The Beginning

There is a poster on the wall in the small room. Looking back on it, I am deeply bothered by the fact that I cannot remember what the poster says. For some reason I keep remembering a visual of the nutrition wheel (how much of your plate is supposed to be devoted to each of the four food groups). I know that isn’t right, but I cannot get the picture out of my mind.

Of course, it was the worst day of my life; it’s not unusual for my memory to play such tricks on me. But you and I both know that there is no way that the family waiting room in a hospital ICU has a poster of the nutrition plate on the wall.

That day, that day. I remember so much of what happened, even though if you asked me what happened yesterday there isn’t a chance in hell I’d get it right. I was tired in the morning, a result of a night far too late in the ER. I remember the moment that night when my aggravation at the non-urgent nature of the emergency room was replaced by the darkly sinister whisper of fear that roped its way down my spine and into my belly – maybe this is really serious. Like, a lifetime of care serious. I remember relief at a relatively benign diagnosis, how naively I accepted it and let go of that fear.

I remember the visit the next morning, laughing at the weird roommate. The oxygenation level seemed low still, but was easily explained away. I had to get back home to the kids. Left my wallet in the room; he called as I was pulling out of the parking lot and gave me shit about it. We laughed. We both said see you later, love you, and hung up.

And that was it.

I will not go through the rest of the day other than to tell you that if you had told me that the last conversation I would ever have with my husband, the father of my four children, the love of my life even when it wasn’t easy, was going to be about my wallet, I would have told you that you were nuts. How is that possible? We had all the time in the world, something I really believed that morning around 11:30, there was no way that our last conversation would be about something so pedantic. There would be time to say everything we wanted to say and put some closure to us. In like 40 years.

Because people do not die at 42. They just don’t. Especially regular people with a wife and four children and a house and a life full of many friends and family who depend on them. Especially my person.

We all know how this ends. We went from everything is fine to: there’s been a complication; to: you may want to get here; to: you need to get here now and by then the whisper of real fear had blossomed into something massive and sinister and raging and unstoppable. And when I finally figured it all out and got there he was intubated and comatose and in the span of less than 5 hours we had gone from doing well to having a conversation about contacting our daughter who was half a world away studying abroad so she could say goodbye. During which my husband, the father of my children, coded. And died.

I want you to know that I am not a therapist, and in fact am a deeply flawed human myself. These thoughts I share with you here will often be more therapeutic for me than for you, but I hope that by sharing some of what I’ve learned, one or two others that are all-too-familiar with the roar of dark and sinister fear can feel just a little, tiny bit better.

Just one thing before I go this first time. I never even considered that death was in the picture until very late in this process. And after he was gone, one of the first things for which I was, and still am today, eternally grateful, is the last thing I ever said to my husband is “I love you”. And I meant it.

So I sign off today as I always will. Because if the last thing you ever say to someone is “I love you”, you will never be sorry.

Talk soon! with love, from the Chaos.

Once upon a something, sometimes….

Sometimes, late at night, in the wee hours when my racing mind kicks me wide awake during hours no human being should be conscious, I lie in bed with my eyes closed and can actually hear the steady breathing (or unsteady snoring, depends on the night) of the person next to me and think to myself.

God, I love this man.

I love his smile, but his laugh makes me melt. I love that we’ve been together for so long that when he looks at me across a room I randomly laugh out loud because I know exactly – exactly – what he is thinking about the blonde talking his ear off (and believe me, it’s not what SHE thinks he’s thinking). I love the way he shows me that he loves me, with folded laundry and cooked dinner and paid bills and happy kids, with held hands and “how was your day” and a hundred other things that you don’t think about until you don’t have them any more because you are young and growing up and figuring it out and maybe it’s not exactly the way you thought it should be.

God, though, how I love that laugh.

Then I open my eyes and realize that he is gone, and I am alone.

_________________________________________________________________________

Despite the fact that I spent the latter half of my teen years waiting for Jake to show up in his red Porsche so we could eat birthday cake on his dining room table after he retrieved my underwear from a geek, I am not a terribly romantic person. Relationships and – gasp – marriage – was the stuff of fairy tales, the Disney kind with pretty princesses and handsome princes and love at first sight and perfect endings. It all seemed a little much and vaguely unrealistic. [How many people do you know who live in an actual castle (mcMansions don’t count)?]

But then you grow up and fall in love for the first time. Probably you had your heart broken once or twice, maybe you swore off it off? I know when I met my husband it was the last thing on my mind. But we fell in like, and in short progression, love. So we decided to get married because that was what you were supposed to do. Handsome prince, reasonably pretty bride, happy ending, right? I was converted. I got my fairy tale.

Except…

If you are married (or ever were), you know that there’s a reason those fairy tales end with someone carried away into the sunset. Who the hell wants to watch Chapter 2, when Cinderella and Prince Charming argue about who is more tired because they worked more hours last week or why the dishwasher hasn’t been emptied in three days but the sink is full of dirty dishes or whose turn it is to make dinner or vacuum or mow the lawn or pick up the kids or whether the tramp next door has a glass slipper in her closet? That’s all just a little too real.

(Plus the laundry. God…just. The laundry).

My marriage was a good one. I loved my husband, I love him still. I know he loved me. When he died I felt like I had been hollowed out; I spent years going through the motions of living. I still miss him. Every. Day. But the truth is that also that we struggled, sometimes a lot and for long stretches at a time with the day-to-day bullshit that can completely and utterly take over your lives. The irony is that what losing him taught me about love.

Love lives in the little things. Nothing says I love you like an empty sink, folded clothes, a mowed lawn, a day of golf. I don’t spend a lot of time wishing away what I cannot change…but I wish I had worried less about the scorecard in my mind and recognized this sooner.

Laughter is the best medicine. Really. Do it a lot. Especially at your own Chaos.

Love is patient and kind and a lot of other things St. Paul told us (too bad he couldn’t sell the future rights to that passage), but relationships are not always those things. Give yourself a break. Difficult times in a relationship, including those that don’t end up working out, are not a reflection of your ability to love.

Because here’s the thing; I know it’s corny, but the number one thing I’ve learned? Love is infinite. Really. It is. You can – and should – choose to redirect love from people who are not worthy of you, but your ability to love, your capacity to love, is infinite. You don’t run out of that shit.

I know it’s scary, but give it freely. Say it often.

Because if the last thing you ever say to someone is “I love you”, you will never be sorry.

_______________________________________________________

Sometimes, late at night, in the wee hours when my racing mind kicks me wide awake during hours no human being should be conscious, I lie in bed with my eyes closed and can hear the steady breathing of the person sleeping next to me and think to myself.

God, I love this man.

I love his smile, his easy laugh and the way he can make friends with pretty much anyone in the room. Any room. Anywhere. I love his honesty, even when I might not like it. I love it when he has a good day at work and I can hear him singing as he gets out of his car all the way into the house and he literally pulls me into his arms and dances me around the kitchen. Just to make me smile. I love his big heart and his quick mind and the way he looks at the world. I love that he is an amazing Dad to his kids while we figure out what a blended family means to us. I love space for guys’ weekends and girls’ nights. Yes, I love empty sinks and folded laundry and clean houses but I also love friendship and companionship and trust and hard work.

Every day when I come home from work I see the family portrait of the six of us in 2008. My husband is beaming as he rests his hands on the shoulders of his first born son. The smiles on his face and his children’s faces say everything you need to know about what kind of Dad he was. Our loss is still staggering in its scope. But I am so blessed to have known and loved him for 20 years. I am thankful for everything I learned from him about life and love.

And yes, it’s not even in the same universe of where I thought I’d be, or wanted to be on that night in January 25 years ago. Our Chaos is complicated and sometimes incredibly difficult. But I am blessed with love…and for the amazing man who insisted on hanging the picture in our foyer three months ago. 

Love believes all things, hopes all things, dreams all things. 

Love is infinite.

[Cue sunset].

On dating (and have you seen my keys??)

Right around a year ago, I finally decided that with my kids getting older and the girls transitioning into the next stages in their lives, I would take the plunge. It was time to start thinking about my own mental health. I couldn’t wait forever. I was READY.

Since apparently no one – and I mean NO ONE – I know even a little knows someone else who is single, this meant on-line dating. I will spare you the 2,500 word treatise on on-line dating (believe me, there are at least 4 or 5 good blogs in there, why waste it all on one?). Good stuff for another day.

Forgetting about the online aspect for the moment, dating in your 40’s is a lot like dating in your 20’s. You get butterflies. You hope he calls (or texts). You relish in the fun of getting to know someone you connect with…and once in a while you even start fantasizing about what it’s all going to look like 3 months from now, or 6 months from now, or (sigh) 10 years from now.

Except. Except.

You are not 25 years old anymore. First of all, there is very little left physically that is exactly where it was, or even close to where it’s supposed to be. You really hope he calls/texts, but in truth you aren’t getting to your phone any time soon and the fact that you now need to check it every five minutes obsessively is really just incredibly irritating (why hasn’t he texted me? why do I care? OMG what is WRONG with me?). You need to password protect your phone to prevent permanent damage to inquiring minds in your household, which is secretly exciting for about five minutes until you realize how annoying a six digit password that must contain at least one letter can be when you have to stealthily figure out in a meeting if the notification you just got is a sexy, clever text…or is about your boss delaying your 3:00 meeting until 5:00 (that’s not a problem, right??), kid 1 telling you she won’t be home to help with driving after all, kid 2’s coach cancelling/pushing up practice (you are KILLING me);  kid 3’s music lesson wondering where he is (did you remember to get him a ride?), kid 4’s doctor’s office reminding you of your 11:00 a.m. appointment tomorrow (shit! and was I on crack when I made an 11 a.m. appointment?!). Or the Gap, telling you for the 18th time that week that the sale ends tomorrow.

(That last one is a killer. Like, seriously. I was hoping for hey sexy I can’t live without you, Gap. I don’t give a shit about 40% off your classic t-shirt. (unless it’s in hot pink. or blue. or maybe if I just take a quick look….))

Also, my keys have miraculously developed the ability to get up and move from the place I am positive I left them. All the time.

Sigh.

And really, really, even if it was a sexy text, do you want to be grinning like that at work in a meeting with the Owner and Senior Leadership team? They may be guys but at least half of them are probably guessing correctly about the source of your grin. Good luck explaining the variance on the G&A line item on your financials now.

On second thought, maybe I should just leave my phone in my office.

And 3 months from now? You’re kidding right? Do you even know what’s happening 3 days from now? 3 hours from now? Do you remember what just happened in that meeting (did I remember to save my notes before I shut down my laptop to race off to a baseball game and shit! I forgot to print out the lineup before I left who is starting again tonight)?

And where the hell are my goddamn keys, anyway?

Sigh.

The cold reality is that most humans, in general, don’t do well on their own. Or at least this human doesn’t. Also, just because I can, doesn’t mean I want to anymore. But at this stage in our lives, it’s incredibly complicated. We bring stuff with us – kids and jobs and families and mortgages and exes and in-laws…plus all of our old, bad shit – grief and sorrow and hurt – that we push through every day but sometimes lurks just close enough to the surface to convince us that it’s just not worth the trouble. All rolled up into a big hot mess which makes it no wonder that so many just throw up their hands and give up.

Maybe I should just give up? But this is fun, right? Casual dating? Because it’s so easy to juggle something else? But this doesn’t feel casual anymore? Wait, what does that mean? Is that my phone? Did I just get a text? Where is my phone – wait no don’t read that! Yes, my Gap e-mails are very private!

And for the LOVE OF GOD has anyone seen my keys I JUST PUT THEM DOWN RIGHT HERE!

Sigh.

And a deep, deep breath.

I wouldn’t wish my situation on anyone, but as a friend used to say, it is what it is. It is entirely within my power and control to do something about it…or not. After a while you realize that there’s a lot the 40-something you knows that the 20-something you couldn’t even fathom.

I am who I am, for better and worse. I am a deeply flawed person who is very comfortable in my own skin. I don’t cheat, I don’t lie and I don’t play games. I know what I want and I will not settle (the list will probably surprise you). I trust my gut (it’s been through a lot). You don’t have to be perfect and if you expect me to be, you should just move the hell on, because God knows I don’t have time for that shit. If you don’t make me laugh out loud on the first date there will not be a second date. No, I am not actually a redhead but I was meant to be. And ewwww. I am generous with my time and I am a very good friend to those I really care about. The group is far more selective than it used to be. I say “I love you” freely and frequently to all of the people I love, but I am careful with my heart. So believe me when I tell you that the first time you make me cry because you are shitty to me it will be the last.

And so my adventure continues. It never ceases to amaze me how much I am still a work in progress. I will keep you all posted.

For now though, the good news is that I found my keys. Funny how a deep breath, a little perspective/reality check and yes, a little fun and TLC can make things magically appear that you thought were gone forever. And so you’ll have to excuse me. I have someone I need to see.

Mama Bear from the depths…

I wrote this in the hospital the other day, waiting for my teenage son to get out of surgery. It was not serious…but it involved general anesthesia and I was alone and it was a good time to have a good old-fashioned pity party. And yes, I trusted the doctors and yes, I should have asked for company and yes, I knew it was going to be OK. But he’s one of my babies. And I am it. And Mama Bear, she has a mind of her own sometimes….

But this was dark and mostly just therapeutic for me and therefore not really intended for any of you. Until I was working from home today and my son, two days post-surgery and surrounded by friends who came to wish him well, came in from outside to tell me that someone had spray-painted harassing graffiti about him on a telephone pole right outside our home.

So, to the kid(s) who did it, first let me tell you that I have counseled my son and his friends all day to keep perspective and let it go. Be the bigger person. People who do stuff like this have problems and deserve our pity, not our anger. And certainly not revenge. My kids are lucky to have good friends who look out for them. Not everyone has that.

But make no mistake about it, you are a piece of shit. And to your parents, congratulations on raising a piece of shit. I will look forward to turning him or her down for a job in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime, enjoy the reading. Everyone is dealing with stuff. No one deserves to wake up in the morning and see that.

I really hate hospitals.

I know, I know – very few people actually enjoy hospitals. They are generally not places you visit for a good reason…unless you are having a baby and even then, childbirth is not exactly a relaxing day at the spa.

But I really, really hate hospitals. Like, I fucking hate them.

I hate the smell, I hate the food, but mostly I hate the vast amounts of people pushing around trying to ignore each other. Despair in many different forms lurks in every corner and everyone walks around staring straight ahead, pretending not to see and hoping he doesn’t stop for them.

I know, I don’t usually go to this dark place, but believe me, I have my reasons. I don’t like to talk about it anymore, mostly because I don’t want to have to explain my story to anyone, never mind strangers who also are clearly not there for an extended vacation themselves. Also, when I have friends who need me, I want to be able to be there for them. No one should ever think, “Wow I really could use some company right now but I’m not going to call Lisa because she can’t handle it”. I treasure the people that have stood by me.

And yet here I sit – alone – and I realize that no amount of time, or strength, or getting up every day and going through life, has prepared me for the bumps in the road that sometimes take me back to these places. It’s one thing to have to do it for me…but for my kids, I can’t even. Can’t. Even.

My daughter the anthropologist would say that it triggers some deep, primitive, fundamental instinct. Since I do not have an advanced degree, I simply call it Mama Bear. You all know her, right? My Mama Bear was always a little…strong, but four and half years ago she had what I would call a mid-life crisis and she is truly terrifying. You mess with my kids, you risk running into her. She won’t hurt you physically. But believe me when I tell you, when she is done with you, you will wish that was all she did.

But this, this. What is she going to do? Sometimes stuff happens and no amount of telling my kids that they should count their blessings instead of focusing on what they’ve lost changes the fact that sometimes young men need a dad. And mine don’t have one. And guilt, like grief, is a powerful, powerful, sneaky bitch who strikes at the worst possible moments, even when it doesn’t make any sense at all.

In comparison to so many, our struggles pale. My strong, strapping young man has always been and will most likely always be a warrior…and he was that today. He is doing OK now and he will soon be back to his normal nutty self, driving me crazy with his goofiness. And I will be back soon, I promise. I was alone today and that was awful…but I was surrounded by so much love and support it’s easy to get back to focusing on all the good.

So I tuck my Mama Bear away and plaster the smile on my face that my babies all need to see and warrior through another tough day. And count my many blessings.

And I promise. I’ll be back tomorrow.

Why it is possible to be devastated by a youth sports loss long after my children have recovered…

In the end, they joined forces and talked me into it. My first grader, well, I could have stood strong and worn him down. But the two of them together, I couldn’t manage it.

My husband was a natural salesman; not in the pushy, don’t-return-his-calls-ever-again-once-you-sign-the-contract kind of way. More in the adorable, sweet, charming, I-wonder-if-he’ll-call-me-soon kind of way.

It used to drive me crazy. I’d be all “No, we need to do the leaves”, and “No, we should save that money”, and “We should NOT be doing that” and he’d say “it will work out, don’t worry” – and it always did.

It used to drive me really crazy.

So when my first grader brought home the notice for Pop Warner Football, I said Absolutely Not in the imperious, bossy, firm manner that only comes from many years of parenting experience. And maybe from somewhat imperious, bossy me. “You could get a concussion”, I said. “You could get really hurt”, I said. “You won’t last the first week of conditioning”, I said. “I don’t want to give up August”. I said.

But the two of them gave me the eyes, and the helmet this, and the structure that, and the discipline this, and he never asks for anything this, and all of a sudden my second grader was getting fitted for a helmet and pads and my husband was calling me from my son’s first day of practice with a huge smile (and maybe a tear) in his eye to tell me that my son was playing “his” position – right guard.

So, I guess it wasn’t surprising that when I had to sit my boys down, at 6 and 10 years old, and tell them their father was dead and no, he actually was never coming home again, they had a lot of questions – and one of them was “Can I still play football”.

I will be writing a lot about my husband and our journey since then…but that was a really, really bad day.

Yesterday, they lost the game.

It was a big one, the “Superbowl”. They were 10-0. they were rolling. It was a hard loss. My son works very, very hard and is a captain on this team. Yesterday afternoon was long, he was feeling responsible for the loss on some level. But in the way that he can, he seemed to bounce back and went to his activity last night. He woke up this morning and I could tell he was going to be OK. After all, we’ve been through much worse.

Me? I’m a mess.

Why? It’s his last Pop Warner game. Ever. In his life. He’ll play at the high school next year and I’m sure it will be a great experience. He can’t wait. But high school isn’t youth sports, and by definition it won’t be the same. He is getting older, and I am so proud and not a little blown away at the man he is becoming. And I can be in a “good place” and ready to “move on” with my life and still have my heart ache, and ache, and ache, that his father isn’t here to see him.

It’s been almost four years. We are doing fine, and we are blessed in many, many ways. But these moments still happen-maybe not all the time, but enough to take my breath away and take every ounce of my spare emotional energy to stay out of that endless black hole opened up by that vicious bitch grief and named self-pity.  You hear it all the time but seriously folks, if you can take anything from my ramblings, please take this – not just in an academic but in the most real way you can possibly imagine.

Life is short. Say “I love you”. A lot. Give hugs. A lot. Give in. Take pictures. A lot. Have fun. A whole lot. Know and trust that it will almost always work out, even if it wasn’t how you initially intended.

And let those littles talk you into a thing or two. Because you just never know what will change all of your lives.

2011 football pic
2011 football pic

jack 2015
2015 football pic