Sunday, September 28, 2008
So my good friend Matt has the Cubs hook-up. While TJ and I LOVE our Cubbies, our love and dedication is puny compared to that of Matt's. In fact, not only is he the biggest Cubs fan I know... it's a scientific fact that he is on the short-list of the greatest Cubs fans on earth...
Last year, he was one of the 10 finalists of a field of thousands for the first annual "Ultimate Cubs Fan Seventh Inning Stretch" contest. The first round was an essay contest, followed by a series of "tryouts" in front of a panel of Cubs executives and "Legends" including Ernie Banks and Dutchie Caray-- the wife of the late great Harry Caray. The winner got to lead the historical singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at a Cubs game late in the year. While Matt didn't win the "grand prize", he got a bunch of really cool parting gifts, and also made a lot of friends on the "inside" of the organization.
After Leslie's fight ended back in July, Matt wanted to do something special for TJ and me. He made a call to one of his "inside" friends and told them our "story". As a result, we were given the tickets to the big Cubs-Brewers game a week or so back, as the two teams were in the middle of the pennant chase. (I had mentioned this in another post, and alluded that there was more to the story.) Not only were we given tickets to the game-- we were basically given the "movie star" treatment. Literally... We met the guy from the Sopranos, saw several government officials and "big money" sponsors and celebreties... which you tend to do when you're sitting in ROW 8 of SECTION 16!!! (For those of you who don't know Wrigley... that's 8 seats behind the Cubs' on-deck circle, right on the field.) (We were so close, Alfonso Soriano-- the Cubs' All-Star left fielder, actually smiled and waved at TJ before going up for an at-bat in the 5th inning.) OH! And before the game, during batting practice, we were escorted onto the ACTUAL FIELD for a photo op. People who are allowed this opportunity often compare the experience to the Israelites' first setting foot in the Promised Land... an experience so many of their forefathers (including Moses himself) longed for but were never afforded the opportunity. (I, of course, wouldn't go so far to make that comparison... but I'm not going to dispute the assertion by others, either.) :) Even TJ seemed to be taken with it-- even stricken with fear, clinging to my neck like a Koala on a gum tree, staring down at the grass, eyes like saucers. I know it sounds ridiculous. If you don't "get it", I can't make you understand... I guess I can recommend a movie-- one of Leslie's and my favorites... Watch "Fever Pitch". A great "sports movie" for the guys, and a romantic comedy for the ladies. But "Red Sox Nation" pre-2005 (the setting and "gist" of the movie) can be easily compared to "Cubs Nation" of today. The horribly tragic dedication of an entire culture of fans, who live and die (or more appropriately, LOSE and die) with their baseball team.
Anyway, the experience was wonderful. Oh, it was even capped off by the Cubs' 4-run, 2-out rally in the bottom of the ninth-- with the help of a 3-run homer by one of TJ's 2 favorite players, Geovany Soto-- to send it into extras. And then TJ's other "guy", Derek Lee won it in the 12th with a walk-off RBI single. Awesome.
I know Leslie was smiling down on us. And if the Cubs pull off the unimaginable and actually (forgive me, Cubs fans, should I end up jinxing the run) WIN the World Series for the first time in 100 years this year... don't think for a minute Leslie doesn't have something to do with it. I can just picture her talking to God... "He's had a really rough year. I know, his myopic dedication is a bit a pain in the neck... but you think you might be able to do me a favor, and help the Cubs make a run here, in October...?"
Friday, September 26, 2008
"You make me a better man. A better version of myself." I used to tell Leslie that. She loved me, as different from her as I was. As much as I could get under her skin. And I loved her so much that I desired to hone the things about me that she found easy to love, and trim the rest down to nothing. She "reeled me in". She kept me in my shoes. She taught me how to love people better... how to have compassion and "come alongside". She taught me how to shut up and listen, and to think twice (or more) before responding. She taught me the quieter side of passion and private side of laughter. I could go on... but you don't have the time to read all the things she taught me. Basically, summarized, she taught me how to live the only life I know how to live today.
The crazy thing is that, through the events of the last several months, she has taught me (is teaching me) even more than she did through our first 6 or 7 years. I'm realizing, now that she is not actually here, in the flesh, just how much a part of ME she not only WAS, but truly IS... she always will be, in this life, and for "forever". Don't misconstrue this to mean that I'm sobbing my way through these days and nights, unable to function without my "better half". (Because to be honest, that is quite far from the reality I'm experiencing, as ashamed as I am to admit it.) But she does, in fact, remain my "better half". We are no longer married, (death did, in fact, us part). This is no longer "our life"-- it is now "the life she left me with". But she is still my "defining thing" up to this point in life... I am forever changed. I am not the man (or perhaps, the "boy" would be a better descriptor) that I was before Leslie was in my life. And I will never be the same.
I find it interesting, as my heart continues to heal, little by little, that each day I have more emotional, spiritual, cognitive, etc... energy to invest in other things. Less of my energy is spent on the burden and sorrow associated with "grief" and the re-living of the tragedy of the past year. Indeed, those things stretched me... made me stronger... made my very capacity to experience life and exhert such the afforementioned energy incomparably greater. Through these experiences, God taught me to RELY on Him... to RECEIVE His strength, just to get me through the day. He taught both Leslie and me to receive and be content in our portion... to, in Him alone, find the very definition of our being...
And now, with this increased "capacity", coupled with the "lighter burden" associated with God apparently starting the healing process in my heart, I find myself feeling more alive and passionate about certain things. It's like God is putting things on my heart... filling the void that is left in Leslie's absence. This is not that original of a thought... one of Leslie's friends sent me this quote from Kahlil Gibran: "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." Indeed, how true!
Anyway, these "reawakened passions" have been heavy on my mind, beating wildly in my heart... with a new clarity and sense about them, now. These "passions" aren't new to me-- they've always been there. They're just revitalized, lately. And they are finding themselves into my thoughts and actions and conversations with friends and strangers over and over again, more than they did when Leslie and I were young and healthy, and life was easier.
An inexhaustive list of these "passions" is as follows-- I should note that these are all things that Leslie "shared" with me... things that Leslie helped me to define and explore through our life together:
- My God and Me- Worship. His love for me. His desire to be known and loved by every person. The beautiful mystery of the Cross. The physical reality of the power of the Holy Spirit. My understanding of Him. Grace. Peace, Agape Love, and so-on...
- God and His Church- We are a broken, segregated, mess of a remnant of what we were in The Acts of the Apostles. (aka, the book of Acts) Yet, we have more power, knowledge, resources, and numbers than EVER. Just IMAGINE if... ... ...!!!
- People in Need- The broken-hearted. The fatherless. The widow(-er). ;) Those who know or have known burden, suffering, and trial... and who subsequently also know the resulting blessing. Fits nicely in with #'s 1 and 2, if you ask me.
- TJ- 2 letters will never hold as much love and life as these two letters do. The single biggest requirer and source of my love and energy on God's earth.
- Health- My "physical" life. What I put into my body. What I get out of it.
- Human Expression- "the arts". Music. Movies. Literature. Just simple conversation. and so-on.
- The Concept of Marriage- An underappreciated and misunderstood blessing from God. To its very core, a miraculous image of completion... a taste of Heaven, right here on earth.
Praise God (yet again) for the gift of Leslie that continues to live (and will forever live) in my life. And the beautiful paradox of how this "gift" is beginning to thrive, in the midst of His healing in my life.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Anyway, on July 12 of 2008, I posted the following blog. Leslie's health was going down-hill quickly (obviously... her fight was over on the 26th of that same month). And as I re-read it, a mere 2 months after she was taken from me, I'm struck with the same thoughts, in a whole new light, all over again. This has been a "theme" of sorts, in my life, these past 5 months...
And I'm thinking... Love...
More sweet than bitter.
Bitter, then sweet.
It's a bittersweet surrender.
Those are the lyrics to a chorus of a Big Head Todd song I fell in love with in college. I think I just liked the melody and syncopated rhythmic guitar part. There was a certain passion and even an anguish in the singer's voice. Funny how songs that I used to enjoy and sing thoughtlessly along with take on a whole new meaning these days.
(For those of you who are MySpace users, you can hear the song on my main Profile page-- just click on my name above the picture of Leslie and me in the upper left.)
It's been bittersweet. I guess that's the report. I realize it's been over a week since my last update. I've been kind of waiting for something encouraging to happen-- some sort of event I can report-- so I could come at you with a "gee, that sucked, but things are looking up." And all I can really say, when it comes to Leslie's health, is "gee, this sucks..." And that's all. And it's an understatement of a lifetime.
I can't even begin to recount all the "action" around here over the past week-plus. Summarized: Leslie was caught in a "Twilight Zone" of sorts, until about Wednesday of this week. She was (even in her own present recollection of the week) unable to differentiate between what was really going on and what was happening in her dreams/ delirium. The good news-- she was so out of it, she doesn't really remember much at all. But, it was rough, whether she realizes it or not now. She was so weak, it was all she could do was roll off of bed and onto the bed-side commode, and back into bed. Reach for the puke bucket, alert me (via TJ's baby monitor now in her room) that there was some "tending" to do-- usually just by groaning my name-- and then roll back over and plunge back into the sleep-coma. Maybe she'd manage a phrase or two of conversation while she was "awake"... but 90% of it was disoriented... she was basically working me into her dreams. And I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had no idea what she was talking about. It was just the dehydration (even though the nurse comes daily-- sometimes 2x/day to administer fluids), low potassium, poor nourishment, and the chemo-narcotic cocktail raging through her body... all working together to put on quite the show in her mind for the 5-day stint. Tuesday things were calming down a little, and Wednesday I was back to work. She called me that morning at the office, and I could tell by her voice-- even as weak and raspy as it was-- that she was "back".
"Good MORNING, Baby!" I laughed.
"How long have I been sleeping?" She asked weakly.
"About 5 days," I said. "What do you remember?"
"I don't know... Commercials and parts of movies I know I didn't see... and bits and pieces of conversations I'm not sure we really had... What day is it?"
Her mind is back with us, now. But her body is still so weak. She's still unable to get out of bed and to the bathroom by herself. She's trying to eat-- but her digestive track is still not cooperating. The nurse is coming by in a little bit to get her some more fluids. Our goal today is to get her downstairs and in the Lay-Z-Boy for the day, so she can participate-- or at least be a spectator in-- the normal Saturday action... Wiggles, baseball games (on TV and in the living room), books, pretend cooking, real cooking, etc... The objective is just allowing some of her strength to come back. Her weight is now down almost 40 lbs (and those of you who know her know that she didn't even have 5 to give, originally) since "the beginning". Her lungs and muscles and bones just need the stimulation.
We had an emotional but wonderful conversation last night. We just had a lot of catching up to do. Her eyes are now alert and strong again. We're just trying to get her body to catch up a little. We're not sure why this "Week One" was so violently difficult... The doctor's don't even know what to expect, one cycle to the next. We can hope that it's because the chemo drugs are starting to make big progress against the tumors and cancer in her blood, and it's just wearing her out. But we just don't know. Meanwhile, I'm just happy she doesn't remember much of it.
TJ has been so amazing through the course of this. He got to spend last weekend at his cousins' house in Wheaton-- a time full of fireworks, parades, and all kinds of fun and games... and family. He had so much fun, but was very excited to be home. He's kind of "adjusting" to Mommy being "sick". He's very "gentle" when he goes in to see her-- knocking on her door and quietly calling out, "can we come in Mommy?" before entering. He seems joyful, secure, loving, and very aware of everything... like he always is. Praise God for this. He is good and full of grace. He's protected Leslie's heart over the past week. Even her mind. And He's given me TJ-- my own little Ativan pill-- keeping me "calm and happy" when I otherwise should be struggling for my breath and sanity. So... I guess... it's like I said at first... Every day... Every breath of every minute... It's bittersweet.
But as I was leaving the evening meeting last night, guitar under one arm, and TJ in the other, I was just struggling. I get that way on Sunday nights, anyway. I always have. As much as I love my job, and as "easy" as Monday mornings are for me (relative to the average among working people everywhere), I just have always struggled letting go of the weekend... the time at home, the rest, the comfort, and so-on. It used to be that I'd just lean on Leslie those nights. The aforementioned card games and a glass of wine. Maybe crash on the couch and watch a movie or a couple of our Office episodes. (By the way... has the Office new season started yet? I've completely lost touch with the world of Dwight, Jim, Pam, Michael, and the gang.) Last night, driving home with a wired and over-tired 3-year-old in the back seat, feeling my fever creep back a little, I was just really loathing facing the evening at home without Leslie. It was a night that, had it been a year or so ago, I would have just said, upon arriving home, "Honey, I need to pay some bills and clean up the desk. I feel like crap, and need to get to bed early. Can you take care of TJ duty tonight?" Instead, I just prayed all the way home (it was a short drive- 2 miles maybe- but it felt like 1000), "God... Provide... Get me through... Heal me... Settle him... I can't..." and so-on.
Now- to those of you from my church who are reading this... Please don't take this as a "cry for help" or as a "guilt trip" or whatever. I had so many people offer me last night, before leaving for home, "ANYTHING...ANY TIME..." But the fact of the matter is, TJ and I just need nights like this. It's all part of the process. To have had somebody else there to "help out" would have made it emotionally quite a bit harder. It's hard to explain. But I just needed to experience the "solitude" last night. (Different than "loneliness", as a cousin wiser than me has eloquently pointed out.) There are times God provides actual people and opportunities and tangible vehicles of His grace. And then there are times like last night where He attends to us as we wander in the desert. I'm not afraid to accept help when it's needed. I'm also not afraid to decline when I don't.
Anyway, God again provided, and here I am again, at my desk, taking a busy-work break to share this all with you. I'm not sure if I'm feeling better or worse, this morning, in regards to this little virus. I guess we can just say it's "progressing" which is better than "going nowhere". I should be back to 100% by the end of the week, according to others who seem to have had the same thing. More notable, perhaps, is an experience I had this morning, as I was getting ready for the day. It was before sunrise, the only light in the room was coming from my closet and the adjascent bathroom. I was sitting on my bed, buttoning up my shirt, just looking at the pictures on Leslie's dresser.
Just beautiful photos of the two of us. (I mean, photos of beautiful moments... you know what I mean...) On our wedding day. (pictured here) At a romantic little restaurant in St. Marten on our honeymoon. (We looked so YOUNG!) A picture of us grinning proudly as she holds up a giant 24" catfish she had just pulled out of my parent's pond. And one of my personal favorites-- pictures of us at Tad (my little brother) and Amity's wedding. I have often said that, while Leslie was unbelievably gorgeous on her wedding day, I believe she looked her BEST at that wedding, in July of '07, a mere two months before she was diagnosed. It's just so hard to believe, as I stare at her face in those pictures, that a tumor was growing there, right behind her eyes...
Anyway, I'm sitting there on my bed this morning, in a bit of a haze as I try to shake free from the grasp of sleep, trying to get my senses about me, to determine just how sick I am this morning... just staring at these pictures. And I realize in a moment of self-awarenes... I'm not crying. In fact, I'm smiling. The joy of the memories encapsulated in those pictures, even in my moment of half-consciousness, outweigh the pain of the loss that has followed. I am so thankful for the life we had, even if it is no longer. It is still ours. It is still mine.
So I hate to be redundant and go back to the "bittersweet" theme... But so it is this morning. Trying to keep in my right mind-- and within striking distance of the nearest bathroom-- as this virus "progresses", just trying to "get through" the day... the week... but with a soft smile on my face, in utter appreciation and thanksgiving for the gift of life with which we were blessed for those 7 years... and even more so, knowing that I get to carry those seven years with me, for the rest of this life... and then some.
Friday, September 19, 2008
I'm doing very well, day-to-day. Too well. Kind of like when the Israelites of the Old Testament were blessed with good times, they got fat and lazy and their minds drifted from God. Then, there would be a famine, or they'd be attacked by another army, or whatever, and then they'd turn their thoughts and hearts back to God, begging for His help. That's how it works for us, isn't it?
I haven't "drifted" far. But it's just easier to fall into the trap of "doing it yourself", as things get better... easier. I know this is what has happened over the past week, because scrolling through my memory, thinking of my prayers this week... I've spent more time in repentance and confession than I have just giving Him glory and asking for His strength and peace. That tells me that I'm wrestling more with sin and pride through the day, rather than just "basking in His glory" and worshiping Him.
I righted the ship this morning. I'm just frustrated at my weakness... the fleeting nature of my spirit. I can't believe that thing I said, or that thing I did, in my moment of prideful resistance of the Holy Spirit-- those sins of the week that I know have already been forgiven, but they still have left the bruises. And when I'm in "that" place-- that restlessness, when I'm focused more on my own heart rather than the heart of God-- it's just easy to start asking stupid questions... "What is my life about? Is this where I want to be? What I want to be doing? Will my heart ever be healed? Will I know happiness again? Will I ever LAUGH as we used to laugh?" And so-on.
All that being said, as I stop and take a breath and "take inventory" this morning, I've been unbelievably encouraged when I see the "fruit" God is bearing, all around me. The conversations He's allowed me to have... the wisdom I feel He's granted me in crucial situations at work, at home, out-and-about... He's using me, He continues to use Leslie, and that feels good. It just scares me how little time it takes for my heart to wander a little... for my pride to slip in and try to take over the reigns.
Anyway, like I said... the ship is righted, and I can finally feel that mainsail catching a stiff breeze... and I'm back on my voyage, off to start another day.
(I PROMISE that will be my last sailing reference. I don't even sail. I was going to delete it, due to the sheer "corny" factor, alone. But it fits, for whatever reason, this morning.)
Monday, September 15, 2008
I haven't been dreaming much, lately. Sleep is simply respite, for the most part. When I do dream, Leslie is often there with me, playing a roll in my dreams just as she would have before. And I'm always sad when I wake up, to "lose her all over again", but it's typically a pretty peacful experience, knowing she's whole again, (indeed, more "whole" than ever!) and knowing that "we're doing just fine" here-- God is providing. But last night-- or early this morning, rather-- I truly believe I was "attacked by the enemy" in my dreams. As a Christian, I typically don't like to give Satan credit for much of anything. Why even acknowledge him? He'd just relish in that. My "take", if you will, is that it's kind of like standing naked on the beach and cursing the sun for your sunburn. Bad stuff happens. It's part of "The Fall of Adam". "The Curse". Yes, it's Satan. But it's also "just life". So wear your sunscreen and try to enjoy the beach. Or shut up and go inside. But stop staring at the sun and shaking your fists. All you're doing is letting it burn you more, and allowing it to blind your eyes to the beauty around you, on top of it all.
Anyway, forgive my tangent, but in the wee hours this morning, plain and simple, I was "attacked"... I don't want to go into details, because they're quite disturbing, and very dis-jointed... I'm not sure I could even describe them if I tried. But in the wake of the dream, I woke up in the dark, feeling scared for Leslie. Feeling I had abandoned her. Feeling no peace about her "victory". Feeling she was still stuck there-- suffering, dying, and it was somehow my responsibility... my fault. My mind still wasn't fully awake, so I just stared at the twilight coming in through the blinds for I-don't-know-how-long, turning these thoughts and trying to piece together the details of the dream that woke me-- trying to make sense of it. It finally dawned on me (or the Spirit had had enough and decided to whisper some peace, or whatever), that the dream was a LIE. It was simply not of God. The very ambiance of the scenes as they echoed through my mind were dark, cold, full of fear for Leslie, and not love for her. At one point of the dream, she even got up from her bed of suffering and tried to hug me... and I tried to hug her back and tell her "I love you", but physically could not... something was preventing me from wrapping my arms around her. Like I said... it was all just a LIE.
After wrestling with it all for awhile (I don't know how long, it was, really), there was no chance of going back to sleep. I decided to just get up, do some dishes, some laundry, and take a shower and start the day. In the shower, I prayed, as I typically do. I was frustrated as I confessed my weakness to God, that such a stupid "flaming arrow" of a lie could burn so deeply like that. I asked Him to search me and show me what sin I'm holding onto that allows evil such a "foot-hold" into my subconscious. And then, finally, I just gave (or re-gave) my life-- my day, my heart, my mind, my dreams-- to Him. I asked for Him to pour His wisdom, discernment, and grace into me, once again. Maybe it was the hot water pouring over my head and down my back... or maybe it was the Holy Spirit soothing my soul, in an immediate answer to prayer... I tend to believe it was both. But before I'd finished shaving, that "senseless peace" had returned to me. I smiled at God's goodness. At Leslie's whole-ness and completion today. And marveled at His provision and grace, once again. (Oh, and I got the mess in the kitchen taken care of before Dana arrived, too! "All things work together for good...") :)
So yes, overall, I'm daily amazed at how "well" things are going. There are tears, still, and sad moments. I miss Leslie. But TJ and I seem to be settling into this new "routine". I'm even enjoying my life. The doubt and guilt I wrestled with, in consideration of this fact, last week seem to have been covered, again, by the grace of Christ. I just hadn't expected to feel this "well" this soon. But instead of letting myself get frustrated about it, or question myself about it, I'm just "turning it back to Him in praise", as I've sung in that song, so many times. Why is it that we sometimes tend to feel guilty for our blessings? Of COURSE, we don't "deserve" them! That's why they're called "blessings" and not "rewards" or "wages". Again... GRACE! Hallelujah! This morning... this week... this LIFE... my burden is again lifted. In its place, blessings of peace. Certainly, there will be worse days and weeks to come, as this "grieving" thing comes in waves, they tell me. But when the next one hits, God will provide another board. I'll grab it and ride that wave back to shore, then as well. The salt will burn my open wounds... the fear of falling... but, OH! The THRILL of the ride!
p.s. TJ got sick this weekend. I mention it, because it is one thing I had really stressed about, imagining what it would be like once Leslie wasn't around to take care of us both, when one of us got sick. He "puketed" all morning on Saturday, which kept us home from our weekend travel plans-- which turned out to be quite a blessing. He's such a good boy when he's sick-- not whiney, just sleepy and cuddly. It's the only time he will actually SIT and watch a DVD all the way through. And the virus was actually pretty short-lived. He woke up Sunday morning back at 100%, and we went to Church together. And we had a very restful, quiet, weekend at home together. God is good. ALL the time.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
(I'm racking my brain to remember if she ever read this... I believe she did... but I can't say for sure. Either way, I know she died knowing the truth this note encapsulates. I found this tonight in an old archive, looking for a different file. It made me smile...)
I’m not sure if it’s isolation or clarity that drives me to write tonight. It’s probably a whole lot of both. I’m in Chicago on business, it’s 9 pm here in the hotel, and we just talked for about a half-hour, although it never seems as long as it really is when we talk. Sometimes people happen into your life with whom conversation is so natural and effortless that time is impotent. Hours are seconds and days are years. So it has been for me in the past several weeks with you.
Perhaps I should present my point first and spend the rest of this timeless evening, and evenings like this which are sure to come, attempting to describe to you—and to myself—the thoughts and emotions that go into such a letter as this. Perhaps such thoughts and emotions will prove one day to be foolish, in which case I hope to display some timely wisdom in deciding whether to ever let your eyes find these words. Regardless, the combined isolation and clarity of this night and this week drive my fingers to write.
My point is this: Everything I know of you is truly good. Beautiful. Everything I see in you is of God. A passion inside of me has been stirred, and I’m not sure what exactly it longs for, other than to experience you for another timeless hour. I want nothing more than to know you more than I do now, all the while being content and taking joy in what little of you I do already know.
What do I really know of you? Let me first start by saying that yes, since the first day I knew you—since that afternoon we sat by the lake and studied for the pending psychology exam—I have always found you to be a very attractive girl. I have tried to decide what feature it is that grabs my attention, and I’m sure it is your eyes. They have a certain beauty that I can’t my mind can’t quite grasp. They come alive when you talk. I remember running through a garden sprinkler in the yard when I was a boy. The summer sun would paint rainbows in the mist always just in front of me. I would run in circles trying to reach out and touch those little miracles, but their beauty was just always out of my grasp. So it is with your eyes.
But I’ve known your outward beauty for years. What is it that I’ve learned of you in these past weeks that has stirred this passion for you? You have a quiet but somehow passionate joy about you. You are a paradox to me, in this regard. You admit openly that you are somewhat of an introvert, but still your joy and life are impossible to disregard. In fact, they are contagious. You make me laugh. I make you laugh. We make us laugh. It’s not the silly kind of nonsensical laughter that always makes me feel foolish for ever having uttered as much as a giggle. It’s a freeing laugh. It’s as though I’d forgotten what laughter was until those moments when you draw it out of me.
I admire—nearly to the point of envy—your understanding and discernment. You never miss a thing. You read people and situations so well, and put thoughts into such wonderfully understandable words. You are a phenomenal listener and communicator.
Most of all, your pursuit of God in your every breath and heartbeat are inspirational. You’ve been an amazing encouragement to me over the past month or so, without your slightest awareness of the fact. Your very way of being encourages me to draw closer to God, growing a deeper desire to know Him more. You are one of the wisest people I know. And everything you do is permeated by this adorable humility that could only come as a result of a life of intense communion with the One Living God who has courted your soul since its creation.
I’ve been writing about the beauty I see in you for forty-five minutes, and I feel as though I haven’t even started. I guess what I’m trying to say through all of this is… What is it I am trying to say? What else is there to say except that I love every second I’m with you, whether it is spent in deep and spiritual conversation, nonsensical laughter, or just sharing a blanket, a bowl of popcorn, and a movie? I’m not sure when it started, but lately I’ve been noticing that this time of night regularly brings you into my thoughts and prayers. What does all that mean? What am I to do with it? Or a more difficult question: What difference would it make to your life or mine if you knew all of this?
I guess I’ll sleep on it.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
To take it off too soon gives the illusion of inadequate grief. To leave it on too long is just holding onto a dream that will never come true...
The night Leslie went home, I drove back to our house to get some rest. I had all of her belongings with me-- her clothes, her jewelry, etc... Before I went to bed, I took her wedding/engagement set and put it into her jewelry box. It was a beautiful set. I designed it myself (with the help of the good people at Reis Nichols in Indy, of course)... her engagement ring was unique. Bold. Strong. Yet simple and beautiful. Like Leslie. I took one last look at it, next to her wedding ring, and one more time, gave thanks to God for the marriage with which He had blessed us. Before I closed the box, I looked at my own ring...
It just didn't seem fair that I should be allowed to wear my ring, if she couldn't wear hers. There was something selfishly unjust about that, I felt, at that moment. Those rings were not meant to be worn singly. They belonged together. The commitment which they represented had been absolved-- completed in its fullest... deemed successfully completed-- earlier that night. It just seemed wrong for me to keep it on. So I tucked it into the little box, right next to her rings, and closed the wooden box.
Of course, I called her mom the next morning, before I saw her family, to inform her of my decision... I knew they would've noticed, and I wanted to give them the thought process before it smacked them across the face in broad daylight. They were understanding and appreciative.
Sometimes, when TJ and I are out "in public", I notice people watching us interact... I notice their smiles... "awwwww... that's so cute... daddy and little boy..." And I invariably (falsely or otherwise) sense their glances fall upon my ring finger, to see if I'm a "real Daddy", or am just exercising my court-mandated visitation rights. I just want to scream for all to hear... "She DIED, okay??? I didn't CHOOSE this. And she was an EXCELLENT Mommy, and she'd be here WITH us, if I had anything to say about it!!!"
Which leads me to a related topic...
(I posted this dandy a week or so ago. 5 minutes after I posted it, I removed it. But not before it apparently was read by a few individuals... and subsequently forwarded on to some key people in their lives, with whom they'd thought it might resonate. I actually --and surprisingly, thinking I had deleted it before it had been read by anyone-- got a couple of quite positive responses from it. And it seems to fit, now, given the whole "when do I take off my ring?" topic... So here goes...)
How can a grown adult-- a parent of children, a spouse to another human being-- actually CHOOSE to abandon the family he/she has created in order to pursue his/her own carnal and selfish whims or desires??? How can you choose the lure of superficial infatuation and fleeting beauty, youth, sexual variety, or whatever, over that through which your own blood runs deeply?
I know marriage is hard work. Even with someone as perfect as Leslie. It takes self-sacrifice, compromise, shedding of pride-- even dreams... out of love for the other. And parenthood requires even MORE self-sacrifice and -denial... not just offering humility, but offering yourself up to humiliation. (Nasty diapers, "The Wiggles" songs sticking in your head, outbursts at the restaurant, etc...)
But how much sin and darkness must cloud up a man's heart, in order to be able to look his once-best-friend in the eyes, the offspring of his own flesh and soul in the next room, and say, "I don't love you anymore. And I'm done being a father."
Don't tell me that "some men just aren't wired to be Daddies". I'm a man. I understand the need for freedom. To "sow the wild oats". To howl at the moon and flex my muscles and so-on... But what kind of small-minded, hard-hearted (or heartless) person can actually let it come to that?
Marriage (or family) is an ongoing decision. I used to say to Leslie-- almost weekly, and often after an argument, or when she was grouchy, sick, or whatever-- "I marry you all over again." Marriage vows are not something just uttered at the altar in front of friends and family, with the promise of the honeymoon looming near. You decide EVERY MORNING, when you get up, to love that foul-breathed, messy-haired person beside you. And you decide EVERY NIGHT to do the same, regardless of what your body or mind or "wiring" desires to the contrary. It's a cerebral, conscious decision that needs to be made by BOTH parties, every day. Not very romantic, eh?
When did I know I wanted to marry Leslie? When ALL the emotion and infatuation wore off... I wrote her songs, wrote her notes, spilled the depths of my soul-felt love to her beneath many moon-lit skies, enjoyed the newness of her soul, body, and kisses... and after all that, I too came to a point where I realized... as awesome as she was, I could live with or without her. (To steal a line from Bono & U2) And living WITH her would mean I would have to lay down a lot of freedom, opportunities, and personal desires and dreams that were only possible withOUT her. But to me (to play business manager here...) the "pro's" outweighed the "con's". The "benefits" outweighed the "costs". (Again, not very romantic, I know.) I chose to live with her. And fortunately for me, she chose me back. And we made that choice every day for the next 7 years. The crazy thing is, the "feelings" (the "warm-fuzzies", the emotion, the romance) come as a RESULT of that ongoing commitment-- that trust, unconditional presence and companionship... the execution of those VOWS. Not vice versa. People seem to think that it's okay to "fall out of love" once you've taken your vows. "We've just changed." "The thrill is gone." "I just don't FEEL that way anymore." "I just want something different, now." What they really are saying is, "I am choosing myself over my family. I choose to break my promise." And that choice will prove to be the worst of their lives. (Seriously, have you ever heard someone in the twilight of their life say, "I'm glad I left my wife and kids for that bimbo"?)
That's the thing I want to scream as I imaginatively shake some of these "parents" I know, who have "fallen out of love". "You don't fall out of love! You CHOOSE your way out of it!!"
I haven't struggled much with anger or rage toward God through all of this. I have yet to discover how to do "grace", and "rage" simultaneously. But I admit, I hold a great deal of anger (even "righteous", perhaps, but I've got to struggle through that thought on my own-- between God and me...), when I think of these other individuals-- these families being broken up by choices rather than cancers. Infidelities rather than infirmities... and so-on. Leslie loved me with her last breath. She would have suffered that last year all over again if it meant being able to spend one more good year with me (as humbling as it is for me to admit that). And I would have jumped into her skin and taken her place in that bed at the first opportunity, just to let her live another breath...
And then I hear of another--[censored myself]-- who makes the conscious decision to leave his wife and children so he can follow his fleeting desire to do whatever it is his fleeting desire drives him to do. I could seriously break a fist on a person like that. I don't have "justice issues" with God for taking Leslie. I DO have "sorry-excuse-for-a-man issues" with the guy that leaves his wife for another woman... his family for another life. And don't tell me you pay your child support or you have "visitation rights". Ask your kids if it's a "right" or if it's a "wrong"!
The part that just seems unfathomable to me, that any man making such a decision is able to ignore is this: Your kids won't have your presence and love in Heaven to hold to and give them comfort when the lonely feelings set in... When the turmoil bubbles up in their scared and abandoned little hearts, they won't be comforted. They'll only have the knowledge that Daddy just plain CHOSE to leave. He didn't want them anymore-- at least not as much as he wanted "other things". And that woman you left in your wake-- I can't even begin to relate... My "loss" is so much more consolable-- finite-- with the knowledge that Leslie died loving me with all she had...
All I can say, to this man (woman, people, whatever) who makes such a choice... "You're choosing to make a bed. How long are you really going to want to lie in it?"
So yeah... Basically, not a day goes by that I don't give thanks to God for the blessing of the marriage that Leslie and I shared. We "won". We did it. As I told her on her death bed... "Thank you for loving me. Thank you for our marriage. It was as God intends marriage to be."
So that's the story of "when I decided to take off my wedding band". To summarize... I took off my ring when my wife did... when she had completely fulfilled her marital duties. God, I loved her with all I had! Thank you!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
It's been a weird week, emotionally. Previously, every minute of every day was FILLED with the thought of Leslie. Sweet memories. That ache of loss and loneliness in the pit of my stomach. The palpable sorrow and grief, mixed with that senseless peace and inexplicable quiet joy that she had "won". The services were truly what kept me going, as I said in a previous post-- they were just a perfect time of grieving, closure, celebration, and healing. But now that the memorial services are over, I suddenly feel like it all happened so long ago. I hate that my mind seems to be trying to "file it and move on". I know it's a subconscious coping mechanism, and a horrible "man-trait". But part of me wants to get back to living as if nothing has changed... Just make the adjustments and get back to living. Several times a day, I'll reach for my phone to call her, just to check in. Then I'll get angry with myself. "How can I FORGET?! How could I let that feeling leave me for that moment!? How could I let myself get distracted by the task at hand, or the details and events of the day?! Now, get back to MISSING her! Back to grieving!". But it's not something I can just manufacture-- that ache in my soul. I can't turn it off and on. It just comes and goes on its own. And I HATE to admit that, yes, it indeed has been "gone" at times, these past few days. I hate that now, frankly, at any moment for any period of time during the day, I can be doing pretty well. Feeling fine.
The flip side is that it works the other way, too. There are moments when I should be having fun, enjoying myself, etc. But I can't. I'm just miserable. And then others when I'm doing fine when BAM! Out of nowhere I "spontaneously combust" into tears and grief-- only for a moment, but SO intensely. Something usually triggers these outbursts- the other night it was a picture on the mantle that caught my eye. BAM! Today, it was talking to a friend I hadn't talked to since before she died. BAM!
But I feel guilty when I catch myself in the act of "being happy" or "feeling good". (I know it's stupid. "False guilt" perhaps.) I'll have a good day at work. Play and giggle with TJ. Feel that "high" I get after a good workout. And I just get the feeling that it's not right to feel this good, not even 2 months after she's gone. It's not fair for me to enjoy myself so much, doing things that we both used to enjoy together... living the life that once was OURS.
And then I get thinking about her joy and peace and perfect unity with her Savior today... what she's experiencing right now. And I think to myself, "you think she'd even WANT to trade what she's got now just to share a little more earthly pleasure with YOU? Get OVER yourself! She's in a better place, now." But that doesn't really make me feel any better. I think maybe I need to go back and re-read my post about being "filled up vs. poured out". God, grant me grace today. Allow me (as a friend advised yesterday) to grant mySELF grace on these matters...
So yeah. That's what I'm thinking about what I'm thinking, this week. Feeling about what I'm feeling. Or whatever. We'll call it a periodic "progress report".
When I stay there, I eat at their Pub on the first floor. (Not only is it the best hotel around, their restaurant has about the best food around, too.) I typically go downstairs after cooling down from my evening run up and down the river trail, (which runs right by the steps of the Inn), belly up to the bar, have a Smithwick's or Guinness, and order my ribeye. Or mussels. Or lamb shank. Or maybe just the salmon salad. Or... (Always a tough decision.) (I don't like being away from home, but when duty calls, might as well make the most of it.) Anyway, I was back at my little Irish home-away-from-home for a night again, earlier this this week.
The people at the pub know me by name. In fact, I specifically remember them knowing my name on my second stay ever at St. Brendan's. Irish hospitality, I guess. They'd known my wife had been sick, and often would ask about her when I came in. They also knew it had been awhile (3-4 months, now that I think about it), since I'd been around... and probably recognized that I wasn't wearing my wedding ring... (another story, another time...) They didn't have to ask.
Barry, (the GM of the joint) came over and sat next to me as I finished my ribeye (rare, of course). We talked of baseball and football, politics and religion, and life and death... Things you don't normally talk about over a steak and a beer with casual acquaintances. (well, okay, maybe the football and baseball you do... but not the other stuff.) As it turns out, Barry lost his mother when he was 3, growing up in Ireland. It was so good to hear his perspective-- his broken but vivid memories of his mother, how his father raised him and his sister alone, etc... Barry is now a committed husband and father, and it made me feel pretty good, as he listened and related to me with his uniquely Irish charm (quiet intensity, dynamic perspective, and a delivery you typically only see in movies).
At the end of the night, he instructed Dan the head bartender (another one of my "St. Brendan's friends") to pour 4 "shots" of their finest sipping Irish Whiskey (Midleton). Dan, Barry, and I toasted Leslie and slowly sipped, enjoyed, and let the smoothe stuff warm our insides. You'll note that Dan poured 4 shots... and only 3 of us toasted... The 4th was set on the top shelf behind the bar, "in Leslie's honour".
"That's what we do in Ireland when someone special passes. That whiskey will stay right there until it evaporates. That's Leslie's." Barry explained. "But it doesn't REALLY evaporate. The angels come down from Heaven and, little by little, they'll take it up to Leslie, for her to enjoy with us. It will be gone in a few weeks."
I didn't tell him she'd probably need to have it mixed with some club soda, or something. Midleton's is just too fine a pour to do such a thing... But if she needs it, I'm sure they've got club soda and ice in Heaven, too. Anyway, it was a beautifully unique thing to do, and Leslie and I were "honoured".
Sunday, September 7, 2008
I'm not ready for these service to "done" yet. I could keep the "tour" going for at least another month. Every service has made me feel closer to Leslie-- has allowed us all to both mourn her loss and celebrate her victory in such a healthy, and poignantly REAL way. The last 3 Saturdays have kept me going through the last 3 weeks. I just left each one on a cloud-- not in a surreal or overly-emotional way... My feet were still on the ground, as many an artist has put to music before me... But I just left all three services feeling fully at peace with Leslie's new life... fully empowered and encouraged to walk into the coming week and take on the new life I'm left with... fully in love with her and fully letting God receive her (as if I could stop Him). And I loathe going to bed later tonight with nothing but a full week and a "normal" weekend ("whatever normal is", as we've been saying) to follow.
Speaking of bed-time... I'm hoping I don't "jinx" this by mentioning it, but TJ has been going down a bit more easily these past 3 nights... I'm hoping (Leslie always accused me of being overly optimistic, and I know she was right, in most cases) that our "Boys Day" on Labor Day-- followed by a "normal" week of Daddy going to work and coming home just like he promised-- were just what the doctor ordered to give him a little bit of an anchor to help him steady himself at night. We'll see...
Football season starts this weekend. Once a week for the last 7 seasons, Leslie and I would religiously plant ourselves in front of a TV-- at home, in a bar, wherever-- donning our Colts gear, rooting on Peyton Manning and the gang. 2 weeks before Leslie's battle ended, a virtual stranger, having heard of our devotion to the Colts, gave me an actual game-ball from the Colts-Bears Superbowl. He was a Bears fan with some sort of "insider's connection", and just couldn't bring himself to look at it anymore-- or so he said, in an effort to get me to accept the gift. (For those non-football fans in the audience... the Bears are the local team here in Chicagoland, and the Indianapolis Colts beat them for the world championship on that historical-- and truly wonderful-- day.) :) I brought it to Leslie in the hospital the next day and told her the story. It made her smile and she held it for awhile. I can't believe she's not here to watch the season opener with me tonight. Some friends took it upon themselves to "help me through it"-- they're coming over to eat some steaks, wings, and scream at the TV... in a wonderful twist of poetic irony, the Colts' opponent tonight: The Chicago Bears. Needless to say, I'll be the only one rooting on "Peyton Manning and the gang". Oh well, if the Bears win, at least my companions will go easy on me. You know... sympathy or something.
I'm just not ready to see the season change... baseball to football... summer to fall... She needs to be here with me. I forget how to do this... Moving the shorts and tank-tops to the back of the closet... moving the sweaters closer to the front... Who do I share the brilliant beauty of the changing leaves with, now? TJ's old enough to Trick-or-Treat this year... How do I do THAT?! Mommies have that kind of thing wired in their brains, or something... or at least, they know what articles to read, what friend to call, etc... in order to figure out all the how-to's. And don't even get me thinking about an even more dreadful thought: Christmas decorations...
I'm not ready to be done with the previous chapter. Not ready to turn the page. Not ready for the Memorial Services to be over. Not ready to "move on" and figure out our new "normal".
Then again... when are we ever "ready"? People have asked us in the past, "how did you know you were ready to get married?" We would answer, "We WEREN'T ready. But we were ready to try to figure it out together." Marriage, kids, etc... These are things we're truly never "ready" for... I know Leslie and I weren't really ready to be parents until right around TJ's 2nd birthday. We definitely weren't ready to be married until our 5th anniversary. And I'm guessing it will be the same with getting on with the "next chapter". I'm not ready. But what choice do I have? Might as well try to enjoy it the best I can... make the most of it... learn what I can along the way, and lean on the grace of God to get me through to the next page.
Friday, September 5, 2008
A couple weeks ago, before I disconnected Leslie's old cell phone service, I saved her voice greeting on my Blackberry. Not sure why... It was just a beautiful and simple little snippet of her "healthy" voice, and at the time I couldn't "say good-bye" to that indefinitely. So I saved it as a voice note on my phone. Fast-forward back to today, when TJ was wanting to call Mommy... I handed him the phone just as I hit the "play" button on her voice greeting. His face lit up with a paci-filled grin. He gasped with glee, and handed me the phone. "Here. YOU talk."
"We love you Mommy! We miss you! We're glad you're ALL BETTER and in Heaven! We're going to take a nap now!" That's all that I could think to say, as I pretended to hit "end call".
We went back into his room and began to pray. I thanked God for Mommy, and asked Him if he'd tell her we loved her very very much, and that we're very happy that she is all better, can laugh and sing again, is all done coughing, and that she doesn't need oxygen to breathe. I carefully watched TJ's reaction between my half-closed eyelids, and he was smiling the whole time. At one point, he opened his eyes to remind me, "And pray for my drum that Mommy is getting ready for me."
He is honestly so pleased with the idea of Mommy's final healing. I'm realizing more how difficult her battle was on him. But, now that the "dust is settling" around here, I'm realizing simply that he is really missing her being around. (Of COURSE! How COULDN'T he???) He is constantly noticing things of hers-- her shoes, her vitamins, her bathrobe, etc... And his "detachment issue" phase is intensifying-- now he struggles when I even leave the room, and he screams like mad when I leave the house. I just wish there was a way for me to give him the comfort and nurturing that came so naturally from her. I wish I could make my face feel and smell more like hers. "You're SCRATCHY!" He reminds me about a half-dozen times a day. He misses Mommy's skin. Her cuddles. He just doesn't know how to communicate it. I'm learning to "hear" the message through these other little "outlets".
And every new message received just breaks my heart. "God, protect this little boy."
Monday, September 1, 2008
TJ and I had some boy-time today-- breakfast at our favorite restaurant, some grocery shopping, a trip to the zoo, and of course an afternoon visit to Lifetime. (Our health club-- great pool(s), phenomenal child center, and a nice basketball court and "exercise stuff" for Daddy.) I wore the poor guy out, I think.
I just wanted to make the most of the gorgeous day today (Labor Day), especially since I'll be traveling a bit this week. Even though he and I both know his accommodations in my absence are not only secure and comforting to him, but just plain fun, as well-- we both get a little uneasy about my leaving these days. Around a dozen times, again, today, I made him "look at my eyes" while I reassured him that I will ALWAYS come back, even when I go away, and he can call me on the phone whenever he gets "lonesome" for me, and when I'm away from him I'm thinking of him ALL the time. (That last part makes him smile.) He went to sleep pretty easily tonight, so either I'm starting to convince him, or I just wore him out today. Either way, I'm quite proud of myself. Peaceful nights are good nights.
To be honest, though, it's another hard night. (Not bad. Just hard.) I'm just praying, "Okay, God. Show up. I need you. And I'm gonna be needing you all the more, as these nights turn into weeks, and months, and so-on. I just can't do this by myself..." And so-on. And I just miss her so much. These are the nights we'd sit in the basement and watch "The Office" we'd DVR'ed from earlier in the week, or maybe a movie, or just play cards and have a glass of wine. Those days seem so long ago-- wine was not palatable after her first surgery, almost a year ago now...
But tonight, as I reflected in my last post, I'm resting in grace. Grace is making my eyes heavy, and grace will hold His hand between my head and pillow tonight, and grace will roll me out of bed to hit the road in the morning. Grace will hold my little boy together, and grace will give his caregivers wisdom and love in abundance until I return.
I feel the need tonight to thank you all (readers) once again for your support, interest, compassion, and prayers. I feel again sustained tonight, as He heeds your requests. He, at your urging, is sending some more of His "Manna from heaven," as the thought was given to an old friend of mine this last week. Soggy, bland, bread-like stuff. Am I bursting at the seems with eagerness to gulp another handful down? Nope. But it's sustaining. And it is good. Thank you.