Memories of Young Love

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On the eve of the love holiday, Valentine’s Day, I’ve been grinning and giggling with memories of my husband. We both enjoyed expressions of love and presents on random dates, and we really liked Valentine’s Day. Honestly, MrTDJ actually liked it more than I did, but just as I sought to make him LOVE his birthday, he set out to make me LOVE Valentine’s Day.

One early Valentine’s Day memory was in February 1994, a full 8 months before the slap heard round the world. I was away at school and this was my first foray into sneaking up the road to spend time with him. Hush, my parents found out years ago and since we got married, it’s a moot point. Two of my friends and I were traveling out of Charlottesville together, via an early, early morning train. Wouldn’t you know the night before our train, there was a snow and ice storm? ***sigh***

Panic didn’t really set in until the next morning when no local cab companies would answer our calls for a ride to the train station. My friends were pressed to get to NY and I was pressed to get to DC. Being ever resourceful, we started calling around trying to find someone willing to drive us the three miles to the train station. We were close to giving up when we hit pay dirt!

A buddy with a pickup truck was parked close by and willing to take us! Yes!!! Except, it was a two seater. Ugh!! We did a quick rock, paper, scissor and ya girl lost. So, on the longest three mile ride ever, one friend and I sat in the bed of that pickup truck. Y’all do remember me saying there had been an ice storm, right? Yeah, the bed of the pickup, atop a sheet of solid ice. Whew, young, dumb and in love. By the time we got to the train station, we barely had a minute to spare to catch our train. Climbing out proved difficult because my entire right thigh and leg were numb. I had barely any sensation during the 2.5 hour ride from Charlottesville to Alexandria.

MrTDJ and I had a fabulous weekend, and an unforgettable Valentine’s Day. Unforgettable because we spent most of it in the emergency room treating my frostbite. Yup, that truck ride got me. LOVE. When we finally got back to his house, he presented me with a few cute gifts and his piece de resistance below:

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Umm, really dude? Bless his sweet, young heart. LOVE. I absolutely hated those damn balloons! LOL!!! They were so big and flashy and big!! And he fully expected me to take them back to Charlottesville on the Amtrak with me. So, I did what any other young, silly, hopelessly in love 17 year old would do – I took the dang balloons. Once I was back in my dorm, one of my girlfriends took the picture. And it surely still makes me smile!

I know many don’t like Valentine’s Day for one reason or another, but I do. And I’ve always wondered why anyone would argue about a day relating to love? Who amongst us doesn’t want or need love?

This song by Chrisette Michele was one of my husband’s favorites and I’ve had it on repeat for an hour or so. I’d love to have another Valentine’s Day with my husband. For the moment, I’m wrapped in warm and sweet memories. I am lucky enough to have years of priceless memories. I hope that everyone takes the opportunity to spread a little love to someone on Valentine’s Day.

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A Moment of Reflection

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As I watch my friends and fellow bloggers reflect upon the end of the year, I have a sense of joy for all that is happening to others around me. There is a feature that keeps rolling across my Faceb.ook timeline called “Year in Review”.  Seeing the year that my friends and family have had, makes me smile at their successes and achievements, while continuing to wish them well on the not so great moments.

For me, the year was defined by my husband’s death. Maybe in years to come 2012 will have an abundance of layered memories. But at this moment, the singular, overarching thought is simply that in 2012 my husband died.  Oh there’s more of course. As a ripple to his death, my heart experienced blackness I didn’t know existed, my mind was pushed near the point of madness and my life changed course in the most unexpected of ways.

So, it is with bittersweet apprehension that I peek at 2013.  I can already sense the great relief at seeing a different year in “print”, while acknowledging that 2012 represents a time when my husband was alive and with us. I spotted the quotation above and it struck a chord.  We thought we had more time. Who’s to say how much more time, but we didn’t see his time here on earth ending in June.  2013 starts anew without him.  There will never be another calendar year in which he is present.  There isn’t a day that I don’t think of him at least a dozen times. But he isn’t here.  And I am.  I continue to push forward in fits and starts. Some days I experience bursts of laughter so true and authentic that I feel guilt, even as my face cracks a smile. Other days I feel waves of despair so deep and dark that I think this will be the one to push me over the edge and I struggle to hold it together.

But held it together is what I’ve done. Yup, I’ve done it for 6.5 months.  Not with a flourish or exclamation point.  No, rather with a battered dingy, full of holes and a roll of super sticky duct tape that keeps getting tangled in my hands.  I can’t stop thanking God for this special duct tape though.  My duct tape is made up of tears, deep breaths, long periods of silence, held breath, collective prayer, family, friends and tons of wine.

We have survived my 36th birthday, my 8th wedding anniversary, my husband’s 37th birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Oh what an emotional ride this holiday season has been.  Tonight, NYE marks a “holiday” full of traditions that we built over the years, but that he and I won’t ever share again.

My prayer for 2013 is that I remain gentle with myself as I certainly know there is no “end” to what I’m experiencing while trying to be as in the moment as I can with our son, Little TDJ.   May peace and blessings be upon all of you and your loved ones, today and in the year to come.

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The Passing of the 9’s

Funny how things take on a clarity that’s not apparent until you are in the midst of the situation.  I gave myself way too much credit and I was overconfident about my ability to control my emotions.  I made a conscious decision that I would not mourn the anniversary of my husband’s death.  Nope, WOULD NOT DO IT.  I told myself that it was foolish.  Although June 9 changed everything, I didn’t want that date to paralyze me for eternity.  Yeah, go ahead and shake your heads.  “Denial” is more than just a long azz river in Egypt, right?  Somehow I thought that I could actually control the dates upon which I felt the most pain.  Riiiiiiiiiiiight. I was even so bold as to tell my therapist that I wasn’t counting the days since MrTDJ passed away.  I’m a liar.  A naïve, well-intentioned liar, but still a liar.  Little did I know that I’d have not the teensiest bit of control and would be at the mercy of my calendar.   I have not taken an actual calendar and marked off the days since his death, but my mental calendar is clicking and ticking.

I keep a personal journal and thank goodness it is the only witness to the daily arc of my thoughts.  It’s clear to me now that I was altered and unable to honestly acknowledge that there was a connection between my waves and the 9th day of each month.  I awoke this morning at 1:41 and was compelled to pull out my journal.   Hmm, me thinks maybe there is a pattern.  On July 9, I had a dental appointment for a crown repair.  Ugh, bad day, no wonder I was in such a terrible mood.  Riiiiiiiiight.  August 9 found me calling into work because I’d barely slept two hours in the three previous nights.  I cancelled plans with friends at the last minute on Sunday, September 9 because I just didn’t have the energy.  Although October 9 came on the heels of Columbus Day and a three-day weekend, I simply couldn’t get it together to do or say much to anyone.  And now, it’s 3:23 am on November 9 and I can’t stop crying.  The 9th of each month has done just what I unrealistically denied it could do – slam me against a brick wall and send me spiraling down the rabbit hole.

I know not how to change the course.  It’s as if I build myself up from the 10th of the month and then subconsciously, my defenses weaken around the 7th of the following month and by the 9th, I’m drowning again.  I think of my husband hundreds of times each day and the good memories have not yet tempered the stinging ache of having lost him.  That’s not to say that I don’t smile and laugh, because I do.  Undoubtedly as the 9th approaches, my efforts to sustain a sense of normalcy seem to be in vain.  At some point today, I know that I will drift off in the middle of a conversation, stop watching during the middle of a television show or completely check out during a meeting at work.  During that time, I will relive, with laser like precision and accuracy, the last 2 hours of my husband’s life.  Those 120 minutes run through my mind in about 7 or 8 minutes.  The moments play like snapshots in a photo montage and then there is a pause.  The pause makes way for our last, laughter filled conversation as we awaited the arrival of the paramedics.  Snapshots again.  Then another pause for MrTDJ’s last interaction with LittleTDJ.  And then the FEELING.

I’ve never blogged in detail about the events of that morning and I doubt I ever will.  I’ve journaled them and talked to my therapist and inner circle about them.  What I will share is the FEELING that I experienced.  I was standing on the front porch of our home when my husband made his transition.  At that very moment, I KNEW.  Minutes before a paramedic came to update me on his status, I KNEW.  Well before we traveled to the hospital and he was officially pronounced, I KNEW.  We’d shared a heart for 2 decades and gone through too much for me NOT to know.  I FELT his spirit pass through my body followed by the gentlest of breezes blowing across my cheeks.  I KNEW because I FELT the essence of him hug me tightly, and then release me.  I was absorbed in the stillness as I FELT him float to the heavens above me.  The tears didn’t come until much later.  Dare I say that the moment was both heart wrenching yet peaceful.  It’s hard for me to express in words.  When I think of it, a line from the Sarah McLachan song, Angel, passes through my mind.  “In the arms of the angels, fly away from here”.

I feel him all the time, but on the 9th, everything deepens.  The 9th marks another month that I’ve had to survive here without him.  Maybe someday, the 9th won’t send me straight into darkness without passing go.  Tonight, I’ve got plans with friends and I’m trying to prep myself to hold it together.  I know how I’d like today to go, but the universe has offered me no assurances.   Five months into my new normal and it still seems like I’m living somewhere in the Land of Oz.  And even the Land of Oz would be ok if MrTDJ could get here.

One Last Gift

Happy Anniversary to my love!  Today would have been our 8th wedding anniversary.  For once, I’m almost at a loss for words.  Imagine that, right?  The one that usually has too much to say can’t compose her thoughts to say something cohesive and profound.  Wait, wait, I said I was almost at a loss but I’ll keep it short.

I miss my husband more and more with each passing day.  I suppose that sounds cliché, but it’s true.  This season of “first FILL IN THE BLANK without him” days has been going full steam ahead, so my birthday in July and today, our anniversary hit especially hard.   In general, my husband was the more spontaneous one and he was also a master in the art of procrastination.  Those two traits worked in tandem, so normally he was scrambling the day before or day of a holiday and saying words that I used to dread but had come to accept and laugh at over the years, “What do you want for Christmas/your birthday/Mother’s Day/our anniversary?”  URGH!!!!   Occasionally, he was ahead of the game, but it was rare.   I supposed he was working to improve his track record because he’s now gotten two over on me.

The first was for my birthday on July 2.  Although my husband passed away on June 9, there was a package waiting for me upon my return to work in late July.  It had arrived on my birthday and my friends and coworkers were unsure whether to tell me about it.  It was a birthday gift from my husband.  An item that I had been eyeing and window shopping for almost a year.  And yes, in the corner of my girlfriend’s office, I was reduced to pile of tears.

The second was last night.  As I was searching for one of my favorite wedding pictures to add to the blog today, I came across a folder on my husband’s laptop that brought me to my knees.  Yes, actually caused my knees to buckle and I cried like a baby, while on the floor in front of the desk in my bedroom.   After getting engaged, my husband jumped into wedding planning with more enthusiasm than I thought he’d have.  He was excited about the next chapter of our lives together and it showed.   We were surrounded by the love of family and friends, and we relished in every single moment of it.  My only teeny weeny regret was not having things videotaped.  I’ve expressed this to my husband over the years and this year it seems, he sought to do something about it.  The folder that I found contained a wedding “video” of sorts – over 400 of our wedding photos, set to a soundtrack with some of our favorite songs.  I can tell that he planned to do more because of the unfinished/unpolished ending, but the part that he did finish is so very precious to me.

I decided to share a few of the photos along with the intro song.   For those that know me IRL, you’ll recognize many of the pics as I prepared something similar for my husband’s services in June.  This song, “Stars” by Kindred was very special to us.  Per the quote below, I have no regrets and no unspoken words for my husband truly knew my heart, and I knew his.

“Let today be a day where you take nothing for granted. For life is fleeting, fragile and precious and can change on a whim. Say all the things you really want to say to your loved ones today, say the things you would regret should they pass on and your words remain unspoken. Rejoice, for you and they are alive today – and should you or them pass on to unknown shores, rejoice even more for you have a wonderful love story to tell.”

– Jackson Kiddard

Smiling Through the Tears

It’s back to school time and this morning LittleTDJ headed off for his first day.  He’s returning to the same school that he attended in the spring of this year but he has a new teacher.  It’s his first day of school without his dad there to kiss him and cheer him on.  It’s the first of many, but the sting of the first is definitely strong.  My heart aches and I wish I could make him appear to put an end to this awful, cruel joke.  **deep sigh**  I’m trying to take comfort in the idea that MrTDJ is smiling upon us and watching over our steps.  Have a great day sweetie!!!

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The Intersection of Grace and Grief

During a business meeting today in regards to my husband’s recent death, I was stunned by the comment that a stranger directed at me.  Through eyes glistening with tears, she said, “My heart aches for you and I’m so moved by your grace during this difficult time.  It’s obvious that you are sad and grieving, but your composure is amazing.”  Hmmm.  I’ve heard a variation of this a few times over the last 26 days from family and friends, but hearing it from a stranger gave me pause.  I can hear my husband’s voice in my ear, as if he were still lying beside me in our bed.  “Girl, you’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.  You don’t see it, but everybody else does.”  Ironically, one of MrTDJ’s favorite Whitney Houston songs was, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”.  That’s one of the songs that has been on repeat over the last couple of weeks.

I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster that seems surreal and dizzying most days, but I suppose my internal struggles aren’t visible to the world.  I feel as if my heart has been shattered into a trillion pieces and there’s no such repair kit available.  I’ve always heard the term that everyone grieves differently, and now I actually understand what that means.  As the minutes, hours, days and weeks begin to pass, the loss of my life partner has actually gotten harder.  Since I’m an event planner by trade, my brain outvoted my heart and I put on my business hat to make it through the moments and days right after his death.  I’ve not really allowed my deepest emotions to show because it’s been easier to focus on the “to do” actions.

Our love was strong, flaws and all.  There are moments when I simply crave the perfect imperfections of my life prior to June 9.  Allow me a few minutes to talk about my dear MrTDJ.  Often in death, the deceased is unintentionally canonized into a model of perfection.  Um, no.  Not gonna happen here.  No one walking this earth lives as such and I don’t seek any such illusions for my husband.   My statement isn’t meant to color him in a negative light, rather to say that he was as imperfect a creature as any of us.

When he and I met, we were both young and new to love however we knew from the beginning that we’d found something special in one another.  Folks around us weren’t quite as certain because we appeared to be polar opposites, but we naively and innocently dug our heels in pushed forward.  From 1992 to the morning that my husband passed away, humor united our hearts.  Laughter stayed at the core of our relationship, through all the highs and lows that a twenty year relationship can traverse.  Thinking back, I can’t help but smile at the memory of teaching MrTDJ to tie a necktie, and in return, he taught me to shoot dice.  LOL!  See what I mean?  We were so different, yet alike in the areas that mattered.

I am so happy to have shared the milestones of my youth and adulthood with my husband.   I am blessed with a son who looks just like his father.  Looking into my son’s face, I am transported back to the hallways of T.C. Williams High School and the first time that I laid eyes on my husband.  There are moments when the similarities between the two are a little too much for my fragile heart, but I am hoping that one day those things will bring me nothing but joy.   As a testament to the strength that he believed I possessed and with the support of my family, friends, neighbors, listserve and facebook friends, and this amazing blog community, I am holding it together minute by minute.  I’m wearing clean clothes, keeping my pedicure fresh and not crying in line at Sam’s club.  Being told that I look composed, graceful and calm is a good thing, I suppose.  But please don’t let the glowing skin that’s due to consuming more water than food in the last month fool you into thinking that I’m ok.  My wounds are deep and raw.

Monday, July 2 was my 36th birthday and I was without MrTDJ for the first time since 1992.  He and I celebrated my 16th birthday with Good Humor bars from his neighborhood ice cream truck, and he gave me a shiny new “Virginia is for Lovers” key chain as a gift.  I wanted to write a little something for a few days, but Monday took me to a low place and I wasn’t yet ready.  Today I felt compelled to write.  I debated if I wanted to write in my journal, or share things on the blog.  Words have always brought me peace and comfort, so I decided that a blog entry might be a baby step toward my healing.  MrTDJ was my biggest fan and always encouraged me to write something every day, whether I shared it with no one, him or the world.  He even mailed me an actual “fan” letter once.  That dude.  ***deep sigh***

My husband was known for his loving heart, his quick wit and certainly his smile.  Do a little something for me, would ya?  Please share a laugh and a smile with someone today.  Tell someone you haven’t talked to in forever how much you miss and love them.  And, if you wouldn’t mind, please continue sending all the positive energy and prayers.

Love of a Lifetime

Since my blog family is a big part of me, and as I’ve shared many parts of myself, I knew I had to compose a few words to share the loss that I have experienced.  There is a song by Kirk Franklin called “He Will Supply” at the end of this post that has helped me get through this weekend.

My beloved husband passed away on Saturday June 9 and the words fail me in attempting to explain how broken I am.  Most long-term readers know that MrTDJ and I have been linked in love since high school.  Specifically, we’ve shared a heart for the last 20 years.

I’ve decided to repost a few of the moments that I had previously blogged about.  If you’ve never read them, I hope you’ll take the time.  If you’re already familiar, humor me and read them again.  Click the links to share a little part of US.  Have a laugh and please say a prayer for me, my son and our entire circle of family and friends.

Meeting MrTDJ in high school – His laughter made my soul smile!

Prom Magic – Love to love that man!

An Unforgettable Rock Party – Yes, yes, it really happened folks

The Gift He Didn’t Quite Appreciate – We forever agreed to disagree on this one

The Night Mama and Daddy TDJ almost killed me and MrTDJ – Trying to be grown!

The Night I Almost Killed MrTDJ – Pays to knows your partners allergies

Game Night – this is the essence of my relationship with MrTDJ, laughs and love