Tiggers Don’t Always Bounce

Posted in memory of Michael R. Fronheiser who died on 4-14-2001. I always wanted to get this published… But I never really knew where to submit it. So here it is on my blog. At least it didn’t go to waste.

It happened while we were making love. Being newlyweds, we were always making love. My husband’s last moments were spent expressing his love for me, knowing that I loved him. People tell me that I should be happy about that. At least he didn’t die alone, right? We knew exactly where we stood with each other at that moment in time. No questions. It’s more than a lot of people ever get with their dead loved ones. But I find no comfort in it.

The fact that it happened while we were making love makes the betrayal even more bitter. It makes levity of his death, turning it into a scene from some stupid Hollywood comedy. It’s everyone’s favorite joke when facing the thought of their own mortality. “I want to die while having sex,” they pompously announce as though they were the first person to ever come up with the idea. “That’s the best way to go.”

My husband said it once too. A few weeks before he died, in fact. Not that there’s anything to that. People say that kind of stuff all the time. He’d probably said it before, but I had tuned it out. The last time stands out in retrospect because of its timing.

For some reason, I’ve never found this joke funny. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’d rather imagine my death as occurring in silence, away from the sight of those I love. I always thought I’d die when I was old, which was worlds away from the twenty-six year old I was then. I had fallen into the invincibility trap of youth. Though I had a fair idea of how life really worked, I never honestly believed either of us could die.

When people ask me how my husband died, I am usually vague in order to avoid the snickers and facetious grins that are sure to follow. Each jeer pierces my heart. That even one person could dare to find humor in what was possibly the worst day—the worst event—of my life drives me absolutely mad. But then, most of the people my age also believe the invincibility lie.

It was the Saturday morning before Easter. The forecast had predicted unseasonably warm weather for Northeastern Ohio. Mike and I were planning to meet up with a friend later to go bike riding along the towpath in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was just about ten miles from our house. We were both training for the MS 150, an annual two-day 150-mile bike ride to raise donations for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Mike traveled during the week for his job as a software trainer. He usually came home on Fridays and left on Sundays. So Saturdays were generally our day, our time to spend together. As usual, he was scheduled to fly out the following day.

We woke that morning to yellow sunlight flooding our bedroom despite the blinds over the windows. Almost immediately, Mike slid his hands under my t-shirt and caressed my back. I leaned into his touch. His hands were always warm, but his gentle touch made me shiver. He’d taught me the sheer pleasure of skin against skin.

“You always wear too many clothes to bed,” he teased in my ear, impatiently tugging my shirt up.

Sex was always the last thing on my mind when I first woke up. I usually wanted more sleep or food or at least some mouth wash. I was more of the spontaneous mid-day sort of seductress. Yet he always managed to persuade me, however groggy I was, because eventually I would forget being hungry or having stinky breath. He knew how to awaken my inner vixen.

This morning, the tone of our love-making was gentle, sweet. Amidst the passion, our hands sought each other as if to find every possible way our bodies could connect. As our hands clenched, our wedding rings struck together with a small melodious ring. The sound thundered in my ears.

You better remember that sound, some omniscient voice cut into my thoughts. It is the last time you will ever hear it.

I tried to dismiss this utterly ridiculous thought, drown it in some dark spot in my subconscious where all my randomly fearful, insecure thoughts lingered. I had probably heard that noise a million times before when our hands clenched during our intimate moments together. But this morning, I noticed.

A moment later I had almost forgotten the thought when Mike stopped. He slumped against the head board, a dazed look in his eyes.

“Oh, no,” he said rather evenly. There wasn’t much surprise there, just calm recognition.

“What?” I asked, half a giggle still ringing in my voice.

“I can’t hear my heartbeat,” he stated. Again, nonplused. But yet, far away too.

I felt my smile fade, my own heart thumped in my ears. “Are you okay?” I asked tentatively.

“I can’t hear my heartbeat,” he repeated in a whisper. There was a note of panic this time.

Shock is paralyzing. All I could do was look at him, speechless. For moments, I waited for him to say more, to give me some instructions that told me what he wanted me to do. I couldn’t tell what was going on, nor how badly he hurt. Surely, it couldn’t be that serious, I rationalized. I thought he was okay. Maybe he had heart burn, indigestion, I didn’t know. I was dumb with fear, helpless.

I did the only thing I could think to do at the moment: I leaned down and tried to listen to his heart myself. But my ears were roaring with the sound of a raging river. My own blood rushing through the veins in my ears? His blood desperately trying to push through his own veins in search of oxygen? I don’t know. I will never know. Unable to determine what was going on, I looked back up into Mike’s face.

His face was blue—literally blue. Like how they described asphyxiation in health class. I had always thought that “blue” was some sort of metaphor for the condition; I had no idea that it was an actual description.

I jumped out of the bed. But I was naked. I had to find clothes. More time passed as I fumbled for my nightshirt and shorts. I don’t know why I did this. My mind could only force one thought through at a time and I was determined to get my nightshirt on before calling 911. In retrospect, it seemed like I wrestled with my clothes for an hour; in truth, it was probably no more than two minutes. Regardless, I would curse myself over these actions in the days and years that followed. I would always feel—and still feel to this day—that my delay cost precious seconds that could have saved Mike’s life.

My hands fumbled with the phone as though I’d never handled one before. I was like the main character in a horror movie, struggling to complete a menial task while the killer sharpened his knife in the next room. You always think that if it happened to you, surely, you’d move much faster. My brain was frozen dumb in shock. I was no better than the mocked horror movie character.

I don’t remember how the call was answered. The line clicked twice and suddenly someone else was with me in this nightmare.

“Something’s wrong with my husband,” I fumbled, my tongue huge and bloated in my mouth. The panicked sound that emitted from my throat revealed much more fear than I felt. “He was complaining about his heart.”

“Is he conscious?” the all-too-calm voice droned in my ear. The female dispatch operator sounded far too deadpan. I got no comfort from it. Why did they always sound much more sympathetic on television?

I forced my eyes to return to the bed and my husband. I didn’t want to look, but I did. His face was so dark—not blue anymore, but a dark, dark red. Like dried blood. His chest was jerking up and down, erratically punctuated by deep, gasping wheezes. It was the worse sound I’ve ever heard. It didn’t sound human at all. Suffocation.

“No,” I croaked. I felt like I should be crying, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to over-react. At the same time, I vaguely worried that the operator would think me completely unmoved. Crying was like admitting the seriousness of the situation and I didn’t want to do that. It was going to be okay. I kept telling myself that it would be okay.

“Is he responsive?” that other voice pressed.

“I don’t think so. He hasn’t said anything since it began.”

Passive as ever, she asked me to confirm my address. I gave the information to her, waiting for her to give me some sort of instructions like they did on Rescue 911. Isn’t that what they do? Wasn’t there something I could do?

“Okay, a crew is on the way. Are you somewhere where you can let them in?”

“Yes,” I replied impatiently. Where were words of reassurance?

“Good. Just hang tight. They’ll be there as soon as possible.”

As soon as possible? How soon was that?, I wanted to scream. I wanted something more consoling than a vague assurance that an ambulance was on the way. There was a click on the line as the operator hung up. Weren’t they supposed to keep me on the line until the ambulance arrived? This didn’t seem like how it was supposed to work.

Feeling let down, I set the phone on the night stand and let my eyes wonder to Mike’s convulsing body again. He was naked, as I had been, and it occurred to me that I should get his boxers back on. I found them in the bed sheets, towards the footboard, wadded up as carelessly as they had been tossed off. I slid his legs through the pant legs.

When I got to his waist, the task became much harder. I never realized how heavy he was. Not that he was a heavy guy; quite the contrary, Mike was very trim, healthy. But in all my previous experiences, I was dealing with a conscious Mike. When you are conscious, there’s always some part of you still holding your own weight. Unconscious, I found, there was nothing preventing his weight from bearing full force against the mattress.

“Misha,” I crooned, using my nickname for him. “I need to get your boxers on.”

I knew he couldn’t hear me, but I said it anyway. Hearing my own voice out loud brought me comfort somehow, made me feel real.

“Mike, the ambulance will be here soon,” I promised.

There was no response, but I felt a little less alone. I yanked on the boxers, pulling them up as close to his waist as I could get them.

In those next torturous moments of waiting, I paced. I bit my nails. I reassured Mike that help was on the way even though I wasn’t all that sure. I paced some more. How long had I been off the phone? Mike’s chest movements slowed, and then stopped all together. Our bedroom fell utterly silent.

“It’ll be okay,” I chanted over and over again to cut the silence of the room. My eyes were still dry. “It’ll be okay.”

I began to hear the distant whine of sirens, almost imperceptible. It was 9:30am on a Saturday so there wasn’t the usual murmur of cars moving on the busy road outside the window. Like thunder in an advancing storm, the wail of the sirens grew louder as the seconds passed. Soon they were on my street. Then just outside the front door. The sickening toll of salvation.

I left the bedroom when the paramedics began to resuscitate Mike. I saw them pull out the defibrillator paddles. I couldn’t bear to watch. I just hoped they would do their job and he’d be okay. I busied myself with gathering all the medication Mike had been on. Having asthma and severe allergies, he required a daily regimen of medications. It was really his only physical weakness, and he didn’t like to admit it to himself.

I was the fastest white guy on the track team, he had boasted to me on several occasions, a proud gleam in his eye. He ardently took care of his ailments, but he didn’t let them prevent him from doing the things he loved the most. Like the pole-vaulting he’d done in high school and college.

I thought that maybe he’d had an asthma attack. I’d never witnessed an asthma attack before, even though my own mother had asthma. I hoped it was something as simple as that. People survived asthma attacks.

It was a long time before they carried Mike down the stairs on a gurney and wheeled him out the back door. By that time, I’d managed to think clearly enough to grab my address book. Some logical part of my mind, almost rational now that I had left the reality of the bedroom, told me that we would need the numbers to contact family. It was probably my smartest move all morning.

One of the paramedics hung back to walk me out the door. He didn’t seem too communicative, but I kept waiting for him to tell me something about what was going on. He only said, “Where do we take him? County or City?”

“City,” I replied immediately, remembering my bout with food poisoning a few years back. Mike had said to me back then that the county hospital was closer, but a “chop shop.” Of course, a hospital is a hospital, and taking him to County probably wouldn’t have made any difference. But my mind, in its frozen state, could only make decisions from habit and learned mantras. We never went to County. It had to be City.

I followed the paramedic team as they rolled Mike’s stretcher across the strip of lawn that was our backyard and into the back of the ambulance. Dave, the neighbor from two doors down, stood outside the gate to our porch, shirtless as usual despite the chill of the April morning.

“What happened?” asked Dave as I passed him. This was the first of many times I’d be asked this very question.

“I don’t know!” I snapped and pushed ahead. I was afraid he’d try to engage me in a conversation. It felt as though he were intruding on some private moment. I focused on my goal of the ambulance without looking at him.

I started to walk towards the back of the ambulance. My paramedic tugged me by the elbow and directed me towards the cab. I looked back, confused. On television, the spouse gets to ride in the back of the ambulance.

“Listen,” my paramedic said. “You have an important job. You need to watch the traffic and make sure we’re clear. Let me know if you see someone who isn’t pulling over.”

At the time, those directions somehow made sense. Looking back, I realize how ridiculous they are. I was being treated like a child, given a meaningless distraction to occupy my mind from the situation. And it worked. My eyes stayed on the road, though I did not say a thing to my paramedic as he drove.

One of the guys working on Mike in the back opened the curtain between the two compartments.

“Ask her if he’s taken any drugs we should know about,” he shouted over the loud rumble of the ambulance as it and all the equipment bounced with the grooves of the road. I’d never realized ambulances were so bouncy.

My paramedic, not missing a beat in his battle with driving, repeated the question as though I hadn’t heard.

“Drugs? Just his allergy medications. The ones I gave you.”

“No,” my paramedic said. “Not those kind.”

“No!” I was shocked at the suggestion. “He doesn’t do stuff like that. He doesn’t even smoke cigarettes.”

I glanced down at the paramedic peeking through the curtain. He looked back at me incredulously. Then, he slid the curtain shut again. I was left with a feeling of guilt not unlike the time I told my dad that the pack of cigarettes he found in the glove compartment of my college car belonged to my best friend. In this case, however, I’d told the paramedic the truth. He just didn’t seem to believe me. Maybe I was just paranoid, maybe the question was just standard. Yet I felt as though I were being blamed. Maybe I was to blame. Could he tell that I hadn’t called 911 the instant the attack began?

The ambulance was noisy and I couldn’t hear what was going on in the back. I didn’t know what they were doing to Mike. I kept picturing him waking to those austere men, hoping he wasn’t scared. I just wanted to hold his hand so he’d know I was there, that he wasn’t alone. Though just a few feet and a curtain separated us, it felt as though he were on another one of his business trips. I couldn’t touch him, I couldn’t comfort him. I felt completely and utterly useless. Whatever was happening to him was beyond my meager first aid knowledge and my ability to do anything to help.

Dammit, Misha, I silently screamed. I was on the verge of tears I still wouldn’t let come. Crying wouldn’t help. I had to keep myself in check, though my insides were twisting into knots. Dammit, Misha, don’t you leave me here. I’m too young to be a widow.

I felt myself blush with guilt at the thought. Why was I always jumping to the worst case scenario? It was going to be all right, I told myself. They’d fix him. That was their job. He’d be fine.

Regardless, the thoughts continued to form words in my head.

Dammit, Misha. I love you. Don’t leave me here. Fight. It was the silent prayer I repeated over and over all the way to the hospital. It was probably the first—and only time—I had prayed in my entire life.

***

At the emergency entrance to the hospital, I was again immediately diverted from following the Mike’s gurney to its destination. About a year prior, I’d taken a different ambulance trip to this very emergency room when Mike threw his back out. That time, I’d been allowed to follow him to one of the segmented rooms where I’d waited with him for several hours until a doctor finally got the chance to examine him. The contrast between this trip and that one blared before my eyes. Everything was familiar, yet wrong.

I was escorted to the intake desk where I gave the all-too-cheerful secretary Mike’s insurance information. Her manner, a stark contrast to my turmoil, confused my senses. I wanted to be calmed by her demeanor because I thought perhaps she knew something I didn’t, and that I was, as I suspected, being a bit irrational. My stomach was tossing itself into knots.

Another attendant entered the room and looked right at me. “I’ve got good news,” she said.

My heart jumped into my throat. I knew it!, I thought with relief.

“He’s going to be fine,” she said with a smile. But before I could respond, she wrinkled her brow in thought. “You’re the mother, right?”

“Huh?” My heart drummed a single, loud thud that popped in my ears.

“You came in with the 13-year old boy…?” she continued.

The secretary interjected, “Oh, no. This is Mrs. Fronheiser. She’s in here with her husband.”

“Oh.” The attendant blushed. “I am sorry. I thought you were the mother.”

With that, she was off, leaving the chaos she’d created behind.

I tried to bury my disappointment by making light of the situation. “Do I look old enough to have a 13-year old?” I asked in mock disgust.

“Well, no,” admitted the secretary with a chuckle.

“I’m only 26,” I stated. Too young to be a widow.

Stop! chastised the voice on the other side of my mind. Everything is okay.

Between my inner dialog and the urgent need for information about my husband, I could barely concentrate on the terse conversation with the intake secretary. I distractedly gave her the information she needed while anchoring my eyes on the green and black glow of her computer monitor. I just wanted to get through this paperwork so that I could join Mike at his bedside, hold his hand, feel the reality of him. Even if he were unconscious, just the connection of our two hands would bring me comfort. And I didn’t want him to wake up alone.

As we finished up, I began to move in my seat. I was hoping they’d take me to him now, but I suspected I was going to have to wait in the gloomy room beyond the intake desk where all the people with less immediate illnesses and injuries waited their turn for treatment. However, before I could gather my things and move on to the next room, I was intercepted by a lady in a casual pantsuit.

“I’ve got it from here,” the newcomer said to the secretary. She then turned her eyes to me and extended her hand.

To this day, I don’t remember what her name was. I am not good with names and my brain was already in a sort of meltdown. The only word I retained from her introduction was her title: the chaplain. And that is the name I have always used to refer to her in my memory.

“We’re going to go to a quieter room,” she said as though this were the most normal thing to do in a hospital.

But I knew better. I’d been to the emergency room enough in my life—both as a patient and in support of someone else who was a patient—and I’d never been taken to a separate room. I didn’t even know the hospital had separate rooms, besides the rooms for the patients. People in movies weren’t taken to separate rooms. I started to feel light-headed.

“So, what’s going on with my husband?” I asked tentatively. “Do you know?”

“I don’t know. They are working on him, but I couldn’t see what was happening,” she replied. She was lying. I knew it instantly. I could just feel it. She didn’t even bother to try to make it sound convincing.

The room to where I was lead wasn’t any more impressive than the waiting room. It was the typical dully lit white-walled room for which hospitals are famous. Bright, uncomfortable furniture left over from the 70s lined with the walls, leaving the middle of the room completely bare. An old, pea green, dial telephone with a worn number pad sat on a cheap end table made of particle board and wobbly metal legs. I immediately took a seat on the couch next to the phone, folded my arms across my chest protectively, and put my feet on the beat-up coffee table in front of the couch. My eyes fell on the door the Chaplain closed behind her.

“It’s been a busy morning,” she commented. “Some days are like that.”

I didn’t respond. I had nothing to say to that. Something about my husband being a part of an abnormal influx of patients into the hospital bothered me.

I felt the Chaplain’s eyes scanning me up and down. “How long have you been married?”

I knew it was a tactic to distract me. Yet I fed into it. I needed to talk.

“A little over a year,” I replied.

“You have any kids?”

“No,” I said somewhat defensively. “We’re waiting.”

“Well, that’s a good idea,” the Chaplain said. “You’re still young.”

“We like to travel,” I said as if that explained everything.

The door opened and a pudgy woman slipped in. She glanced around the room nervous, didn’t meet my eyes. I can’t remember her name either, but she introduced herself as a social worker (which I had trouble believing given her state). I suddenly felt as though my head was being pushed under water.

The Social Worker didn’t say much. She occasionally added a comment or two, but she seemed more uncomfortable in the room than I did. The Chaplin quickly filled her in on the situation: wife is young, newly married, no kids.

“I’m not religious,” I stated evenly to the Chaplain. It was a warning to her that I didn’t need her to start in on any Bible-thumping. I also just wished she and her social worker friend would leave the room.

“That’s all right,” she said with the typical happily-Godified smile all religious people seemed to have. “I’m just here for support.”

“Well, I don’t believe in any of that stuff.”

“That’s fine,” she affirmed.

Silence.

The Social Worker picked up the conversation. “So what do you do?”

“I’m a technical writer,” I replied.

“And your husband?” prompted the Chaplain.

“He is a software trainer,” I replied. Is? Was? I suddenly couldn’t figure out what verb tense to use. Again, I felt bad for thinking that.

The Chaplain again. “You like to travel. Where have you been?”

“A lot of places. The Virgin Islands. Mexico on our honeymoon…” I said, slightly distracted by the mental image of the cruise to the western Mexican ports. “We want to go to Europe sometime.”

We want? We wanted…? I want…

The drowning feeling was getting worse, pressure was building in my ears as I sunk deeper. At the same time, I could see the faint shimmer of the surface light ahead of me. I wanted to swim towards it, but I couldn’t move.

“I hope he’s okay,” I said, looking helplessly at the door.

The Chaplain nodded to the Social Worker. “Why don’t you check up on him.”

The Social Worker slid quickly out of the room, seemingly grateful.

“Where do you live?” the Chaplain continued to press.

“Stow,” I said. “But we want to move to Colorado. We like to climb mountains and ski.”

I just couldn’t stop myself. I felt like the more I said about my life with Mike, the more I could keep him in it. If I just kept talking, kept affirming all of our plans and ideas for the future, everything would be okay. I could submerge that pessimistic voice in the back of my head, the one that kept spouting false prophecies. It was a twisted nightmare I was having with myself. I just had to talk myself through it.

“That’s really exciting,” the Chaplain said, smiling encouragingly. “My son moved to Alaska—just up and left, after graduating from college. He loves it there. He says he’d never move back.”

“Too cold.” I even mustered a slight smile. “I couldn’t take it.”

“But it’s beautiful country up there, I hear. Probably like Colorado. But I’ve never been there either.”

And the small talk went on a few more minutes. I felt like I was being torn in two directions between utter calm and complete fear. My patience was wearing thin. I kept picturing someone of authority bursting into the room, telling me it was a close call but my husband was all right and I could go and see him now. I saw myself walking into the large, partitioned area of the emergency room towards a bed on which Mike lay, his eyes grinning up at me even if the rest of him looked worn.

It’s okay, he’d whisper hoarsely. It was a close call, but I am okay.

Misha, don’t ever scare me like that again, I’d reply with relief. I love you.

He would give me a tired, but assuring smile. I would take his hand and squeeze it. What did I tell you, Fritzy? Tiggers always bounce.

He identified with the character Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. It was his typical response to anything that happened which might appear troubling to someone else. His training as a pole-vaulter made him capable of surviving falls that could seriously have injured most people. He consciously applied the same principles to survive the emotional falls he’d taken in his life. In truth, he did have the amazing ability to bounce where others would belly-flop. I guess I believed, like he did, that he was unbreakable.

I kept focusing on that scene, knowing it would come. I kept telling myself that I was being completely irrational in thinking that something was really wrong. We were young. We still had plenty of chances. Bad stuff like this never happened to me. It would turn out okay. I always found ways to cheat the rules of life. I would cheat this out too. I was smart, a hard worker; only good things could come to me.

I tried desperately to convince myself that everything was normal, despite what it looked like. I tried to rationalize being in a separate room from the rest of the emergency room clientele. It’s just precautionary because it’s a serious problem, I explained to myself. But he’s fine. You’ll see.

I tried to find a reason, other than a solemn one, why a chaplain and a social worker had been sent to babysit me. It’s because they think it’s a domestic dispute, I thought. They want to make sure I didn’t hurt him.

None of these explanations added up. I didn’t want to see the facts in front of my nose. My mind kept finding ways to explain around them:

They’re offering prayer services just in case I think it will help.

They’re just making sure I am not alone.

It’s just someone to talk to so that I don’t have to be alone in a hospital when my husband is unconscious.

I rationalized until I could rationalize no more. And then I waited, vaguely stumbling through polite and meaningless conversation with the Chaplain. Waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to give me some piece of information about my husband. It was a continual game of “beat around the bush.” Why couldn’t one person just be frank with me?

The door opened. I don’t know how long it had been since the Social Worker left, or even how long I’d been in that room.

A middle-aged balding man dressed in sea green scrubs entered the room. The Social Worker, worn and broken-down, followed close behind. A second woman followed at her heels and closed the door behind them.

The man nodded nervously, didn’t meet my eyes. “Mrs. Fronheiser?”

I nodded affirmation.

The man introduced himself as the doctor who was working on Mike. He asked, “Can you tell me what happened this morning?”

I sighed, confused. I summarized the ordeal as best as I could.

The doctor thought to himself for a moment, and then he asked, “How much time passed between your husband’s loss of consciousness and when the ambulance arrived?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know… five minutes? Fifteen? It seemed like a long time.”

He shifted in his chair. Still no eye contact. “I am not sure, but he may have had a brain aneurism.”

But he’s okay, right? I wanted to ask. I just waited in silence for the doctor to continue.

More silence. More waiting. All eyes in the room were on our conversation. Seconds ticked away as my mind soared. I knew what was coming, I could feel it. But I wasn’t at all prepared for the truth of the words.

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the doctor uttered quietly, staring at his own feet, “your husband died.”

The world came to a grinding halt around me. Or so it seemed, as I sat there, just waiting to hear the next beat of my heart. Motion blurs obscured the walls like the background of Munch’s painting, The Scream. A dirty shade of yellow just passed over my eyes like someone pulling down a shade. The lights seemed dimmer. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

No, I thought defiantly. This is a dream. It’s not real. You’re still sleeping.

“No,” I moaned as if making a sound could tell me where reality lie. I can fix this. Just let me start the day over again. My mind was full of illogical thoughts. I kept thinking that I could change the outcome if given the chance to run through the morning again. Somewhere I had taken a wrong turn, selected the wrong choice. My thoughts raced to every detail of that morning.

Dead. Mike couldn’t be dead. We’d been in bed just an hour ago, making love. I could still feel his lips warming mine and his fingers running through my hair. Our hands had been intertwined. I’d felt his breath on my face. He couldn’t be dead. Not so quick, not without warning. He’d just been here, alive as ever. And now, they told me, he was no longer here. How could things change like that so suddenly?

This is not my life, I told myself. This is some other reality. I am not here.

The room truly seemed to dissolve around me simply out of the mere suggestion. I may have closed my eyes—I am not sure—but I lost visual image. Static pounded in my ears, matching the heartbeat I couldn’t feel in my chest, and dizzying me. I knew I should cry, but I couldn’t. It was like wanting to vomit because you felt sick, but only getting dry-heaves.

I wanted to be left alone. I was aware of the people in the room, though they were silent. I wanted to run away, go some place where I could think without an audience, where I could beg the Fates to rewind the morning and let me start over.

Someone touched both my shoulders and I yanked away. “Don’t touch me!” I yelled. “I am not like that.” The last thing I wanted was to be hugged by some strangers who did not know me or Mike or anything about my life other than what I told them.

“Okay, okay,” a voice came back. The Chaplain.

I open my eyes against the waves of static crashing in my head. I was curled sideways on the couch. I didn’t even remember moving. The room still looked dim and off-color in my eyes.

“Now, Mrs. Fronheiser,” the doctor—he was still there?—said. “The nurse here has some things to go over with you. I know you don’t want to do this now, but you have to.”

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the nameless nurse interjected, “do you want to donate his organs? If so, we need to know quickly.”

“Donate his organs,” I again echoed dumbly. I was so confused. What if they just thought he was dead and they were wrong, and they started cutting up his body….?

“Mrs. Fronheiser?” someone prompted.

I blinked. “Can you… use… anything?” Everyone sounded like they were speaking to me through a phone made of tin cans and wire.

“Some bones, some ligament tissue… his eyes…” she stated. “Stuff like that. Not any major organs, though. We can’t use those.”

I couldn’t imagine it. I always thought it was a good thing to be an organ donor, but I never knew I would have to make the call. I didn’t know what Mike would have wanted. He wasn’t an organ donor on his driver’s license out of an irrational fear that a hospital would harvest his organs while he was still alive. For a moment, I entertained this fear too, wondering if he really were all right and I was being lied to in order to use his body for someone else’s life.

I thought about it all for a moment. We’d never discussed organ donation. Or funerals, burials, or anything else related to death. I think I’d told him once that I wanted to be cremated. He probably would have known that much. He’d never told me what he wanted, except that once he said he wanted to be released to wander in a backwoods wilderness when he ceased to be “useful to society.” Romantic ideas of the young. I had pictured wandering the wilderness with him when we were both old and grey. What was I supposed to do?

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the nurse prodded. “We are also going to need to release his body to the coroner since we don’t know how he died. You need to sign this release.”

The nurse shoved a clipboard into my hands. I stared blankly at the paper, unable read it. This was happening too fast. I was feeling smaller and smaller by the second. I fumbled with the pen, managing to scrawl my name on the designated line.

“Are you going to donate?” pressed the nurse.

My mouth was dry, speechless.

“Perhaps,” interjected the Chaplain, “she’d like to see her husband.”

“Would you like to see your husband, Mrs. Fronheiser?” asked the nurse.

I didn’t want to really. But I knew I had to, or none of this would be real to me at all. I would keep thinking that it was a big mistake, that there had been a mix up and they had the wrong man, the wrong wife. I didn’t want to believe any of it.

I nodded numbly. It was all I could do. Coroner, donating organs, stroke—this is was all too much. Static continued to undulate in my ears. Little did I know, but this dizzying noise would continue to plague my brain from that moment forward whenever I was experiencing stress. Three years later, the static still pounds my ears from time to time, a harbinger of an arising situation I can’t control.

***

I slowly entered the small, empty, and isolated room. The only light in the room streamed from the hall through the window on the door, and Mike’s shirtless body lay on a gurney in the shadows. Lifeless, he was neglected there, his would-be saviors having moved on to the next patient in need.

He would have looked like he was sleeping, except I could see that his chest wasn’t moving. His body and his face were randomly splotched with red patches—his blood, no longer moving, pooled. Someone must have closed his eyes. He couldn’t have been like that.

The tears I’d sought so desperately suddenly pushed themselves out of my eye sockets. These tears were not driven by sadness, but instead a rage like none I’d ever felt before. I felt the rage climb like fire through my legs and push up my body to my head.

“YOU BASTARD!” I shouted, feeling and welcoming the anger that bubbled in my veins. It felt really good to scream. Even if my anger was directed at the person I loved most in my life. “How could you do this?! How COULD you!”

I wanted to hit him. I wanted to kick the walls and stomp my feet. I wanted to pull all my hair out. I wanted to punch those stupid, useless, glowing panels on the wall.

I continued, “Dammit, Misha! You’re a fighter! You were always a fighter. You said we could beat anything. Why didn’t you beat this?!”

I glared hard at the unmoving body on the bed, demanding it to tell me why it had let go. What had I done to make him give up? The naivety of my age led me to believe that we could conquer anything, even death itself, if we held onto life with all of our strength and refused to let go. Therefore, I reasoned that something I had done had made him want to leave.

“What did I do?” I demanded aloud. “What did I do to make you leave me? I know I was a horrible wife. I could have been a better wife! I am SORRY.”

Another incongruent belief I’ve always held: The word “sorry” could erase all mistakes.

My shouting echoed off the walls, probably reverberated out of the room and into the halls for all to hear; yet, my shouting stirred no reaction from the body on the gurney. The anger gave way to sadness; the sadness to self-defamation. I began to helplessly list all the things I was sorry about in our marriage—any fights we’d ever had, all the times I’d worked late when he wanted me to come home, the several times I neglected to call him when I was staying out late with friends. I was begging, bargaining my apology for his life. I kept thinking I could get him back if I just said the right things. Someone was trying to teach me a lesson, I reasoned. And now I knew how important he was to me. Lesson learned.

I approached his bed and threw myself against his chest. His body felt cold and stiff. How soon the body lost its temperature. His skin still smelled vaguely like the man I’d slept next to for the past three years, though with the stale odor of a hospital melded in it.

“I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

My tears made puddles on his unmoving chest.

“What am I going to do now?” I whispered. “What am I going to do?”

For the first time in my life that I could remember, I felt completely and utterly helpless. The unconquerable faith I had in myself to surmount all of life’s obstacles drained from my veins and oozed onto the white-washed floor of the hospital room. I watched my dreams—the dreams I had of my life with Mike—evaporate into the air. There would be no trip to Europe, no Colorado, no daughter named Sabine Patrice and no son named Korbin Michael; there would only be me and the fading memory of a dream I had once when everything seemed possible.

At that moment, I passed from whimsical youth to the reality of adulthood.

Thoughts on a Second Wedding

I always thought that when I got married again, it would be less of a fancy affair. I envisioned I’d get married on New Year’s Eve in some bustling city somewhere far enough away that only my closest family would attend. Or perhaps I’d get married quietly at some winery in California. For awhile, when the Star Trek Experience exhibit still existed in Las Vegas, I imagined getting married on the Enterprise bridge. (When they removed that exhibit in 2008, I was honestly a bit sad that I would never get to live that particular fantasy out.)

Of course, it took me a long time, and lots of grief to live, before I would even entertain the idea of getting married again. The day Mike died, I swore myself to celibacy–a living monument, if you will, to the love Mike and I shared. I even swore I’d never even change my last name from his last name. Part of grief is a resistance to change. Perhaps because change happens so quickly all at once, you find yourself wanting to hang onto the little bits of your life that you have left to try to grasp some sense of normalcy in a world that has suddenly turned 180 degrees from normal.

You couldn’t have told me then that I would change my mind about these proclamations. I would have argued with you vigorously. I would have argued with myself just as strongly. At the beginning of the journey through grief, I couldn’t see past the fog that blocked my path to entertain any ideas about the future and other people’s thoughts on the matter felt like an affront.

Not surprising, as I worked myself through the grief, I had little changes of heart. As a single woman again, I slowly let go of the habits of a life shared with Mike–little things at first, like buying a different laundry detergent. Then I picked up my own hobbies–bicycling, skiing–and I threw myself into them. After wading into the water of change, I took the plunge and did something I never thought I would do: I changed my last name back to my maiden name (for many reasons I don’t need to go into at the moment).

The last tendril of “grief belief” I held onto was my conviction that I needed to have a much more subdued wedding. I was afraid that I would compare my second wedding to the first. I wanted them to be nothing like each other so that a comparison would not even exist in my mind. Would the first wedding eclipse the second? Or would the second wedding eclipse the first? Worst yet, would my guests–those who had been at both weddings–make comparisons? Having gone through a wedding before, would I would feel odd or some kind of gloomy sense of deju vu?

I don’t know why, but I lived in fear of the answers to these questions.

When Crow and I got engaged, we started to discuss what we wanted from a wedding and it became immediately clear that he wanted to have a ceremony in front of his family and friends. He imagined more like 50-60 people; however, numbers that low are impossible with the size of my family. It was all or nothing–a wedding with friends and my multitude of extended family, or we eloped. In the end, we decided to go full-tilt wedding. And I realized that I actually wanted that too. Even though I was getting married a second time, I felt–just as I did with Mike–like I wanted to declare my love before everyone I knew. I wanted the ceremony and the celebration. Not only was I in love, but I was in love again. That seemed like such a miraculous thing, finding true love twice in my life.

In the process of planning our wedding, and moreso on the wedding day, I realized my fears about comparing one wedding to the other were unfounded. I learned that just as you can’t compare two relationships to each other, one wedding–even if the bride is the same–cannot compare to another. When done right–with both people involved in the planning–a wedding reflects the overall personality of the couple. My first wedding was emblematic of Mike and me; my second wedding, Crow and me. Each wedding stands alone in my head as separate events.

Contrary to my fears, I woke up the morning of the wedding with butterflies in my stomach but, at the same time, a sense of calm. I think I experienced the same feelings the first time I got married because one thing was for certain both times: I have always felt I’d picked the right guy.

My pre-ceremony preparations were enjoyed with the same four girls I’d chosen as my bridesmaids the first time I got married–Melissa, Diane, Angy, and Sarah–and it didn’t feel awkward like I had thought it would. There was a certain comforting constancy in the fact that the four girls I considered my closest friends at 26 were still my closest friends at 38. Though Crow and I limited ourselves to three groomsmen and three bridesmaids, I still managed to find a special job for Sarah so that she could be a part of the special day; she would read The Apache Marriage Blessing at the end of our ceremony.

It was such a beautiful day. The sun shined brightly after a week of incessant rain and floods. I was excited, not melancholy, nor did I experience the feared deju vu. The experience of marrying Crow was a new one and I had no thoughts of previous weddings or the life I’d once had on that special day with him. It was our moment together in time, completely separate from anything else, just as our future together soon would be.

I’ve wondered why I still haven’t been able to get rid of the dress from my first wedding. When I boxed up my second wedding dress, I put it in the closet next to the first. Both dresses represent a different part of my life. I’m someone who hangs onto momentos. I still have my first engagement ring/wedding band set too. Over the years, I even thought I’d do something with that first wedding band set–take the diamond and create a necklace or another ring or something. But just like with the dress, I never had the heart to follow through.

I was shocked when my happily married coworker said that she sold her dress to a consignment shop when she returned from the honeymoon. She obviously finds no attachments to these things. I wondered if there was some flaw in my personality that makes me cling to physical things like this. But I guess I’m just not ready purge myself of all momentos from my past. Maybe I never will be. I think it’s okay, though, because I do not let these items drag me back to the past. Rather, they just serve as tags of the events that constitute my life.

Once in a Lifetime

A lot of people in my life right now don’t know that I was widowed. I’m not hiding it, but I’m not advertising it either. I’ve had chances to correct people, but I’ve let them slip. It’s just easier that way. At a time when I’m involved in a major, wonderful change in my life–a change I don’t want sobered by some depressing back story that is only slightly relevant to the current situation–I just feel it’s better to leave the topic of my widowhood untouched.

I’ve just switched jobs. Out of sympathy for those around me, because it always causes people to behave awkwardly, I’ve not corrected anyone when they have made comments that suggest that I’m planning my first wedding ever. As far as anyone knows in my current job, and some other aspects of my life (like newer members of the bike club and Crow’s friends and family), I’ve been single all these years to 38.

I’m mostly fine with this. I’ve even been careful not to bring up prior knowledge of what it’s like to plan a ceremony and go through with the entire thing. Sometimes I say something like, “Well, you know, people RSVP, but there’s always someone who shows up who didn’t RSVP and someone who did RSVP but doesn’t show up.” I guess they figure I know this from past experience planning parties in general. I’ve left a few hints like, “The day will go by so fast, I won’t remember any of this.” I guess they assume I’m making these statements based on the experiences of friends who have gotten married before me. God knows I’ve had plenty of experience as a bridesmaid for proof.

So when people refer to my coming wedding to Crow as a “once in a lifetime” event, I just inwardly cringe.

Once in a life time.

Yeah.

But this is my second time. And it’s not because I got divorced. I didn’t fail in my first marriage. My first husband didn’t fail me. Life, I guess, failed the both of us. Or rather, Mike’s poor heart failed him.

I want to respond, “Well, it’s not my first time. But it’s equally as important!”

I feel almost as though admitting to having been married before takes something away from what people think about my marriage to Crow. As though he were some sort of consolation prize. Or an emotional and spiritual fix for a girl who lost her first love to tragedy. I’m silent about my first marriage because I want people to value Crow’s marriage to me with just as much value as they would have placed in my marriage to Mike (if they were there to witness it).

For those in my life who were around to witness my wedding and marriage to Mike, I only hope that they can see the two events as completely separate. I don’t want people to compare one wedding or one relationship to the other because I don’t. I love Mike and Crow in completely different ways because they are completely different people who knew a completely different version of me at utterly different stages in my life. One does not replace the other in my heart; they each occupy their own spaces. It’s easier for me as a widow to understand this concept, I think, than it is for someone who has not lost a spouse to comprehend. It still seems as though bringing up my first husband in a conversation makes people feel as though I have not completely healed. And I have.

There is an amazing double-standard, I’ve learned, with how one is supposed to grieve and remember a spouse as opposed to a relative or friend. If I bring up missing a grandparent, as I do often, no one bats an eye. People don’t even behave as though they are uncomfortable. When I bring up Mike, the air becomes still. No one breathes. The subject is touchy. Is it because people treat romantic love as something less important, easily replaceable? Or is it such a sensitive loss that people don’t know how to react? If the latter is the case, why are people so quick to advise others to find a replacement love? No one tries to suggest that someone should fill the gaping hole left in my heart from the loss of a grandparent with another grandparent (or grandparently type person). A widow needs the very same consideration… there is no “fix” but we learn that while we miss our loved ones, we can still build new relationships, not as replacements to the old, but as magnificent additions to the many relationships we’ve experienced in the past and present.

I struggle with words of finality. There are lots of events in life that could be considered “once in a lifetime.” The day that I got to stand front row and center at a U2 concert, right at Bono’s feet, might be considered a once in a life time event. Except, well, it could happen next tour too. Or something better could happen (I could get pulled on stage by Bono!). Each and every experience I’ve had at the seven U2 concerts I’ve attended in my life provides a very special memory. When we mark events in our life as more special than other moments, I think it takes something away from all the other wonderful moments of our lives. I don’t really feel that it’s fair to label any event as being so special it can only ever happen once.

After all, I found love twice.

I’m not only one either. From all the blogs I’ve read on the internet, it’s clear there are a lot of widows and widowers out there who have lost and found love again. Love is not something that can happen only once. Connecting with someone enough to want to share your life with them can happen multiple times. You just have to be open to the possibilities. And you need to realize that the human heart is big enough to share with many people. Each love is unique and special.

Perhaps we can call every special moment for exactly what it is, leaving out a count and finality. I’m getting married to Crow. Period. It’s a very special day for both of us where we publicly vow to commit a life together, a life we promise to share as long as either one of us is alive. Now that is a very special moment in both our lives.

Who is Mars Girl Again?

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but under the “Mars Girl” title on the right-hand side of my blog page, I have made a little change… The description used to read:

Who is Mars Girl? I’m a young widow, avid cyclist, sometimes amateur astronomer, world traveler, and relisher of red wines.

It now reads (changes in bold):

Who is Mars Girl? I’m an avid cyclist, sometimes amateur astronomer, world traveler, and relisher of red wines and craft brews.

Well, it’s true. I’ve recently developed a taste for craft beers.

Oh, yes, and I’ve dropped “young widow” from the list of items describing me.

I decided it was time to stop identifying myself as a young widow. I’m not in a state of denial about my past. My new love and relationship doesn’t erase the pain of the past. Crow does not replace Mike in my heart. (He has his own place in my heart.) However, my world has changed. It’s undeniable. In a little over 7 months, I will be married for the second time in my life. I won’t be widowed, technically, any more. I will be someone who was widowed once. Someday, the one-time widowhood might be “a long, long time ago.” Hell, it already feels that way. This is good.

I thought about changing that paragraph to describe this scenario–something like an allusion to a phoenix rising from the ashes. Well, maybe not that dramatic. But I wanted to find words to describe what I feel I am: someone who prematurely and tragically lost the first love of her life, suffered a lot of pain, went through a lot of self-reflection, healed herself through avid cycling and the passage of time, learned to love life for herself by going out into the world and doing what she wanted, and then just so happened to find a wonderful man and fell in love again. But that’s a mouthful. And, also, it sounded too Hallmark channel for me. And a part of me is still sensitive to a recently widowed audience who would maybe have been a little disturbed by the language. I know it used to make me feel as if I couldn’t relate to the widow if they were finding themselves in a new relationship or getting remarried.

It is what is it is, as they say. I don’t want to be the voice for anyone else’s experience but my own. I’m glad I have a happy new beginning to my life. But it’s really just another of many new beginnings. Everything that happens to you in life is an opportunity for a new beginning. Even the tragic loss of a spouse. Some beginnings are happy, some are sad. Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to have many happy new beginnings with Crow.

I’m lucky. Or fortunate. Whatever you want to call it. And I don’t for one second take any of that for granted. I’ve been given a chance to share my life with someone and I’m grateful.

And that’s that. I’m no longer a young widow, but soon-to-be a (not as young) wife.

Letting Go

I’m not a person who likes to hang on to a bunch of things. So far in my life, I’ve confined my personal mementos to three huge Rubbermaid tubs.

The first one contains all of the items from childhood I wished to keep. Girl Scout badges, the sash from my Junior uniform, a Heidi doll my grandma E had and my dad gave me after she died, my high school lettermen jacket (I had an academic letter, proudly earned), the National Honors Society tassel from my high school graduation, the mortar board from my college graduation, the year tassels from both my high school and college graduations. Those are only the things I can think of off-hand… I haven’t looked in there in awhile so I’m not sure what’s there. In one of my moves–before the tub–I lost the folder that contained all of my academic awards, my high school transcript, and various college report cards. I’m still mad about that loss. I ache for it sometimes because I used to call it my “brag folder” and I’d look at it whenever I felt that I was stupid (which is often).

The second tub contains everything of Mike of which I couldn’t part. Again, I haven’t looked in there for awhile but off-hand, I know that it contains the polo shirt he wore the day I met him at a party called Woodchuck in the spring of 1998, a purple silk shirt he used to wear that I loved him in, his boy scout badges, a tie of the Tasmanian Devil (the Warner Brother’s cartoon creature) ripping up computers that I bought him. The guest book from his wake. Some condolence cards, the program from special appreciation service the organ donation place held months later (I donated his eyes and muscle tissue, which were the only parts that could be salvaged at his death).

The third tub contains nicknacks of my first wedding. I know for sure that it contains the card box with all the opened cards within it from our wedding, my bridal bouquet (silk flowers and huge), some framed pictures that people gave us as gifts with meaningful sayings on them that we used to have hanging on our wall because we were romantic that way, a blanket with our names and wedding date embroidered on it that we used to keep on our couch, the guest book (which a lot of people did not sign because it was in a corner of the reception hall no one ventured to) and it corresponding pen. Probably the champagne glasses from our toast (they may be broken by now, I don’t know). There’s probably a few surprises in there as well.

Outside of the Rubbermaid tubs, I also have several shoe boxes full of letters between me and my pen pal, Sarah, with whom I’ve corresponded since we were both 13. In a manic cleaning phase inspired by mom, I threw out the first of those letters back in high school, and I regret it to this day, because now all I have is our correspondence from college on. It would be interesting to go back and read what we wrote about our lives, hopes, and dreams when we were in middle and high school but I no longer have that.

I also have other shoe boxes full of letters between me and my 10th grade English teacher–a man who feels closer to me than family at times–with whom I’ve corresponded since I’ve graduated high school. I’ve never thrown any of those letters out. I learned my lesson.

I’ve kept cards people have sent me for birthdays, Christmas, and other such occasions. I have a teddy bear that my mom got from my grandma H at her baby shower. It’s old and ragged and has been sewn together many, many times, but I can’t let go of it. It comforts me when when I am sad. It has a little music box in its chest that still plays and when I am really, really upset, the music soothes me. Sometimes the music makes me melancholy too. For a past and a life I can’t remember or understand or make sense of.

I have binders full of everything I’ve ever written–grade school assignments, high school papers, college papers, the various novels I wrote in high school (yes, I wrote novels),  little booklets I wrote in grade school, the diaries I kept from second grade through my widowhood. Yes, I was always writing. And the narcissistic artist in me has kept everything with a religious self-importance. I do look at those occasionally for a boost, often impressed with the level of writing I had in even high school. Sometimes I wonder if my fears of rejection have caused my writing to regress. There was an uninhibited quality to my early writing that I lack now. I’m much more restrained. It’s refreshing to be able to look back and see what I was able to create at such a young age. But sad that I let go of all that potential.

I still have my engagement ring and wedding band in my jewelry box. I kick myself because I lost Mike’s ring while playing soccer in Colorado. I wore it for several years because it comforted me but it was too big and slid off my finger a lot. When I lost it, I felt like I’d lost Mike a second time. I wish I’d just kept it in my jewelry box with my rings.

My wedding dress still hangs in my closet, shuffled from various homes and across the country twice.  I keep thinking I’m going to sell it, but then I never get around to putting it up on Craigslist or eBay. Part of me thinks I should sell it, or give it away, and the other part of me wants to have it boxed to keep. But I feel guilty for wanting to keep a dress that I only wore once. Someone out there may want a slightly used dress and it could bring her good luck. Soon enough I’ll have a second wedding dress to add… and I’ll want to keep that too…

I feel guilty for hanging onto so much stuff, though. What use is this stuff if you don’t look at it or use it at all? I have not looked in the wedding or Mike tubs in a long time because sometimes it just makes me sad to root through them. I rarely look at the tub filled with my childhood stuff, either. Yet, I think I take comfort in knowing those things are there.

Still, lately, in preparing for my move to the dream house with Crow, I’ve started to consider going through those tubs and weeding out the less important items–those things that I feel less attached to. Maybe I can combine the wedding and the Mike tubs into one. Do I really need some of those things? I know, for example, that I cannot part with the polo shirt that Mike wore the day I met him. The boy scout badges, however, I may be willing to part with… And I have someone in mind to ask if he wants them… There may be other things I feel less attached to now that time has passed. And I’m impressed that I’m even considering it. Had anyone suggested I get rid of these things years ago, I would have screamed in protest. How can you make me let go of my past, I’d have cried.

The thing is, I’m slowly coming to realize that the most important pieces of my past are actually always with me: my memories of the past. Barring I don’t develop some horrible mind-debilitating disease, no one can take my memories from me. When I write down my memories, as I have done in the past with diaries, I keep them even more alive. With time, memories get bent and skewed a little; writing can keep memories more true to their original form. I used to keep journals for myself mostly… with a slight narcissistic thought that someone would read them after I die and think I’m brilliant. Ha.

It’s not that I feel like Crow has replaced Mike in any sense of the word. But it’s really strange–and I know a fresh widow will hate me for saying this–that part of me wants to really let go of Mike a little more. I mean, you know, Mike will always have a piece of my heart. And there’s nothing wrong or dysfunctional in acknowledging that. I still miss him sometimes. But I say without feeling any societal pressure that it somehow suddenly seems healthy to let go of some of those physical things that represent him… The amazing thing about all of this is that I came to this conclusion on my own. It’s a surprising contrast to the way I felt right after Mike died, or even five or six years ago. I’d get upset if I read other widows talking as I am now or if a family member would even suggest it. But feelings change slowly. I think the most important thing a person can do is wait until they are ready to let go. It can’t be forced or premature.

I feel guilty for hanging on to too much physical stuff that I’m not using. I think that if I look through the tubs, I can find things that just don’t mean as much to me as they once did. Things I can live without. There are other things I know I can’t live without. So somewhere in the middle is a compromise. I’m ready to make that compromise.

Dream House

When I started looking for a house in 2005, I felt myself gravitating towards the Akron area. More specifically, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I had the fondest memories of my life with Mike there–we used to hike some trails, ride along the towpath, hang out in Peninsula. When Mike died, I found hiking an activity that grounded me and gave me meditative focus, a place to put all my pent up sadness, anxiety, frustration, and I would spend hours hiking various trails within the Cuyahoga Valley. My relationship with the park was both joyful and bittersweet. I was ready to face it again after I went through the whole process of leaving the area when I sold the house I shared with Mike, moved to the east side of Cleveland for a little over a year, moved to Colorado, and then returned again Ohio and the east side of Cleveland. Since Mike’s death, I have struggled with finding a place I could call home and feel like it was truly home. I think all that moving was symptomatic of my inner turmoil. I was just trying to find a place where I fit.

I ended up moving back to the same town where I lived with Mike. In fact, less than a mile from the condo we shared. I felt like it was proof that I was through the roughest part of my grieving because the memories of my life in that town no longer haunted me. The ghosts had dissipated. The town had actually changed just slightly. Some restaurants we enjoyed were gone, replaced by new ones. I spent some time re-remembering the back roads to all the useful places one needs to go.

And, of course, I returned to the Cuyahoga Valley. This time, as a cyclist. Cocky and full of the spirit of a Coloradoan, I was convinced that I could take any hill in Ohio on my bike because I’d spent hours climbing passes on a scant few rides in Colorado. The Cuyahoga Valley told me that I had a lot to learn. My first road was Quick and it was painful. I remember thinking, “How is it possible this hill is so hard?” I guess I never realized that while long, the roads in Colorado tend to be less steep than the windy, abrupt ascents (in some cases, “walls”) that line the Cuyahoga Valley.

But I explored the Valley quite a lot those first couple summers. And along the way, I discovered this quiet little rolling road in the woods with a dozen or so houses nestled in the trees. People lived here! “This,” I thought with a smile, “would be an awesome place to live.” The same thought always came to mind as I cycled along that road on various rides with my bike club–some of them in the mysterious darkness of the late fall–for the next seven years.

Fast forward to 2012. Crow and I are starting to look for houses together. Nothing formal, just looking things up on Zillow and then driving by to check them out. If they were vacant, we’d peer through windows, walk around the yard, try to imagine ourselves in those houses. We had an idea in our mind of what we were looking for and we hadn’t found it yet in our cursory, informal search.

Our Tuesday night club ride has the same route every week. And every week, it goes along that road. I told Crow more than once how cool it would be to have a house on that road because I was still thinking it every time we went down it. He shared my same enthusiasm for the thought. But it was useless to wish for something impossible. So we continued looking at houses from afar.

And then one Thursday night Crow and I went for an evening ride on a warmish spring evening using that very same road to get to a hill we wanted to climb. The miraculous happened–one of the houses had a For Sale sign up that had not been there when we road by with the club on Tuesday. I saw the sign but was slow to react. Crow had already stopped and was pointing. We dismounted our bikes and walked them halfway up the driveway until curiousity urged us to leave the bikes behind and walk around.

The house was vacant so we looked through the windows.

There appeared to be three bedrooms. Check off one requirement.

Two car garage. Check.

Spacious kitchen. Check.

Ranch style. Check for Crow who has spent several years living in the top floor of an apartment and had no desire to have to lug groceries–or anything–up stairs again, ever.

Huge open living room with vaulted ceilings. Check for me. I’ve always wanted vaulted ceilings or a loft.

Big windows facing the beautiful property. Check, check.

A screened-in porch! Bonus points all around.

We walked the yard a bit. It appeared as if the yard bordered the national park. There was wide open space in the back, a little hill behind the house, and some ravines on both sides of the property. My head began to fill with visions of snow-shoeing out the backyard in the winter.

It was hard to hide our excitement. I took a picture of the For Sale sign for the agent’s phone number. Crow called the next day and we saw the house from the inside the very next day during my lunch break at work. I hate to say it, but I fell in love.

I tried not to fall in love. Because, you know, there could be hidden problems with this house. And also this house’s location was definitely desireable for anyone who has a love of the outdoors and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It was a really nice layout on 2.9 acres of land.

We learned that the house’s water is provided by a cistern–a strange concept for this city girl. Apparently, wells were are not popular in this particular area because the water is supposedly very high in iron. I soon warmed up to the idea of a cistern, though, when I realized that it is filled by collecting rain water–a commodity in Ohio–that falls into the gutters from the roof. (The water undergoes a purification process from equipment in the basement, of course.) How green is that?

I’d have to get used to a septic tank. Totally typical for just about all of the places Crow and I desired to live. Heating oil for the furnace and hot water tank. Again, pretty typical (though some use propane, and we agreed we could later switch if we wanted). The only “city” utility provided is electricity. So very rustic. For me. Crow, who spent some of his teen years on a farm with the same conveniences, was completely calm about all this. Which helped.

Small sacrifices, I think, for the location. One of the rationalizations I used to get past my unsure feelings about such a setup was that all the other houses on the same street had similar situations. From all appearances, those houses were in good shape and lived in. I also got the sense from the realtor that the seller–a trustee to the estate of the original owner–had a love for the house.

The interior of the house itself is in decent shape. There are full bathrooms–one full bathroom in the master bedroom, check!–that are in desperate need of some TLC and updating. A full basement with an extra room for storage or a work room. Wood floors in the living room and hallway. All three bedrooms have old carpet in desperate need of replacement. It definitely was going to require some fixing up. But even with all those imperfections, I could see what the house was and what Crow and I could eventually make it into.

We spent the weekend doing everything we could to get our ducks in a row so that we could put an offer in on the house–getting loan pre-approval, signing a real estate agent, and, believe it or not, evening visiting a few open houses in the area.

We put a bid on the house the following Tuesday.

Our offer was accepted after going back and forth the obligatory few times. We got it at a very reasonable price given all the updates the house would most definitely need.

We went through the whole long and drawn out process of inspections, appraisals, and waiting on the loan to go through. It was a long month. We missed our original closing date by over a week. We were on needles and pins for weeks, saying nothing to our friends or family about the house out of a shared paranoia that something would go heartbreakingly wrong.

But finally, that day came. We signed all the papers.

We got the keys on Monday.

We’ll be spending the next week preparing the house for us to move in (painting, wiring, cleaning) and then  packing the stuff at our own places.

We’ll move in June 23-24th.

Our dream house is no longer a dream.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

The number one question I’ve been asked lately–after, of course, the date of the wedding–has been: Are you changing your last name?

If you’re a long time reader of my blog, you might be aware of my thoughts on this subject. Being a feminist, I do question the tradition of a female changing her last name on marriage. Having gone through it before, I am completely aware of what a pain in the ass it is to change your last name. It was even more frustrating when I decided to change my name back to my maiden name in 2005 because unlike a divorce, there’s just no clear order (such as a “divorce decree”) for the law to see a direct connection to changing your name back it its original form. I guessed by the many baffled looks I got when trying to do the name change that widows don’t often put their name back to their maiden name. Maybe because most widows are old and they were their married name longer than their maiden name. Maybe because other young widows have children with whom the last name represents a connection. Maybe some people just don’t bother to change it back. For a lot of personal reasons, however, I had to.

When I went through the process of getting my maiden name back, I brought copies of my birth certificate, marriage license, and Mike’s death certificate. Sometimes that wasn’t enough information because the death of someone else–even your husband–does not necessarily make a connection to a name change. Even though the death certificate does contain a field for Surviving Spouse that indicates the maiden name should be used, if female. Looking over Mike’s death certificate last night, I realized my name is actually on his death certificate twice: once with my maiden name in the Surviving Spouse field and a second time with my married name in the Informer field (because I was the one who called the ambulance, I assume). So you would think that would be enough proof of my identity attached to Mike’s. And wouldn’t you assume that a birth certificate trumps all? It’s obvious I wasn’t trying to invent a new name all together.

Still, it was even harder to change my name back to my maiden name than it was to change it to my married name. Such a fuss, in fact, that I did not change my name on everything. I was in the middle of changing my name when I bought my house; therefore, my house title and all of my utility bills are in my married name. Recently when I went to buy a new car, I realized that my car title (I bought my car in 2003) was in my married name. So, of course, there was a bit of a fuss with that. I had to run around town the day after I bought the car trying to straighten things out between the title company and the dealership.

Needless to say, the name change thing has never ceased to be painful. I’m still kind of caught between two identities. And now I’m about to get married again. So I made to mull over the whole issue again.

I would have voted to keep my last name. But in fairness to Crow, I took his feelings into account. I suppose there is somewhat of a lack of unity in keeping two separate last names when you’re trying to build a single family. And, I admit, that sharing names appeals to the romantic in me. I did seriously contemplate hyphenating my maiden name with Crow’s last name since, unlike my first married name, this would actually work without causing a brain aneurism for anyone trying to pronounce the entire name. As I thought about all the situations in which I would have to give my full name–and how long it takes to say even this simple hyphenation–it seemed like more of a hassle than it was worth. People are still unsure about hyphenated names. Even if there is clearly a hyphen in the name, people don’t seem to understand what it means or how to deal with it. I’ve spent all my life–both married and unmarried–with names that are apparently difficult for people to pronounce or spell without specific guidance. I always spell my name when asked it–even my first name since people can’t seem to spell that either.

Hyphenating also doesn’t solve the problem of having to go through the whole odious name change process, as I’d still have to go to the Social Security office, the license bureau, and then mail out marriage licenses to every credit card company and bank I use (which are numerous).

And then, I thought, is it really fair to the Crow since I did change my last name for Mike? He didn’t express any jealousy over the issue, but I felt it was a little unfair to him. As if I was saying that there was something less about my relationship with Crow that I wouldn’t fully embrace his last name like I did Mike’s. I know, I’m over-analyzing the situation. But I think if roles were reversed, and it was my name a man was taking or leaving, and he was a widower who changed his name the first time, I might feel a little miffed.

Even though I spent days going through the same thought process about changing my name for my first marriage, I ultimately decided to change my name. Because… well, I loved him and I wanted to be a member of the “team.” Not for his family or anyone else. For both of us. I know that I have similar feelings about Crow. And I guess I can’t go around life assuming that the same scenario that prompted me to dump my first married name would happen a second time around should anything happen to Crow. I have to give people the benefit of the doubt.

I feel that changing my name–knowing fully what a pain in the ass it is to do–is almost a commitment of sorts. It’s like saying that I trust that our marriage will work out. That I won’t have to go through this whole mess again no matter what. I think I’m sacrificing a little something to make a statement to the man I love that I believe in us.

So, the short of it is: I am changing my last name.

I know. Shocking.

When I told Crow that I decided to change my last name, he said, “Well, I’ll go with you to all the offices where you need to sign the name change forms, if you want, as moral support.”

I was touched. He realizes the sacrifice I’m making for him and he’s offering some comfort through the frustration of legalizing the name change! That statement alone assured me that I’d made the right decision.

My only amendment to agreeing to the name change is that I am going to use both my maiden name and my married name–sans hyphen–whenever I submit my writing to publication. I won’t use my given middle initial in that case. It will simply be my first name, maiden name, and last name–the maiden name looking as though it were a middle name. When I really thought about it, I realized that it was having my maiden name attached to my writing that was most important to me. And I know I want Crow’s last name on whatever I write as well since he’s so passionately supportive of my attempt to fulfill my lifelong dream of publication. I want him to be a part of my successes as well.

11 Years Later

It has not missed my attention that April 14th—the anniversary of my first husband’s death–was this past weekend.

It’s so easy to forget sometimes that I had this other life. The tears are dry. The grief has subsided. The anger is gone. Mostly. I remember things we did together, places we went, things we said. But sadly, those memories are almost as fogged over as the ones I have of being in high school—just distant remembrances that float to the top of my memory from time to time when something familiar triggers it. Despite how much I do bring up Mike in conversation with people, my memory of him has turned to a shadow, frozen forever in time at the age of 32. This is exactly what I was afraid would happen. I suppose it’s just natural to forget the details in time. Normal. Healthy. But I still feel a little guilty.

I will never forget April 14th, though. The shock and horror will remain etched in my mind’s eye as a reminder of how quickly everything can go so wrong. I think that watching someone you love die is probably the hardest experience a person can have. It has an effect on you that can’t be erased. But it taught me something too. Every second in life counts. Live each one of them to the fullest. And I feel in these past eleven years–at least in the last five years–I’ve adopted this philosophy as I’ve let nothing stop me from going to the places I’ve wanted to go, doing the things I’ve wanted to do.

Sudden change is not always bad. Eight months ago, I fell in love with a friend–a guy I’d known for 3 or 4 years, with whom I’d ridden on club rides. When I gave him a chance, we both learned we were very compatible. Last month, we decided to get married. We’ve started that process of making financial decisions, looking for our together house, planning a wedding. Things are happening so fast. Like they did that first time. What a ride. In the blink of an eye–from good to bad, to better, to good again. Life’s a constantly moving wheel of fortune.

How does it feel going through the motions a second time around? I have to admit it’s a little strange. I try to suppress the waves of deju vu that surface on occasion. Didn’t I do this before? Didn’t I think this would be the last time, just as I’m thinking this is the last time as we make our plans? The relationship is different, the person I’m with is different; hell, I’m even different. But some parts of it are similar enough to remind me of the first time.

I’ve been struggling to adjust my verbiage after I referred to “my husband” in a conversation with Crow. He rightfully pointed out that soon he would to be my husband. It was like stating the obvious, but I needed that jolt of reality because it hadn’t even occurred to me that when I am married again, I can’t use the term “husband” to refer to both Mike and Crow. So my brain has to learn a new term. I never liked the term “late husband”–just what is he late for? If you’re waiting for him to come, he’ll always be late!—so I’ve always referred to Mike as simply my husband in conversation. It sometimes caused people to ask questions, assuming that my husband was alive, but I preferred it to the plea of sympathy that referring to a late husband seemed to provoke. I’m now teaching myself to call him my first husband. Because that’s what he was. Alive or dead.

I hope that Crow is my last and final husband. In that case, he will always be “my husband.” Trying that term on a new face feels a little strange. But yet, no stranger that it felt the first time I ever got to use it in a sentence to describe my relationship to someone I loved. I’m adjusting to “fiance.” It makes me giggle the way it did the first time. I’m engaged. Again.

I always thought that when I got married again, I’d do something so utterly different that it would not even look the least bit similar to the first wedding. I think this was mostly a grief-driven reaction. I was afraid of a second wedding eclipsing the first, erasing that part of my history. Not only did I fear that people would compare a second wedding to the first—perhaps liking it better—but I was afraid I would. I didn’t know then how to separate one from the other because, frankly, I couldn’t even anticipate that I would or could love someone as much as I loved Mike.

It’s a cliché, but time heals all wounds. It leaves scars. But it heals. And as time anesthetized my pain, my heart grew larger and new chambers opened up to receive new possibilities. And there he was. And now I can see what I couldn’t see before: Love does not compare! Mike and Crow are two completely different people and, while my capacity to love them is similar, there is no way, ever, that I could or would even think to compare one to other. If I have a grand ceremony with Crow (as we are currently planning), it will not lessen one bit the wedding or marriage I had with Mike. They are two completely different events in my life. I can separate and compartmentalize. It’s not even a chore, it just happens.

I hope other people who have been in my life have the same capacity to separate me with Mike from me with Crow. Sometimes when planning aspects of our wedding, I worry that someone in my audience—who will have witnessed both weddings—will compare and find they prefer the first wedding. Or they prefer the first groom. I’m afraid they will think, “Well, that was nice. But not as nice as her wedding to Mike.” As if other people’s judgement of my love for someone has any reflection on our feelings for each other. Why should I even care what other people think? Maybe I’m afraid they won’t give Crow a chance. I feel enormous pressure to impress upon my audience that this love is just as important as the first. I don’t know why I feel I have to prove anything. But I do.

I regret that my grandma H is no longer alive to meet Crow. Some part of me wishes for her approval too. I want her to meet my love, the way I wanted her to meet and approve of Mike so long ago. I’m sad that neither grandma E or grandma H are alive to witness my wedding as as they were present the first time. I want them there to see me happy again (though Grandma E died two months before Mike so she never knew what I went through).

I won’t lie, I’m a little scared. When I let go, I feel again those glimmers of hope and excitement for the future that is not yet written—trips we plan to take, the house we plan to buy, the life we want to build together. I remember feeling this way before and I’ll never forget how that ended. There’s trepidation, for sure. As I’ve said here on this blog a hundred times, life does not always work out the way you planned it. But do I have any regrets about the past? Not when it comes to having loved Mike. We made the most of the time we had together. I know this is all any of us can do. And I will make the most of the time Crow and I have together. I pray that this time Fate won’t let me down.

43

Just taking a moment to remember my husband, Michael, on his birthday… He would have been 43 today. I hope where ever he is now (if there is some place to be), he’s happy and no longer worried about the problems of the world he untimely left behind. I hope he’s proud of how I’ve overcome… and I hope he sees my happiness now and elates in the fact that I’m no longer miserable in his absence. Time marches on. I will always have a place for him in my heart. And he knows.

Every day I let go a little bit more of the anger, grief, anxiety about the past. I’ve changed a lot in the last year and I think I’m finally able to give people a chance without the memory of my bad experiences tainting my faith in people. My heart is open. Wide open. It’s a scary place to be. But it’s the right place to be.

That’s my birthday present to you, Misha. Happy birthday, where ever you are (or aren’t).

Reflections

Life is short. It’s the longest thing you’ll ever do. ~ U2, from the live versions of “Moment of Surrender.”

It’s a strange thing to be able to tick off parts of your life in decades. I’m just getting used to that. I’ve known my best friend, Melissa, and dear friend, Sarah, for over two decades. I graduated from high school nearly two decades ago; college, nearly a decade and a half. All of this is so much more time than the 12 years I spent in school, from age 5 through 18, which seemed like the longest period of my life. I don’t know what strange warping of time occurs as you get older, but the days speed by fast. These days run away like horses over the hill… –U2, “Dirty Day,” a song that defined my feelings the summer between graduating high school and beginning college. Still truer today than ever.

Ten years ago, I was widowed. A decade. A lot has happened since I was 26. I’ve fulfilled a few lifelong dreams: I went to Germany and Amsterdam in 2005–a trip Mike and I had one day planned to do–and I revisited Europe two years later to tour Italy. I’ve taken up cycling–become quite the fanatic, putting between 2,000 and 4,500 miles per year since 2007. I’ve skied new places–Utah, Whistler. I’ve been in four romantic relationships. I’m not stagnant. Far from it, in fact, because losing Mike taught me to appreciate what days I do have here, to live for the moment, and to do what I want to do NOW instead of putting it off for a future I can’t promise myself will be there. I’ve continued the lessons Mike taught me about loving life. I’ve taken life by the horns and wrestled with it. What he taught me has meant more in his absence than it did when we were together. Because I’ve had more time by myself than I did with him. But his lessons were lasting. I love him for what he taught me about life–both in the way he lived his life and in his much too early death.

I guess it’s hard to believe that a monumental “anniversary” like ten years would go by without much of a pinch to my emotions. I went into the day not expecting much. I didn’t pressure myself to emote, like I tried to do last summer in celebrating the anniversary of our wedding. (I surely didn’t need another cut chin and poison sumac, ha ha!) Fortunately, the day brought a lot of distraction–a full day of work followed by a company meeting and dinner. I did observe a day of internet silence (which I only broke with a few quick posts to the U2 forum–my one allowable exception.) I did this mainly to avoid writing anything depressing if such a compulsion came over me. Which it didn’t. Still, it was refreshing to take a break from the internet again, much like I did on my vacation in Whistler. It forced me to think. Like a moment of silence held in respect.

I got home around 7:30 or 8pm. I lit a candle on my dining room table and did some writing (in my novel, not memoir-related) while listening to a U2 bootleg. I allowed myself to break my weekday fast from alcohol to have one beer. I smoked the last cigarette in a pack of cloves my best friend sent me a few Christmases ago. I’d been slowly working my way through them. I wanted to swear that I would never smoke again, in memory of Mike, but I realized as smoked that last one that it was a promise I’m not 100% sure I can keep. (I’m not a regular smoker these days–I just have one or two on occasion, maybe once a month, which is how it’s been since college with an exception of a year or two when I was grieving heavily and didn’t care. Still, I know I should stop completely. I just like the way it feels, tastes. But it’s one pleasure I really need to quit for longevity and the fact that I have asthma. I know, please don’t waste your typing with admonishments. My conscience is noisy enough.)

I will try harder to keep that promise, though. Mike never liked it when I smoked. And I couldn’t keep it from him–he always sniffed it out on me–and when I tried to get around that by taking a shower whenever I returned home after having one, he grew naturally suspicious. I wondered vaguely if I should use his guilt to stop. Maybe look at the picture of him that I still keep in my wallet (with my Grandma H’s prayer card) every time I think of having one. If only to remember that the land of Death where I’d like to meet him is not a place I want to go for a long, long time.

Anyway, I know it sounds dramatic. But I was just taking it easy. I didn’t feel anything, and I didn’t expect to feel anything. Life goes on. Still, it did feel like the end of something.

A few weeks prior to the 14th, I had what I’m now thinking of as my last fit. I had drunk a little too much (which rarely happens anymore) and it was late on a Friday night. I was jamming to U2 (some bootleg) as I’m wont to do when I’ve overindulged, and I was smoking one of the few remaining cigarettes in that pack. I stood on my back patio, looking out into the yard. My normal ritual was to try to provoke Mike’s ghost. I’ve done it a lot of times when stressed. I’ll just start saying (usually not aloud), “C’mon, Mike, if you’re still out there, show me a sign.” I keep hoping for thunder cracks or shooting stars or falling tree limbs. That night I kept thinking about white squirrels, remembering the time that we saw one run across some lonely back road in South Carolina on our way to the highpoint in November 1999. I thought about a white squirrel and begged to see one as a sign. I threatened that I would never quit smoking if I didn’t see a sign. I was pulling out all sorts of stops. Pleading to night. Insisting that if I saw just one sign of life after death it would change my life forever.

Of course, as usual, all I got was silence in response. Not even crickets since it’s still too early for their song to fill the night. I guess some people would not take this as a definitive sign that there’s nothing more to life than what we experience, but the old atheist in me came running back to its comfort zone of disbelief. I’ve always been sure that knowing how much I need proof, surely someone who loved me–Mike or my grandma H–would have given me a sign to let me know everything is okay after death. This girl cannot live on faith alone.

Something changed in me that night. I decided I was done pleading for signs. I realized how ridiculous it was. I mine as well wish to win the lottery so that I can support myself and spend my days writing. I am finally ready to just continue to deal with the unknown as unknown as it is. I think, too, I lost a little bit of my make-believe faith that night. My agnost-o-meter now leans a little bit to the atheistic left again.

Maybe that’s what happens when you reach a decade after the loss of someone. You finally realize all the answers you were hoping you’d somehow get are really not ever going to be answered. You accept that what is, is. And it’s been that way for a long time now. It’s like I finally snapped out of a spell. Reality.

So by the time the 14th rolled around, I was already feeling as though I’d stepped across some line. I’d had an epiphany. Now what?

Time moves forward. Memory fades. The love remains in my heart, surfacing every once in awhile when I watch a sad movie or a song on the radio provokes a memory. I am thankful that I no longer feel as tortured as I did in 2001, or as lost as I was in 2002-2004, or as angry as I was in 2004-2006. After having at last moved through all the stages of grief, I’ve spent the last several years reshaping my life into something new. I’m whole again. But I’m not the same girl I was at 26. Or even 24 before I met Mike. I’m something wholly new at 36. And it’s good. If not slightly jaded. But with jaded comes some self-protection too, which I didn’t have when I was 24.

I know that I’m complete by the fact that I’m not even actively searching to date anyone. I just don’t care, really, if I ever meet someone to be with again or not. Sure, every once in awhile, I miss the excitement of new romance, intimacy of a relationship, companionship in general. I’ve got my own goals and my own plans for my life. I’m actively pursuing the things I enjoy most–writing, cycling, traveling (in that order)–and I’m happy. The relationship I’ve rebuilt with my parents has made me much emotionally stable than I’ve ever been because I feel supported and loved. I won’t take them for granted any more, that’s for sure. Blood is thicker than anything else on this planet and no matter what a huge asshole I may have been at times, my parents have always been there for me. I love them for who they are and I think they love me back despite the fact that we all know each other’s flaws. Unconditional love. When you have that, you don’t try to seek it in other people who are incapable of giving it to you (i.e., my in-laws).

I guess if I can look back on a tragic event and give it a positive spin, I would have to say that Mike’s death taught me the following three points:

1.) Life is precious. Don’t ever, for a second, waste a moment. Pursue your dreams and make the most of the adventure. We lived this in our lives together and I definitely have lived it in our life apart.

2.) Don’t forget the people in your life who are still alive. Cherish each moment with them. Appreciate the time spent together and make sure you do make time to be with them. Thus why every single one of my Christmas presents to my parents for the last few years have been activities rather than actual physical gifts. Time is more precious than anything you could ever hold.

3.) The mysteries of life don’t get revealed to you just because you beg and bargain with the dead. Regardless of what lies beyond this life (which may be nothing), the one thing I do know is that there is life before death. I’ve got proof of that every day.