Milestones

April, May, June.  They feel big.  Full of big milestones.  Full of firsts.  Full of anniversaries of lasts.   And then I start year two.  Year two which everyone says is worse than year one.  Which I get.  I get it – people expect you to be ok now.  You’ve already experienced the first one of those without him, so… you’re ok now, right?  Or, you’ve moved on.  Even when you see us moving forward, my friends, we do not “move on” from this kind of loss.  I will carry this loss with me… I will carry Tim with me.  Always.

April came crashing in with Easter.  Easter was April 1st this year.  I planned big Easter bunny plans.  No family was going to be in town, so I made other plans and had a big, busy, exhausting weekend.  Which was wonderful.  And then I had a moment when I took out the trash and I saw cardinals in the trees and I burst into tears.  These are just moments I have.  And Easter night was… interesting.  A story for a later post.  But April came in with a bang.

April 4th would have been Tim’s 38th birthday.  I took the day off.  I knew I’d need it.  I made an appointment at a friend of A’s mother’s tattoo shop.  I’d been considering this tattoo a while and knew I wanted it, and felt his birthday was the right day for it.  The day he should have turned 38.  But he did not.  Because he will forever be 37 years old.  I also bought orange star balloons and a Happy Birthday balloon at the dollar store.  And I made a cake.  With orange frosting.  I planned to make red velvet but both girls asked me not to.  I drove out to Veramar to pick up my wine and sit on the bench I bought him there.  I put candles on the cake and sang with the kids, and we wrote on the balloons, and went outside and let them go.  During the cake, R said, “I wish Daddy could come back.” I do too, my love. I do too.  As the balloons drifted out of sight A shouted “I love you, daddy!!”  Handling their grief and my own is often overwhelming.

The tattoo I got is his signature from my last Valentine’s Day card in 2017.

MVIMG_20180404_124446.jpg

A friend asked me on April 5th if I’d get any more tattoos.  He didn’t know this was my second.  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Probably.  When I got the first, I thought it could be my only.  Maybe.  But I’d be open.  Tim wanted to get one involving the kids.  But he never formulated exactly what he wanted.  This one came to me easily.  I asked one colleague what he thought about its relative visibility regarding professionalism, really just out of curiosity.   Nothing was going to change my mind.  He told me his wife advised against it for professional reasons.  I get it.  I would have done the same, a year ago.  But it was too obvious to me that this was something I had to do.  I didn’t want it on my wrist where it was very easily visible… but this seemed the right place.

All the decisions I’ve made lately are challenging.  But I do my best to always do what seems like the right place… or what simply feels right.  I’ve gone with my gut most lately.

On Thursday night, we celebrated our dog’s birthday.  His adoption day really.  10 years since when Tim and I took him home. Tim loved that dog so much.  He was really our first baby.  When I started traveling for work a lot in 2008-09, Tim started letting him sleep in our bed and getting on the couch!  In 2015, my in-laws took him for the summer while we prepped and sold our condo, bought and moved into our current home… Tim told me he thought maybe we should leave him in New York… because it would be so hard on all of us when he dies!  He was literally afraid of the grief we would all experience when our dog inevitably dies.  I can’t believe our dog outlived him.  That fact was not lost on me as we celebrated the dog’s “birthday” on Thursday.  I felt the loss.

This past weekend, I took off Friday.  I took my son to get ear tubes.  I was constantly reminded that Tim would have been there for that.  Forms and people asked me where Tim was… who else was coming…  there was a little boy (older than D) who got out of surgery just after he did who had something done on his eyes who was really hysterical.  His dad was called back and I swear they asked him a half-dozen times about Mom.  I was close to saying “He said she’s not here!!!”  English wasn’t this family’s first language, and I know there could have been a million reasons this poor child’s mother was not there, but my heart went out to this boy and his father in such a big way.  D was a trooper, and yet, doing this without Tim felt big.  I felt the loss.  I then went to R’s classroom to celebrate her 5th birthday.  Something we had done together last year.  I then took R to Kindergarten Orientation… which I attended 2 years ago with Tim, on a day where I had an ultrasound (that he also went to with me) in the morning.  I felt the loss… that he wasn’t there… for R and for me.  I also had a 5th birthday extravaganza at my house on Saturday… and bought her a big gift, that nearly wasn’t ready on time… and  pretty much emotionally shut down at that point.  It all just became too much and my brain shut down.  My sister and my sister-in-law and my two college friends who flew in for the event took over, and simply did.  And everything got done.  And I think R had fun.  All the kids had fun.  That night, my father-in-law took A to the father-daughter dance with her girl scout troop.  It was lovely.  Beautiful.  And yet what Tim wouldn’t have given to go to that with his girl?  And I felt the loss.

I guess the point is that it’s impossible not to feel the loss in the big milestones.  Sometimes its crippling.  Sometimes less so.  But its unavoidable.  All I can do is let myself feel it.  Feel the loss.  And try to feel less of the guilt.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them” – Leo Tolstoy

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Annual Tim Gaige Memorial Event

I’ve had some time to think about this.  I really want to have an annual event we can do as a family to remember Tim, and to bring together those who loved him to remember him in a very Tim-way for the kids.  I want to do it in June… because he died in June and because of Father’s day, since being a father was his absolute favorite thing.  Something we often did for Father’s day was go to a Potomac Nationals game.  Tim loved them even more than going to MLB games in a way, and they were a perfect family activity.  We even went pre-kids. So I decided on that as a memorial event pretty much as soon as I thought of it.   Here is a picture of us in 2016 at a Potomac Nationals game, after Tim snuck to the gift shop and came back with hats for all 4 of us!  D is in this photo in utero. #partyoffiveIMG_20160507_193807.jpg

After deciding on the type of event, the questions were in arrangements, and what organization to benefit.  Tim was passionate about many, many things.  Everyone who knew him could attest to that.  I already had sports covered, but the absolute # 1 thing(s) Tim was passionate about above all were his crazy ambitious wife and their “three unique and amazing children”.  (That’s a direct Tim quote from the Mother’s day card he gave me 2 days before we last spoke in the ICU.)  I don’t say that to self-promote, but because it was unequivocally true.

I considered medical research organizations, cancer societies, the ACLU, NPR, and many other worthy organizations that Tim either supported directly in life or would tie to his untimely death.  But I was brought back to his wife and children as his passion.   He would have been so incredibly touched by how our community rallied around his wife and children during his illness and incredibly untimely passing.  He would have been overwhelmed and so moved by it.  I have also learned that not everyone experiences that family and community support that I received.  And that’s where I want to be able to give back.  So, I decided on Together Rising, an organization that came about from a blog I used to follow called Momastery. I remember lying in bed with my phone or laptop a time or two and reading to Tim out loud a particular quote or paragraph or blogpost that Glennon Doyle had written in Momastery that really spoke to me.   I remember it was he that came and told me that she was marrying Abby Wambach.  Because 1) he always had all the latest in pop culture (I feel so bad the kids are stuck with me on that front) and 2) he had such incredible respect for Abby and the entire US Women’s National Team. Aaaaand there we are back to sports.

I just had to reach out to see if they were on board with partnering with me.  And they were amazing!  Got RIGHT back to me, had good ideas, called me Warrior Mama (and there’s no way they even know about my Warrior Tim post, I’m guessing that’s more a nod to Love Warrior or Carry On, Warrior books) and made my heart happy.  So then I reached out to the Potomac Nationals and they were also very helpful in arranging the date and the setup.

So here are the important facts.  SAVE THE DATE.

The Game will be the day before Father’s Day, Saturday June 16, 2018 at 6:35pm vs Buies Creek. 

I believe the game will also be a military appreciation night, which I am delighted about, and I think they will both have fireworks after the game, and let the kids run the bases.

Individual ticket sales start on Monday, March 19th, and I hope to have an online portal set up by then that I can share and let people buy tickets to the game, where up to half of the ticket value goes to Together Rising.

Fun fact: 100% of what Together Rising receives from every personal donation goes directly to an individual, family, or cause in need – not one penny we receive from individual donation goes to administration costs, unless a donor specifically authorizes that use. (From: https://togetherrising.org/

So put June 16th on your calendar.  Plan to come enjoy a fun, family-friendly baseball game, and raise your glass (or more likely cup) to Tim Gaige. And while doing so, give a little back to the community, and good folks in need.

 

Update: tickets on sale!

http://pn1.glitnirticketing.com/pnticket/web/logingroup1.php?&refresh=1521495331

Password: gaige

 

Update #2:

Some asked how they might pay tribute / honor Tim I’d they could not make it in town that weekend for the game. Here’s how you can do that!

https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/GaigeFund

 

Terrible, thanks for asking – Perfectly

I’ve mentioned before in my What Grief looks like post how much I love the podcast American Public Media Podcast “Terrible, thanks for asking” with Nora McInerny, Yesterday, they put out a new episode and it hit home to me in such a profound way.

While I was at the hospital, the infectious disease physician was one I often really liked to see.  She seemed to understand what I was thinking sometimes, even when I couldn’t say it.  I asked a LOT of questions.  She felt my guilt over whether I should have gotten him in earlier.  She told me that she was a physician, her husband was a physician, and she doesn’t think she would have brought him as early as I did.  That was immeasurably comforting and yet… a part of you has to wonder if that’s true.  That same physician described to me what happened to Tim as a “perfect storm” of negative occurrences with a disastrous outcome.

And here was a story about a woman who’s life fell apart suddenly very similarly to mine… a woman who’s husband had a very similar set of circumstances also come together “perfectly” and lead to his death.  His death, essentially from sepsis, on the table in her ER.,, because she was an ER doctor! I can’t imagine it happening at your work.  And yet, on the whole, I can imagine,  I lived it. And her guilt over whether she brought him in sooner… but she and I could have easily traded places for any of it,  She even talked about being jealous of a family who got the chance to prepare for the end.

And I certainly get that.

The emotions in all of this are so complex.  Some days, I think I’n doing great.  And then a song, or a memory, or an issue with a kiddo – or a podcast – will bring the pain and the loss to the surface.  And all I can do is sit in it for a while.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” Albus Dumbledore through J.K. Rowling

This is us – Jack’s death

Last year I wrote a bit about the TV show This is us.

Spolier alert:  Not appropriate to read if you have yet to watch the 2/4 episode of This is US.

Sunday night, after the Superbowl, it was the episode where you finally find out / see how Jack dies.  Tim had asked me over and over when I watched the first season, “do you know how the dad dies yet?”  The show was too much for him, too intense.  It’s amazing to me to see this same anxiety in his daughter.  I took the girls to the secondary school’s “The Little Mermaid” on Sunday, and in the “awkward” love scene parts A asked me if we could leave… then at the end told me it was so amazing, and I was the best mom ever for taking them!  Just like her father, she could not handle awkward, or anxiety, and uncertainty.

Jack’s death was harder than I expected.  I mean, I’ve known for 2 years that he will die.  But it’s TV, I expected it to happen dramatically: in a car crash, somehow related to his drinking… even when I knew it was a fire, I thought for sure there was a connection.  But no.  He was a hero in the fire and survived it. And then.  He died a very ordinary death.  The heart.  The lungs.  The widow maker heart attack. The last conversation with his wife:  joking, teasing, ordinary.  In the hospital where his son was born. (and daughter)

I wrote before about not making comparisons.  All of our bad stuff is bad, we don’t have to say what’s better or worse.  And yet, I think it’s only human nature to “blink” – make those snap judgments, and feel that quick comparison.  It’s what I felt when I watched This is us.  There were so many similarities.  And the differences were/are up and down.  The ages of the kids.. pros and cons… the suddenness.. pros and cons.  But at the end of the day, it’s still dealing with the loss, and being strong for the kids.  Being able to tell the kids… knowing the right things to say.  And being able to feel all the pain of it.

Someone in my hot young widows club posted about the struggle of seeing people post about how hard it is for them to suffer TV characters’ deaths.  About how we live devastation every day, we don’t just watch it once a week.  And I get that point of view, I really do.   Mine though is usually along these lines… when people tell me they’ve never experienced a devastating loss… or even that their children haven’t.. my first thought is, with all sincerity “good for you!”  I’m really just so happy that the most difficult loss they’e had is Jack, from This is us.  And I am grateful to the show for making people feel all the feels.  This episode was surprisingly difficult.  But necessary for me.

“…Take the sourest lemon that life has to offer… and turn it into something resembling lemonade.” ~ This is US

Photograph in Music (Alternate title: I’m not Dead)

I am falling behind.  I have a hundred blog posts in my head and half started, but this one was longing to be written.

This weekend I officially joined a fitness place, and went to a class Saturday morning.  I like it because the music is good and motivating and they tell you what to do constantly so you don’t have to think.  During the floor exercises, when I was lifting weights I saw myself in the mirror, and somehow in the combination of music, adrenaline, and tingling of my soft muscles that had gone unused basically since November, I looked myself right in the eye and thought, “You are not dead.”  “I’m not dead.”

I felt like a piece of me, half of me, sometimes more, died last June.  In my post 6 months, an open letter to my love, I mention that sometimes I feel Tim would be disappointed in me.  I don’t think he’d be disappointed in me when I do what I have to do to heal, or to survive, when I allow the kids more screen time than I ever would have “before,” but I think he’d be disappointed in me when I do more of the holding on, the feeling sorry for myself, the wallowing.

Tim had a complicated relationship with death.  I believe now it was mostly a result of not ever experiencing it up really close.  I think he was mostly afraid of it.  Having experienced it up really close, as close as it gets, I can say there is a beauty in the sadness.  This is something I’ve heard from other widows too.  Living up close to death seems to be the only thing that can truly rid us of our fear of it.

But it is a challenge to always look at the positive, look for the good, find the silver lining.  When I hold on too much, is when I think Tim would be disappointed.  When I do things for other people, or for appearances.  He always hated that.  He’d tell me if he could to keep living.  He’d tell me that I don’t have to wait a certain amount of time for anything; that there is no formula; that weeks, months, years from now, he will still be dead.  He’d tell me: Don’t miss out on anything today because you are simply missing me and feeling sorry for yourself.

I can both love Tim, and be alive.  I can stretch, strain, and push all my muscles.  I am reminded of this in music.  And I felt like it was a nudge from Tim that gave me that thought.  It may seem overwhelming how much life I have left without him.  But I have it.  I have to accept that.  I am not dead.  And there is great beauty in that if I can find it.  And live it.

My sister-in-law asked me after Tim died if I hear every song differently now, and I really do.  Every love song has a different kind of meaning by me ears.   All of them.

I really love Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, and when I heard it the first time after Tim died, I heard it with new ears, and it resounded with me in many ways.

Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes
But it’s the only thing that I know
When it gets hard, you know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing that makes us feel alive
We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
And time’s forever frozen still
So you can keep me
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me closer ’til our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone, wait for me to come home
Loving can heal, loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know, know
I swear it will get easier,
Remember that with every piece of you
Hm, and it’s the only thing we take with us when we die….
~ Ed Sheeran, Photograph
If love is the only currency we take with us when we die, then Tim died an incredibly rich man.  He lived big, and loved big and openly, and people loved him back.  So many of us loved him.  He loved life.  And life loved him.  He took so much love with him when he died.
I can only try to live my life so that I can be as rich on the day I die.

New Year’s Day

I survived 2017.  What more can I say?

Tim did not.

It’s true,  I feel like half of me died last summer.  However, my heart is still beating.  Kidneys, lungs, all of it.  And tiny humans still need me.  There are all the logistics. There is the world that just keeps spinning, 24 hours after another.  Relentless.

Some days, the amount of life I have left seems daunting.  All of the days and the weeks and the months and the years that I have to live without him.  That just simply was not the plan.

I survived Christmas, somehow.  Well, with family, with a lot of support.  That is how I survived Christmas.

New Year’s brought me great anxiety.  Both eager anticipation to get the heck out of 2017… and the realization that with the end of 2017, came the end of the last year Tim ever saw. The last year that ever knew Tim.

My solution?  Invite around 30 people to my house to provide distraction.  That worked, but then this morning, I felt the deep sadness welling up.  The kind of sadness so deep and powerful that the only way to deal with it really would be to cry and sleep all day.  That, of course, was not an option, so I was infinitely grateful that I had been invited to my first ever in-person get together of the DC area members of the Hot Young Widows Club.   I took the kids and truthfully it was a lifesaver to have something to do, around people who just simply get it.  And the power in the girls realizing that all of the other kids there had dead dads too.  And meeting a widow my age live and in person for the first time ever.  It turned out to be the exact medicine I needed.

My goal for 2018 is to find a balance between the sadness and hope for the future.  I want the kids to hear all the stories about their dad, to hear his name, to feel him in their hearts. But I also want to do whatever I can for myself to avoid them living with a sad sack until they go to college.  I don’t know how to find that balance, but I have to believe there is always hope, and that I can find it.

Don’t read the last page
But I stay when it’s hard or it’s wrong or we’re making mistakes
I want your midnights
But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
And I will hold on to you
~T. Swift, New Year’s Day

The half year mark

I knew it was coming.  Coming at me like a freight train.  And yet I had promised him.  Bedside, when I accepted that it was happening… that it would happen within the hour, certainly it would happen that day.  His last breaths.  That June 11th would be the date… I told him, “I promise you I won’t make a big deal about the date.  You don’t understand why people do that… you don’t understand my thing with dates.  I won’t make a big deal about this date.”

But deep down, I know, he would not have held me to that promise.  He would have told me to do whatever I need to do.  To take care of the kids first.  Then, to take care of myself, since he couldn’t be here to do it.  Sometimes, it’s so hard to me that we never had the chance to talk about these things.  I never got to ask him what he would want me to do about <insert anything at all> after he was gone.  But I search my heart, and I know what he would say.

Last weekend I took the kids to Longwood Gardens for their Christmas lights display.  I had gone to Longwood growing up in the summer, but he had visited PA a few times at Christmas and gone then and it always stuck with him.  He absolutely loved it.  We went together for the first time in 2007, and then every year since except when we bailed last minute last year due to D having a really bad cold.  I took the kids this year, and it snowed.  That brought logistical challenges, but my family showed up for me, and we went, both my sister and then my brother driving for me in the poor visibility.  But, wow, how beautiful it was in the snow.  How much he would have loved that.  On the way out, with D on my back and the girls with their aunt and uncle, I walked through the beautiful scenery and I just cried.   The tears just streamed down my face.

On Sunday, we had a lovely Christmas brunch with my family.  The kids got too many gifts, had fun and got to make a snowman with their cousin’s, and we returned to VA with my sister-in-law’s help.

I had honestly briefly considered taking off December 11th in advance.  Taking a mental health day.  I’ve already acknowledged to myself how impossible this month is going to be.  This holiday that he loved so much, so much more than me.  That if I could, I would escape… but of course, that is not an option.  This month that includes my first birthday without him.  And then, add to that the half hear mark.  A half a year that I’ve been breathing, and he has not.  But of course, I am me.  And I said no, I will go to work as usual.  I have a couple meetings that day.  I have so little vacation time after this summer…

Every Thursday, I drive the girls to play therapy.  And every week we drive by the ER I took Tim to last May.  Some weeks, A points it out.  Then, inevitably, R gets sad/mad that she didn’t get to go there with Daddy, to take Daddy there like A.  That A got to see Daddy there, and R did not.  And I realize, some day I will have to go there again.  Last May may have been the only time I took Tim, but he and I had taken R.  And I had taken myself when I got very sick and dehydrated and my OB told me to when I was pregnant with D.

Then at 3 am on December 11th, I find myself rushing to that ER with R.  It was the exact scenario I had envisioned as worst-case when I was planning for childcare assistance after Tim died.  And almost exactly 6 months to when I rushed back to the hospital to be with him when he took his last breaths, I was rushing back to the ER, I had first taken him to with our middle child.  I was up all night.  There in the ER I realized, there was no way I could go to work that day.

But I survived.  I didn’t turn into a blubbering mess and tell anyone  at the ER that I had walked my husband in there and he never came home.  I knew what I had to do for R, and I did it.

This week, I’ve had to make big decisions.  Medical, financial, professional and personal.  I hate every one I have to make without discussing with Tim.  And yet I am doing it.  And yet, I can hear him.   I can find him in my heart.  I’ll take it.

The half year mark did, in fact, hit me like a freight train.  All I can say is:  I’m still breathing.

“The ones that love us never really leave us.  We can always find them… in here. <3” – Sirius Black (J.K. Rowling)