like waiting for a gut punch from someone lurking around the corner, ready to strike as soon the calendar flips to November. It was the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving when I became a widow. It feels like a blink but then it also feels like it's been a lifetime. I somehow got past the "year of firsts" where every calendar date was pure heartache to re-live. The first Christmas without him. The first Father's Day without him. The first kindergarten graduation without him. The first birthday without him. It all sucked. I cried a lot behind the bathroom door. I faked a shitload of smiles. I did a lot of self medicating with Baileys and Amazon Prime. 

The second year was just a lot of new normals instead. They still sting, but it's what we've grown used to, living every day without his presence, without his voice or laughter. The condolences are gone. Life has fully moved on around us, as I knew it would, despite my not wanting it to. There are pieces of him—of us—that seem to be getting lost amid what's here and now and I don't know how to feel about it.

I am trying not to forget his smell but it's fading. It's all but gone from the clothes I saved in the closet. That clean, soap-fresh smell. Even when he was working out, he always smelled good. I found myself in the deodorant section at the grocery store the other day for a really long time. I opened up and breathed in every men’s Right Guard stick on that shelf until I smelled the sport one, the one he wore for years, and I held it close to my nose. I didn’t cry. I wanted to. But there was a guy behind me browsing gift cards and a lady looking at shake supplements next to me, and I figured they’d find it really odd to see a woman weeping at the smell of antiperspirant in aisle 11.

It's getting hard to remember specific things about him and that scares me. Like what kissing him felt like. We hadn’t kissed in a really long time before he died. He was sick for a while and before then we had a rough patch where we fought so much and dealt with so much marital discord that the last thing he wanted to do was kiss me. He probably wished many nights to be away from me. That thought still hangs in the back of my head today because we never made everything right before cancer took him away. 

I hate that I’m starting to forget stupid little things. I couldn't remember if his favorite cereal was Honey Smacks or Fruity Pebbles. I know we had a cereal debate a while back and I'm kicking myself for not remembering how that one ended. I guess at the time, it didn't seem important. But now I'd give anything to go back just to know the answer. The kids asked me if daddy liked Rice Krispies treats and I can't remember. I know I used to eat an entire pan myself but I can't remember if he thought that was gross or if he wanted me to save him some. All these things seem insignificant to others but they aren't to me. They are huge pieces of a puzzle that was once whole but is now slowly being broken up and dismantled in order to be put back into some invisible box it seems. To be put away forever.

I am mad at myself for letting memories fade. I should have space in my brain to keep it all in. We were together for 20 yearshalf my life. I can remember the way my childhood bedroom smelled over 35 years ago, so why the hell can’t I remember his smell on the pillows, from just a few years ago?

He loved holding my hand. To pinch my fingers because they were cold. He first held my hand in 1998. A lifetime ago. I'm starting to forget the way his hand felt in mine now though. I stupidly wonder to myself if he could be mad at me for that. 

Because I've been holding a new hand lately. I haven't told many people. I’ve been seeing someone for several months now who’s really great. He’s smart and funny and he's irreverent and unfiltered like me. We like some of the same thingsBilly Joel and Seinfeld and binge watching comedy shows on Netflix. And he loves kids and I've got a shit ton of them. He makes me laugh and I've missed that. I think he genuinely likes mefaults and temper and all. He doesn’t take any of my stubborn or bitchy bullcrap all the stuff my husband either ignored or complied with just to please me all those years, but annoyed him to no end. He's the opposite. He doesn't let me brood or pout in disagreements, many of the things that stirred the pot during my marriage. I'm learning to deal with myself and relationships differently. It's like I'm learning how to be an adult with him—but then again, he and I have had entire text conversations with emojis that make me laugh. Some days I feel like a silly teenager again. But I dig it. He's just who I need. Did Matthew have a hand in sending someone like that to me? I wonder.

I still feel overwhelming grief some days. And it sneaks up on me. Our son is almost 13 now. He's a hair taller than me according to his recent doctor checkup. Sometimes the grief manifests itself as tears at the pediatrician’s office due to the aching desire to have his daddy here to see something as simple as his son's height surpassing mine. 

If we really want to talk about some super grief-y stuff, I've got a doozy I keep behind this computer. Sometimes I listen to the recording they emailed me of the 911 call I made the morning I found him. I collapse in tears at this desk every time because the despair in my voice that morning is so tangible it physically hurts. The memory of me trembling holding that phone, staring at him realizing he was already gone is still fresh in my mind. It's one memory that I don't think could ever fade. But maybe I don't want it to either.

Yes, two years may have blurred some of the memories. It has dulled the edge of the blade that used to expertly pierce my heart every morning I'd wake up realizing he was still gone. But two years has also shown me that I'm going to be ok. The kids are ok. I've chosen to keep living and lovingas hard and as awkward as that might be some days. I run parallel between loving him, holding dear the memories I still have of usand with the idea that I can be in love with a new person who's willing to share the rest of this life with me making new memories. And there are days I fall more to one side and it scares me when it's the side without Matthew on it. 

I worry and feel guilt for still being here, breathing air, laughing and living life, especially starting to care for another man. Some people don’t like it either, I know this. Others have said, “it’s good to see you’re moving on.” But I wish they wouldn't say that. Because I haven’t “moved on.” I’ll never "move on" from the one person I loved more than words, the man who gave me the life I'm living now, who gave me my children. I’ll never "get over" him, they don’t understand. No matter how much time keeps adding onto that calendar day when I last saw him, no matter two years or twenty, no matter what memories have faded—I will never "move on" from the love I had for my husband. That is a truth that won't ever fade.


This post was first published Oct. 9, 2019 here at Cure Today.
This post was also published Oct. 17, 2019 here at Hope for Widows Foundation.
This post was also published Nov. 8, 2019 here at Love What Matters.