Siesta Key and Valentine’s Day

Dear M,

In a rare moment of spontaneity I took a Tuesday off to drive to Siesta Key to see our matchmaker CMcC, dear friend of 37 years. It was a beautiful day, 70’s, breezy, sunny. Confronting hard choices, having been turned down for transplant three times, spending so much time in medical settings away from her home and family. She is still now, as always, even in her suffering full of so much sparkle. She doesn’t speak much of her suffering.

We talk about our kids. We talk about dying. We talk about dogs. We talk about a place for her funeral. We talk about you and how without her influence and guidance you and I would never have been a couple. There would not have been a Butter or an imac.

The following week, Valentine’s Day. I made cards. I did not get them out on time, but mailed them today. Progress, not perfection. Most importantly I had fun making them. The night before Valentine’s I was awakened by the computer screen flickering on, my phone lighting up, electronics in my room making noises and a bark from Murphy. I turned on the light. She was sitting on the floor, by your side of the bed, staring at me as if demanding an explanation for the shenanigans that woke her. I gave her the command to jump up in the bed and settle down. She just stared at me and gave a small woof and a a little pout. She would usually leap into the bed at any invitation. After a good 5 minutes she conceded and jumped in the bed. Lights out and back to sleep. I figured it was you delivering your Valentine greeting in the only way you can, now that you can’t write me a Valentine letter. I loved those letters. I still have them.

All the love,

S

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Safety Net

Dear M,

I took the day off for appointments for me and imac. Imac is getting Invisalign braces in March.

I ran into your old friend Stewart at Publix during a rare middle of a week day shopping trip. I’ve been rehearsing for this occasion. Stewart with his usual greeting: “Oh Hello! Have we seen you at church lately???”

“Oh have we see YOU at church Stewart?!” I replied. “Yes,” he said, “I attend the 9 am service.”

“Well I am an intermittent churchgoer. It’s like intermittent fasting,” I replied. Stewart had no comeback for that.

Last time I saw Stewart my grocery shopping came with a lecture about taking the boys to church… blah blah blah. I’ve had time to think about it. I don’t need to answer to Stewart or anyone else for that matter. Stewart is old and yes he has been divorced several times, but he has not been widowed, so his advice while perhaps well meaning, does not come from a place of wisdom or knowledge of what it is to be widowed.

Imac is 18, Butter is 16. We gave them weekly exposure to church when they were young enough not to think they had a choice and beyond. Now I want them to process, think, explore and decide without my judgement or expectation. My forcing it upon them offers no spiritual gifts. I go when I am up to it. One or both may come along when they are up to it. Most Sundays going to church is NOT an activity that increases my faith, but only my endurance. It is where my heart feels most broken and most alone. It is where I feel conspicuously Widow. Where the waves come over my head with a strength that pounds me to the sand and holds me under. Two free days a week to do chores, rest, recuperate. Most of the time I choose the church of Dog. Long walks with Murphy, seeing the world with her optimism and enthusiasm and waggy Wagginess brings so much hope and goodness into my days.

You were always my safety net, gently getting me back on course when I got stuck in the bad neighborhood of my own head. Now there’s really no one to notice except Murphy. I leave you with this wonderful song that says it all about the church of Dog: Dog and God by Wendy Francisco

Love,

S

The Way Home

Dear M,

I think of moving all the time. It’s the inertia that hits me when I walk in the door. I can’t wait to get home. Then I am here and rest is all I want. I spoke with your brother, Uncool Wayne, on the way home. He’s invited the boys for Spring Break. They are both game for the idea. Then he thought to ask,”Will you be ok with both of them gone?” I quickly replied, “Of course because I have Murphy!” He was quiet on the other end of the phone, considering for a moment whether this is actually true or part of my daily performance for my audience, the public face I put on whenever I am out of the house. I am grateful for the audience, giving me the opportunity to act as if, to fake it til I make it and such. It is tiring and doesn’t pay well.

Wayne knows. He lost you and then Trish soon after. I remember seeing her right after your metastasis and right before hers at Thanksgiving time. She was on the remission side of the fence at that moment in time. Maybe a year later you were both on the same side of the fence.

Today’s joy came in the waiting room at work in the form of a 3 year old return customer who comes to see me three days away for an IV medication. “NO sharp Mrs. Sarah!” He says wagging his finger at me. We talk for a minute about his chocolate milk. “It’s from Mrs. Donalds,” he says happily. Mrs. Donalds, known to you and I as McDonalds. He proudly marches over to his friend “Mrs. Doctor,” the medical assistant who weighs him and checks his temperature three times weekly. After the IV and the screaming I bring out the matchbox car and the Ninja turtles bandaids. He asks, “No more sharps Mrs. Sarah?” No more sharps today I say, not wanting to remind him that I will see him again next Monday, Wednesday and Friday for more sharps. He is back to socializing with me again. “Come Mrs. Sarah. Sit here with me. We’ll build a house for the animals.”

Then there were MK and Murphy waiting in our driveway, home after a day of companionship at MK’s house.

Imac turned down my invitation for Pizza tomorrow night, a consolation prize since I won’t be home for our usual Saturday lunch. He’s having dinner with friends, which truly makes my heart happy. Butter is hanging out with friends from Cross country and track tonight and runs a 5 K in the morning. And just like in Meet the Robinsons we keep moving forward. Sometimes I stop for more rest than the others, but I keep moving forward.

All the love,

S

January

Dear M,

There’s a silly puppy in my bed hunting for a tennis ball in a sock which is one of her most favorite toys. This Saturday was a really good day for me. I accomplished three loads of laundry, groceries, a couple of dog walks, a haircut, 23 minutes on my stationary bike, lunch making, dinner making, dishes, visiting with imac, getting my haircut. I put all the laundry away too. The laundry is easy to wash and dry. The challenge has been that last step, the follow through of putting it away.

It didn’t all feel soooo heavy, as often happens. The holidays have passed so I’m not holding my breath anymore and that makes everything so much easier. Next up Groundhog Day…a breeze. Then Valentine’s Day, which I suspect is really a pain in the ass for most people married, single or widowed. Too much expectation and forced adoration. Shouldn’t be too tough.

I wasn’t even aware of the gritted teeth and the breath holding of November and December until it was gone. I slept until 8:30 this morning. It was glorious. Imac is honing in on his academic interests. He’s decided on Chemistry as his major. Did I tell you he got a 5 on his Chemistry AP exam last year and that he is a college sophomore already in his freshman year. He got straight As this Fall. I think he may be beginning to realize he’s a smart fellow.

Sending love to the heavens,

S

The Wonderfuls

Dear M,

The wonderfuls this week: Butter came home from school Monday, called me at work to tell me how happy he felt. He filled in the details when I got home. He said it was a day like any other day, but for some reason he felt especially optimistic and happy. “Don’t think this is weird Mom, but I think it’s Dad. I think this has something to do with Dad. I haven’t felt this happy since Dad was alive. I think he would be proud of me.” The joy of the everyday, something we couldn’t take for granted anymore, unsure if it would ever come back. Now he has spotted it, that glimmer of light, possibilities returning.

The other wonderful was a text from iMac: “Hey Mom I got an email from the Biology Department asking me if I would like to be an SI.” I replied, “what is an SI?” A student instructor (of course) to facilitate/teach a weekly study group for the Biology I students. Did I tell you he got straight As in his first semester of college? Also he’s a sophomore, due to AP credits, which neither of us realized until Christmas. He has 3 competitors for the SI position, so it might not happen. Nonetheless he is excited.

I would have called you or texted you immediately to share these great parent moments if you were here. Instead I called MK and Sara, my stalwart friends who have seen more of the brutality of our lives than any friend should see and still stayed friends with me. Now off to sleep with my trusty dog Murphy. Studies are coming out weekly about dogs, sleeping better with dogs, living longer with dogs, etc. This week is the two year anniversary of our puppy pick up day, when Murphy was just 8 weeks old and 10 pounds.

All my love,

S

Christmas Eve Eve

Dear M,

Remembering so many Christmases with you. Our first in 1992. We celebrated on Christmas Eve Eve so I could take the train to Florida the next day to see my parents. I got you a cookbook, the first of many. It was before our two break ups, the very early days. We knew nothing. We went to hear the Messiah at the National Cathedral that year.

Fast forward to 2004, Christmas in Baku Azerbaijan. That crazy leopard print sofa on our second floor where we had the DVD player. The Russian/French/English DVD of the Polar Express purchased on Nizami Street. I met you and Krassi and Natalya for lunch at the Sunset Cafe the day I purchased it.

Imac was 4, Butter 2. Tonight Butter advised us of our schedule, watching Polar Express together tonight and It’s a Wonderful Life tomorrow night. Fourteen years later, the DVD has held up to time. I didn’t multitask. I didn’t jump up to get things done. I left things undone and just sat with our boys, grateful that they still want to watch Polar Express with their Mama. I am thankful for all the magic you brought . You brought it to Christmas, but really to everything. We reminisce often about how you would make an ordinary errand like going to the grocery store, a great adventure.

We went to a Christmas party yesterday. There were plenty of people for me to talk to, new and old. There were several too that knew us well, entered the house, made no eye contact, walked past without so much as a nod. I guess this is what the teens refer to as being ghosted. I am ghosted all the time here, but again it separates the lightweights out for me. My new peer group is 75-80 year old widows, but I don’t know a ton of them. Having a Was-band rather than a husband makes people nervous I suppose.

Tomorrow we will attend the 4 pm service and then our usual Al’s Pizza for Christmas Eve dinner. Sending love. Wish you were here.

Love,

S

New Traditions

Dear M,

Last December Butter and I ran the Festival of Lights 5K. The Christmas theme, luminaries that light the course, and runners decked out in holiday attire were the draw for me. It was my first 5 K ever at 51. I invited iMac but he said he hadn’t trained so he opted out. Soon after imac started running and has kept it up since last December. This year he was ready to run his first 5K. Truth be told he was ready last year but he just didn’t know it. We invited Molly, who is a real runner, having completed both the Boston and NYC marathons this year at age 76. When nephew Shane, age 10, heard about our plan he decided he wanted to come with Molly. Molly designed a training program for him for his very first 5K. Soon we had Shane’s mama/ my sister on board to come as our cheering committee. She was our photographer and cheerleader. She’s a pretty devoted fitness subscriber, but belongs to the church of Peloton, rather than the cult of running.

As you know I barely trained this year due to asthma, chronic sinusitis and sinus surgery, but I did it anyway! I was able to run the first 2 miles without stopping to walk. I did need my inhaler which was in the car, so not really accessible so I walked from the 2 mile mark until the 2.5 mile mark and ran the last half mile. Everyone involved is ready to sign up for next year. This morning we’ll meet up for breakfast and then Molly, Kara and Shane will head back to winter temperatures in Virginia and Maryland.

It was so wonderful to be surrounded by so much joy. We weren’t sure we’d find it again after we lost you, but we are finding our way, cherishing every glimmer of hope and moment of joy.

Love you and miss you,

S

A Good Night

Dear M,

Yesterday I decided to take matters into my own hands. Before the boys woke up the Mom brigade was on the job. I invited Butter’s best friend Will M over for dinner and a movie at 6. Butter moped around most of the day and then mobilized at about 3 to clean his room. A big clean, more of a purge. Legos, so many Legos. It’s official our Lego years are over. Happy and Sad. The back of the van is now filled with boxed and bagged items for give away. When it was time to pick up pizza from Tony’s I tossed him the keys and said “Why don’t you and Will M go pick up the pizza now?” His face lit up, for a moment he had forgotten that he now has a driver’s license and doesn’t need Mom in the passenger seat anymore.

Imac returned home from a friend’s after he received my text, a photo of the pizza. The three boys settled on a movie, Spike Lee’s latest. Which brings me to a question, where has Spike Lee been these last 20 years? Or is it just that I was busy raising children and watching Disney and Pixar movies? Remember when Do the Right Thing was released?

The sound of three boys eating pizza and chattering about a movie made my heart happy. Almost normal.

I spent the morning online negotiating with a car dealer about a new car for me. Not my forte, but I have a coach, Sara G’s husband. Today I’ll see what the other dealer in town offers, if they too are using what I like to call “New Math.” That’s when you tack $5000 on to the internet price and call it a sale. So creative. Anyway I’m not in a rush because we are keeping your van. It’s vintage. Butter will drive it. It fits an entire sofa and you can close the back with the sofa in it. These fine features have served us well and will continue to do so as we are in the years of moving in and out of college dorms for imac and in another two years, Butter. Cha says hello by the way. I was surprised he was not at the front or back door this morning. He never misses a meal! I sat down at my desk with my coffee to write this letter and I heard a loud thud coming from the garage. That’s how Cha knocks. He hurls himself at the door. Except for my bedroom door, which he reaches under jiggling the door until I wake up. He had spent the night in the garage. Don’t worry, there was a nice basket of dirty laundry waiting to be washed. I am sure he snuggled in. It’s not cold at night yet, unless you consider low 60’s cold.

Love you lots,

S

Thanksgiving

Dear M,

We missed you today on our third Thanksgiving without you. You loved Thanksgiving, doing all the menu planning, cooking, shopping exclusively. I made a salad or acted as a sous chef usually. You made the best apple pies in the whole world.

We spent Thanksgiving with MK, Alan, and Miles again. They make it so easy. I did make an apple cranberry pie with a crumb topping and balsamic green beans and a broccoli slaw. We brought Murphy too. She loves a party. This year I didn’t feel numb and dazed. I didn’t spend the whole day in bed. I laughed and enjoyed everyone’s company. We stopped by to see your dear friend Rose and her husband Bill. The boys seemed ok until after dinner then Butter got quiet and withdrawn again. I seem to be in the way and just evidence that you are missing. I am not the favorite parent or The wished for parent at those moments. I am the one who is left. I want to leave, to enjoy my respite from grief, but I can’t. It is my job to stay, knowing that I am not enough, that there is nothing I can do or say that will be received or heard.

I am thankful for how much I loved you. It hurt. I didn’t mean to love you ever, not one little bit. At eighteen and 7 years before we met I planned a life for myself. I would become a veterinarian, I would never marry, I would have a barn with horses and donkeys and a house filled with cats and dogs. I would insulate myself from loving humans. I planned to make my siblings call me Dr. Sweeney. Childhood had been beautiful and sometimes awful. It left me burned, mostly just because I felt too much.

As life unfolded plans changed. I was disorganized. I was depressed before that was really a thing, so I didn’t know what was happening. I had no word for this illness of my spirit. I was highly allergic to animals and that was finally identified by modern medicine as the source of my constant respiratory illness. My grades faltered. I drank too much. I felt too much. I was given this gift of feeling too much that felt like a curse I couldn’t escape. I began my journey of recovery. My grades improved, what a surprise. I found my calling. Still I had not planned on you. I never dreamt of a wedding, or thought about bridesmaids dresses or a husband.

Then almost by accident I fell in love with you. I was scared with you and happy with you and elated with you and suffered with you. Now I have the beautiful gifts you left me imac and Butter. I suffer their sufferings. I show up. I do the next right thing. I hope it’s enough. I hope I can row hard enough to get them through these stormy seas.

Love,

S

XC Banquet and almost Thanksgiving

Dear M,

Tonight Butter has driven himself to meet friends at Beach Bowl. The very same Beach Bowl we took Butter and imac to starting when they were 4 and 6. Twelve years. Last night I met Butter after work at the Cross Country(XC) Banquet. The slide show was what got me. All those photos of sweaty, running kids and the memory of getting up at 4:30 in the morning from July until mid-October 5-6 days a week. Seeing the friendships that formed, seeing tiny glimpses of personal struggles made just a little bit easier because of the community that formed. Wishing the season could last just a little longer as I see how much the kids and the coaches mean to each other. You would have definitely cried during the slide show if you were there.

Monday I’ll take Butter to see an Orthopedic specialist about his tricky knee. He wants to try out for Track. He’ll have a few months to get the knee in good shape. It’s not a constant thing and not with every run, but nevertheless it has recurred twice.

So… Thanksgiving this week. I’m working Monday-Wednesday, trying to figure out what to cook. Taking some dishes over to MKs. I think the shaved Brussels sprouts with balsamic and bacon or the balsamic green beans with sliced almonds. Am thinking about an apple pie, but sounds so labor intensive. Your apple pies were AMAZING. I wanted to find some way to bring a little bit of your presence to the dinner. You would have brought a homemade apple pie. I love pie for breakfast. My apple crisp is really good and a whole lot easier than a pie crust from scratch.

This will be our third Thanksgiving without you, hard to believe. I don’t feel the sense of dread I felt the last two years. Hoping I can stay in a positive holding pattern. That’s all my dear.

Love,

S