Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Chapels of the Grand Tetons

Today I re-visited the Chapel of the Transfiguration in the Grand Tetons. From New Jersey. 

I am thankful for the once a month I am able to spend in spiritual direction because it allows me a real opportunity to focus on my faith journey and how it relates to the million things going on in my life at any given moment.

Chapel of the Sacred Heart
As I was enjoying my time in silence this morning, the images that kept coming to my mind were those from the two chapels we visited while in Grand Teton National Park last week. The first one we visited was called the Chapel of the Sacred Heart and the second was the Chapel of the Transfiguration.

The striking part of the Chapel of the Sacred Heart was the incredible stained glass window at the altar of the church. I felt like it was different from any other stained glass window I had seen before. The colors were rich and I felt full of passion looking at it. I could envision myself worshiping God in this space, away from the busy-ness of my life, with an overflowing heart. It was a special moment to be in that chapel with my sister, letting the spirituality soak in.

As beautiful as it was there, it was nothing compared to what awaited us at the Chapel of the Transfiguration. The altar of that church included a picture window which overlooked the Grand Tetons. There was a simple wooden cross on the altar along with two glasses filled with flowers. It was beautiful and when I saw it the tears came streaming down my face. I don't know if it was the simplicity and spirituality of the space or the fact that the Tetons were the place I had felt closest to Joe since he passed. Perhaps it was both. There was just something about the arrangement of that space and its framing of nature that touched my soul.

Both visits were memorable, but there was something about the Chapel of the Transfiguration which brought me incredible peace. Over the past week and a half I have returned there in my mind many times. Today, I am thankful for my spiritual director who helped me return there in mind, body, and spirit. I saw the sights. I smelled the scents. I breathed the air and felt the sun on my face. It was reinvigorating and I needed it. In re-visiting the chapel I felt like God has given me that experience and vision to strengthen me through these times when I feel alone and beaten down. I feel like at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, I received my own glimpse into the Transfiguration, a glimpse into heaven and beauty and the new thing God is doing here among us. May you find similar inspiration in these photos.

The approach to the Chapel of the Transfiguration.
Our first look inside the Chapel.

I remembered these glasses that are holding the flowers as ones from growing up.
I loved the simplicity and how "spiritual" can be "ordinary".
This inscription by the altar caught my eye and brought me peace.
Today, as I re-visited the Chapel, this came to mind in a powerful way.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day

It was an early Sunday morning in our house. Domani woke up around 6am and went quickly back to sleep, but I had no such luck. I proceeded to shower, write a blog post, upload our vacation photos, and paint my toenails. It was time to leave for church and he still wasn't awake so I had to rouse him and get him dressed. He looked so cute in his new Conan shirt, a gentle reminder of his Dad who we miss dearly, especially today.

I tucked some scotch tape and one of my favorite photographs of Joe and Domani in my bag, knowing that at some point in the day I would need them both.

After a quick stop at Wawa for some coffee, a bottle of water, and a piece of marble pound cake we were on our way to church for the big Praise Band-led worship service. It was a beautiful and intensely spiritual service for me, even though there was so much on my mind since I was part of the leadership team. The most powerful moments for me were the opening prayer which I did and our offertory music selection which was composed by our band leader. I was thankful there was very little mention of Father's Day.

Mother's Day 2011 - taken by Joe
I had a quick meeting after church and then it was off to my parents for a Father's Day BBQ. It was nice to be surrounded by family and to be able to share stories from our recent trip, but it was still hard. It was tough seeing kids with their dads throughout the day, even amongst my own family. It was a constant reminder of what is missing from our life with just the two of us. My sister, her husband, and I took our kids to the park next door to my parents' house for a little while. Getting to just relax and play with the kids was a special treat and reminded me of Mother's Day last year when Joe was at that playground with us. My parents had helped Domani with a card to Joe which included a Superman pin. It was so sweet, but tugged at my heart so hard.

The day only got tougher from there. Next stop was Joe's Dad's house where we spent time with Joe's family. More dads with kids. I took a much needed break to go pick up a few cold ones to go with dinner, my own little gesture to the men there since I didn't have the foresight to think of something to bring before I arrived. It also helped me emotionally to get away for a short time.

The cross stitch from Joe's room
We ate delicious food cooked by Joe's Dad on the grill Joe had helped him put together. The kids played in the backyard. Domani seemed fascinated by the tree where the three of us had some family photos taken just after he was born. We took the kids to the park at the school nearby, a spot with sweet memories of Joe playing with the kids. Joe's Dad gave me a framed cross stitch that had hung in Joe's childhood bedroom until he had moved out of the house. I remembered what it said before he gave it to me - Skateboard Frenzy. His mom had made it for him. No wonder he kept it up there all those years. It brought tears to my eyes as I thought of Domani someday displaying it in his own room and as I remembered one time in particular when Joe skateboarded in Princeton while I hurriedly walked along behind him.

All of these memories and even my crying were private. Oh, what I would have given to have been able to bring him a cold Twisted Tea and wish him a Happy Father's Day. Or to watch him play with his son, niece, and nephews in his father's backyard. Or to share in the misery of another sweep of the Mets, this time by those surging Reds (at least Greg Dulli should be happy). While there was certainly an undercurrent of sadness as we gathered this afternoon, I don't remember Joe's name being mentioned, except for maybe once or twice. I think that made it even harder for me. I have found that it's a bit of a delicate dance to know when to talk about him and when to let things be. I do my best to be honest with my own feelings and allow others the space to experience their grief in their own way. Maybe I don't always hit the nail on the head.

New Addtions - Superman pin and Domani & Dad photo
We made an attempt to join Domani's uncle and the rest of his cousins for a little fishing trip in a creek near the house, but the little guy was overtired and he was only interested in trying to go swimming so it was quick exit for us. By the time we got to the cemetery, he was asleep and I carried him in with his blankie and my purse, filled with our Father's Day goodies for Joe. I had barely walked through the front door before I started to cry. The whole fact that this was the place where I had to come if I wanted to honor Father's Day with my son was just too much. I pulled the bench right in front of his crypt so I could sit with Domani in my arms and just remember. There were lots of tears during this visit as I placed the Superman pin on the Mets flower arrangement I had placed there early in the season (replacing the Giants-themed flowers!) and taped up the photo I had chosen of Joe and Domani. I needed those tears and I'm thankful for the time I was able to spend there with my son.

The rest of our Father's Day was quiet. The little guy went to sleep soon after we got home. He is still adjusting to the time change and hadn't had a nap all day. I settled in to a typical Sunday night routine of True Blood and Girls. I wondered what Joe would have thought about the plot lines so far this season on TB and marveled at how much Adam from Girls reminds me of Joe. Tomorrow, it's back to work. I know I'll be busy, but somehow, after today, I welcome the diversion.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lessons From My Son While on Vacation

My son and I just returned from a 10-day getaway to Idaho to visit my sister, Naomi. While away, we also found our way through Utah, Montana and Wyoming via our flight to SLC and a long weekend spent in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Even though it was vacation, I learned a lot. As usual, my teacher was the little guy, a 20-month old wise beyond his years.

1. Celebrate Everything. Whether it was a successful guess at his iPad game or the arrival of our meal at a restaurant, my kid claps for things more than anyone I know. He clapped when our plane took off. He clapped when it touched down. He clapped when he buckled up his highchair. He clapped when he got to go in the swimming pool. I would do well to celebrate little things like he does.

2. Sleep When You're Tired. I wasn't as strict on bed time for the little guy while we were on vacation. It became clear from the first night that I wouldn't be very successful anyway with enforcing an 8:30pm bed time when it was daylight until well after 9pm. Since it was vacation, we also weren't strict on when we had to be up in the morning which was crucial to the no strict bed time thing. As a result we generally got to sleep until we were no longer tired. I have a go go go personality and a go go go job so while sleeping when you're tired may seem like an easy concept, it is not something I often do for myself. Seeing the benefit of it for both of us over the past 10 days, I'm really really really going to try.

3. Get Excited. This kid has an unbelievably adorable excited face. I'm sure every parent probably thinks that about their child, but I dare you to see his excited face without laughing out loud. It's spontaneous and involves wide eyes, a wide open mouth and flapping hands. And it doesn't take him winning a million dollars or getting a promotion at work to get there. It happened over his pizza at dinner in West Yellowstone and at breakfast in Pocatello. (I'm sensing a food theme starting to develop which brings me to...)

In the big rocking chair.
4. Eat. For a small guy, my son sure knows how to eat. And just when you think he's done, he isn't. For someone who has been known to skip meals out of busy-ness or just because I'm too lazy to cook for one, this was a good lesson to carry with me back home. One of my favorite meals with him on vacation was at Pickle's Place in Arco, Idaho. We passed it on the way to Craters of the Moon National Park and as soon as I saw the oversized rocking chair out front and how busy it was, I knew that was the place we would stop for lunch on our way back. We had a great time together and the food, especially the pickles were great.

5. No iPhone During Shared Meals. I've been learning this rule ever since I was in Chicago in May and a group of us put our phones in the middle of the table from the time we sat down until we paid the check. It made for a great meal. With Domani, it's a necessity because if I have my iPhone out, it becomes the ONLY thing he focuses on during the meal. Seems like an easy way to make the no iPhone while eating with people transition.

6. Sometimes It's OK to Just Let it Out. There were a few times when he just needed to be upset. I'm the same way and I know it's important for me emotionally to let go once in awhile. I'm not exactly throwing tantrums, but sometimes it's close. We don't have to be happy (or even content) all the time.

7. Notice the World. This kid of mine will stop in his tracks to check out an ant. He will pick up every stone he sees and look at it as if it's God's personal gift to him. For me, it takes the majestic beauty of the Grand Freaking Tetons to stop and notice the joy of our natural world. One more way I should try to be more like my son in my every day life.

8. Rebound and Love Lavishly. I will just point you here for the explanation on this one. Less than five minutes after I had allowed him to drop from my shoulders while watching the moose and her baby, he was hugging me and kissing me and overwhelming me with his love. It was a humbling moment and a reminder to me of God's love for us.

9. Read a Book. One of Domani's favorite things to do on our iPad is read Sesame Street's "Another Monster at the End of This Book". It's interactive which he loves, but mostly he just likes to enjoy the story. (I do recommend this app if you have a kid his age and an iPad.) He laughs hysterically when Elmo and Grover go back and forth saying "You. You. You. You. You. You...." at the end of the book and he claps when he successfully completes the challenges along the way which make the pages turn (see #1 above). Reading is one of the things that has fallen to the wayside in the busy-ness of my life, but I made a point to do some over this past week. Granted my reading of the Christian Grey series is pretty different from Elmo and Grover, but at least I'm reading again and enjoying the escape that comes with it.
"Hi" to the Mammoth Hot Springs

10. Say Hi to Everyone. My little guy waves and says hi constantly. This past week he said hi to people everywhere we went, to animals, to inanimate objects. One thing that I noticed was that his wave and very easy "Hi" made people smile. I acknowledge that people may start to wonder if I start saying hi to the light (as he does), but the concept is still there.

Sticking with these rules will be a tall order given what I know awaits me in the "real world" this week, but I am hopeful that I'll do what I can. At least it's a start.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Bad Mother Moment

I've been told that it would happen eventually. I've heard stories of babies rolling off changing tables and I myself once caused my parents (and my babysitter) much stress by getting my head stuck betwen the railings of a balcony (it took butter or vaseline or something like that to help get my head out).
Mama moose and her baby

My moment came yesterday while (perhaps fittingly) we were checking out a mama moose and her baby in Grand Teton National Park. As we had done several times already during our tour of Yellowstone and the Tetons, I had him up on my shoulders for a good view (and to keep him from running into the river in front of us). He was alternating between playing a game on my iPhone and checking out the moose and I was holding his feet with both hands. I had already snapped a few photos and decided this would be a good time to put my camera away. I held on to his foot with one hand and went to put my camera away with the other.

Of course, it was in that moment that he arched back and his foot came loose from my hand. He fell from my shoulders and landed on the sandy rock combination below. I was mortified and I couldn't help but think that I had done permanent damage to my little guy. He was crying. I was frantically checking every inch of his body. Nothing visible. I found myself apologizing to Joe for what I had allowed to happen to our son (you may find this odd, but it was very natural somehow).

Then, I cuddled him close, gently rubbed his head and back and we walked back to our car. It was less than a 5 minute walk and before we even got to the car he had stopped crying and was back to checking everything out.

For him, it was over. For me, I am re-living that moment constantly. I'm still reeling with guilt and I frequenty find myself checking over my son's body to make sure he is ok. (It looks like he will have a bruise on his lower back, but other than that nothing out of the ordinary.) How could I be so careless? Obviously putting away my camera is not more important than my son's safety. How could I mix up my priorities so completely?

I'm trying not to be unnecessarily hard on myself. In fact, contrary to the title of this blog post I wouldn't even call myself a "bad" parent in that moment. Just human. Next time I am in a similar situation I will certainly be more careful. But the truth is that things like this may happen no matter how vigilant I am with him. Thankfully, my son is more resilient and more forgiving than I could have ever imagined. Also, thankfully, I have many friends and family members who have been forthcoming with their own "bad parent" stories to remind me that I'm not alone.
All is forgiven. Later that day in Jackson Hole, WY

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Flying with a Toddler - JFK to SLC

Our day started at 5:45am EDT. Both of us were excited at the prospect of seeing my sister Naomi. Little guy usually doesn't get up quite that early but he was awake and happy and seemingly ready to go.

Thanks to my mom, our bags were packed the night before, leaving only a few last minute additions necessary for the morning. Deodorant, hairbrush, iPad, chargers, and the cooler bag (I forgot to add the freezer packs of course). As far as leaving-for-vacation-frenzies go this one was pretty mild. It was also helpful that I also had the cry over traveling without Joe with her and hadn't put it off until the big day.

Little guy and I drove to meet my friend Richard who was helping out with our transport to JFK. We stopped off at Starbucks on the way to meet Richard and filled up the car with gas. Even though I fly all the time, I was nervous. It wasn't even my first flight with my son, but it was the first one where he had his own seat and where no one would be meeting us at the airport. I would be dealing with all of our travel bags, a car seat, and an attachment to the car seat that makes it a stroller. As we were driving, I admitted to Richard that THIS flight was stressing me out. I had measured the car seat the night before and compared it with what had to say about the seats on the flight we were taking. The car seat was more than 2 inches bigger than the width listed for the seat. I had read some online blogs from people who said they had no problem with the same car seat so I figured I would at least try. I was still on edge about it right up until the moment I eased the car seat into place and buckled it in.

The summary of my air travel? I love Flight Attendants. From my friend Richard who helped me out when I was feeling apprehensive about going through security and getting to the gate to the FA at the door to my flight who assured me the car seat would fit and that I could wheel it right up the aisle with Domani in it, I am grateful for their assistance and care.

Reading his Mets book on the plane
Domani got comfortable in the car seat quickly, reading his Mets book as we prepared for takeoff. At one point he even broke out into a spontaneous "Yay Mets" cheer with his fist in the air. He loved watching out the window during taxi and takeoff. By the time we hit 10,000 feet he was asleep and he stayed that way for about two hours.

I'm not sure if this is true for all car seats, but for his (Evenflo Triumph 65) it put his feet dangerously close to the seat in front of him and prevented me from putting my tray down. And by dangerously close I mean dangerous for the poor woman sitting in front of him. He didn't kick the seat, but he did push on it quite a few times. I, of course, let him know that he needed to be gentle and not push on the seat. He would stop for awhile, but then "stretch out again" at some point (who among us has not had THAT urge on an airplane!) As for my tray issue it ended up not being a such a big deal because Domani was asleep when the drinks were served. I was able to have a coffee and some yummy cookies to dip in it without needing the tray. Granted, I finished both a lot faster than I normally would have, but overall not a bad trade off for getting to go visit my sister with my little guy.

Once the little guy woke up he required constant attention so the next two hours consisted of feeding him lunch, giving him books, talking about the different parts of the plane, telling him to stop pushing his feet into the seat in front of him, giving him a variety of snacks and his water cup, monitoring his iPad use, and finding books for him to read. He got excited again when the plane started its descent.

When we finally landed we waited patiently to gather ourselves together and I was thankful once again for the FA who helped me push his carseat off the plane when Domani absolutely refused to get back in. (I couldn't really blame him after being in the carseat for just over 5 hours straight.) After a quick bathroom stop (the stalls were nice and large and there was a special room for changing babies), it was off to collect our bag and get the rental car. Thankfully, I was able to coax him back into the carseat for easier transport to baggage claim.

As we were walking through the airport several people noticed our GoGo Kidz Travelmate attachment for his carseat. One wife leaned over to her husband and said "Look at THAT! What a great idea!" And a great idea it really was -  I wouldn't have made it through the single mom at the airport excursion without it.

By the time we arrived in baggage claim, our bag was the only one left on the stopped carousel. This was the moment of truth. Would I be able to manage the kid in the "stroller", the carry on bags, and the big checked bag AND make it to the rental car counter? I was relieved when I was able to handle it all and overjoyed to realize that the rental car counter was just a short walk across the way from baggage claim. The line was short and our car was ready for us. I'm pretty sure Hertz overcharged us (still have to check my original quoted price), but at least we were able to get moving quickly.

It was dark in the garage where the car was parked which made it difficult to install his carseat (especially with him walking around the back seat of the car), but the Sirius radio was working and I only required a quick peek at the Owner's Manual to determine how to release the emergency brake. My GPS was working by the time we hit the airport exit and Greg Dulli was hosting for an hour on Sirius XMU. Just perfect.

We made good time to Pocatello, Idaho. Domani dozed off for most of the ride. We arrived a little after 5pm, a full 13 hours after we started our journey from New Jersey. It was all worth it though when we got to give Naomi a big hug and get the "grand tour" of her place. She cooked us some food on the grill and much later that night cuddled her nephew until he was ready to go to sleep. It was so worth it.
Aunt Naomi blows up Domani's air mattress

Domani in his sleep tent

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thinking About Living Each Day in Grief

"Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief." C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

The most spiritual moment I shared on Sunday was with an older man in my Church who over the years has become a good friend. When his brother passed away three days after my Joe did, our bond grew even stronger. With each passing month I know that three days after "my day" it would be "his day". This week after service, we shared a warm embrace and a simple sentence about this week being six months. As my pain grows, I keep going back to that gentle moment.

There is something indescribable about the strong need inside of me to mark this time and something comforting to my spirit about having someone else on the same path.

When I read the quote from C.S. Lewis with which I started this blog, I nodded like a bobblehead on a seesaw. It just felt true. I couldn't possibly count the number of times during my day when I think about the grief I am living in and it's not just on these monthiversaries or special days. I recognize the many emotions that are birthed daily from this grief - loneliness, jealousy, anger, confusion. I feel the many challenges that my grief brings - clouded thoughts, less freedom, more exhaustion paired with less sleep, random tears. But I am also brought back to the happy moments that are the roots of this grief - 

~memorable trips to London, Boston, Florida, South Carolina, Washington, DC and many places in between
~a beautiful wedding at a day camp in Monroe Township complete with family and friends, canoes, foosball, a good Greg Dulli track, an adorable ring bearer and the cutest flower girl ever, the blob, a water slide, a meaningful service performed by a good friend, line dancing, a lollipop cake, a beautiful, decorated rental car, and a photo with our Mets towel
~countless meals shared together at great and not-so-great places, some still going strong, some sadly closed down - Hot Wok Cafe, Bell's Tavern, Cranbury Pizza, Mexican Village, Conte's, Mediterra, Teresa's, The Carousel Diner, Tavern on the Lake, Old Man Rafferty's, Jester's, Tumulty's Pub, Gay Hussar, Marcello's, The Cranbury Inn, Parker's Restaurant (& Parker's Bar for the Boston Creme Pie), this could be a whole separate post!
~a long house hunt and the moment we knew we had found the place where we wanted to start our family
~many, many, many Mets games
~many, many, many Greg Dulli shows
~the moment we found out we were expecting and the birth that brought us each tears of happiness, followed by the many moments of his first year when we gushed with pride, fell down exhausted, and laughed til our eyes filled with tears
~the fact that I could go on and on and on and on with happy moments.

The truth is that I wouldn't be feeling this grief in quite the same way if not for all of these very happy things. I will try to remember that as I move through this especially difficult week.

In less than 5 hours the clock will pass by 6 months. Three days from then my friend Bob will have his own day of marking time in grief. Each day brings a new challenge and I pray only for the strength to live the best I can through the shadows and reflections of my grief. I have faith that someday I will be a little less lonely, a little less jealous, a little less angry and a little less confused. And, oh yes, hopefully a little less exhausted too.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

No-han, Kid, & Joe - The Mets' 1st No-Hitter

Tonight was a night I will recount to Domani many times over as he gets older. I came to his Grandmom & Grandpop's house to pick him up after Praise Band practice and he WASN'T even watching the game! We put it on the TV in time for the bottom of the 7th and watched the drama unfold, careful not to jinx it by using "the word", but also careful to cheer with gusto for Johan and the Mets (Domani is very good at throwing his fist in the air and saying "METS!")

At just about 9:47pm, Johan Santana threw his 134th pitch and struck out World Series MVP David Freese swinging, completing the Mets' first ever no-hitter. Unable to help myself, I let out a yell and threw my hands up in the air, much to the chagrin of Domani who had been sitting peacefully in my lap playing with my iPhone. He proceeded to cry through the initial celebration, but eventually calmed down and enjoyed the sweetest moment Mets fans have enjoyed in a very long time.

I did everything that a giddy fan stuck watching the game on the TV would do. I took photos and video of the TV. I tweeted. I texted. I posted on Facebook and Instagram. It was sheer euphoria and I could almost hear Joe making fun of me just as he did when I snapped photos of the TV after the Mets won the Division Title in 2006.
My photo after the Mets won the NL East in 2006.
"No-han" Santana celebrates on the TV at my parents' house.
This all may seem a little crazy, but we are METS fans. We are used to losing and often in grand fashion. We don't get moments like these often and in fact we had NEVER gotten a moment EXACTLY like this - my parents were lucky I didn't resort to something more drastic than simply taking pictures of the TV and making my son cry.

Just to give you some perspective on our angst this is what it meant to be a Mets fan before tonight:

8,019 games without a no-hitter
35 one-hit games
6 no-hitters vs Mets
13 no-hitters thrown by former Mets
1975 - the last time a Met took a no-hitter into the 9th inning (also the year Joe was born)

It was the last number that convinced me this was going to be it. That, combined with the fact that not only do the Mets have Joe pulling for them from those heavenly Mets seats, but he's now got company with the incomparable Gary "Kid" Carter. I had just told a friend on Wednesday night that I thought this was going to be the year for a Mets no-hitter. I guessed the wrong pitcher (I thought it would be R.A. Dickey), but little did I know it would happen in the Mets' very next game.

So far in the 2 hours that have passed since it happened I have been alternating between pinching myself and letting the tears flow. It doesn't seem possible after so many years of disappointment, but no matter how many times I watch that last out, thankfully it always ends the same.

I love sports moments like these and feel blessed to have had two of them with our beloved teams this year. Between the Giants miraculous Superbowl run and the Mets first no-hitter, I'm not sure we can be any more jubilant here in the Deak household. Well, I do know one way we could have been more jubilant in these moments, but somehow I feel like he's already here with us every time our teams come up big.