Last year around this time I wrote two blog posts.
The first post was about the Mets and referenced the phenomenon in grief during which a moment of pure joy can occupy the same space as feelings of overwhelming sadness. The grief group I help lead has a video we watch which talks about this phenomenon peace and pain co-existing. It seems chaotic and nonsensical, but for me it has become a slice of life as Domani and I find ways to both remember Joe and continue living our lives in the fullest ways possible.
This realization was the crux of that blog post which I wrote in the midst of the Mets run to become National League East (and then NLCS) Champs last fall during a spontaneous one day trip to DC. During that trip, I witnessed the Mets wrap up a sweep of the Nationals with a come from behind win, but there were so many "Joe" memories tied up in it that the sorrow and longing were also very real.
Sometimes in the midst of complete joy there is also at the very same time full sorrow. So it goes with #grief. We should allow it.— Anne Deak (@MamaDeak) September 10, 2015
This week as Domani started kindergarten and my sister welcomed their 3rd child into the family we once again found ourselves in our household of 2 in this space of co-existing joy and sadness. Excitement at the start of kindergarten and the arrival of a new cousin/nephew paired with a palpable sadness at every reminder of how much Joe's presence is missed. It's been a challenging week.
When Joe and I bought our home 8 years ago, one of the things we dreamed together about was the ease with which we would be able to send our children to the elementary school across the street. We used to joke with each other that we would be able to just "kick them out the front door". In our first year living there we would notice the cars lined up in front of our home whenever there was an event at the school, look at each other, and say "think of how great it will be when we can just walk out our front door and cross the street to parent nights or whatever."
This Tuesday turned out to be a packed day. I had work in the morning, Domani had his kindergarten classroom orientation in the afternoon, and the Kindergarten Back to School Night was in the evening.
My sister went into labor during the day which meant rearranging family childcare plans and finding someone to stay at my house in the evening with Domani so I could attend my first parent night at the elementary school across the street from our home. And I did indeed walk out the front door and cross the street to the school entrance just as Joe and I had envisioned.
The text from my brother-in-law announcing the birth of my nephew came through almost as soon as I arrived in Domani's kindergarten classroom for the orientation time with his teachers. I was still trying to figure out who to put down as the "other adult" on my PTA sign up form when my phone starting lighting up and vibrating. A little while later there was the task of figuring out the app the teachers would be using to communicate with us that wanted me to "Add your spouse" and finally the take home "All About Me" bag to complete with Domani which of course came with instructions to include the obligatory "picture of your family".
I powered through the app set up while still in the classroom and decided that the bag assignment would wait until the last possible minute, putting it on my mental Thursday evening to-do list. I didn't even stop back home and instead went right to the gym in order to sweat off the sadness and stress of the evening. It mostly worked.
School didn't start until Thursday so on Wednesday Domani came with me to the office. I hadn't noticed any signs of sadness in him up to that point, but when I went over to check on him just before lunchtime he had his head down while watching a video of babies with parents set to sappy music. He had a sad look and when I asked him what he was watching he looked up at me. I could see then that he had tears welling up in his eyes. We paused his video and I brought him over to a more comfortable chair so we could sit and cuddle and talk. He told me he missed his daddy and he was feeling sad. My heart was broken for him.
Once he had some time to cry and cuddle, we gathered his things and hit the road. I used my lunch time to take him for his back to school haircut and then to drop him off with his Grandmom for the rest of the afternoon and evening. He was in a much happier mood by the time he got to her house for a visit.
|After his haircut before his time with Grandmom|
But later that night when he awoke from a dream and I was not in my bed as he expected I would be he became inconsolable. Once again, he was clear about his sadness and what had awakened him. He was missing his daddy and was sad that he wasn't there with him. More talking. More cuddling. And finally more sleep - this time right next to me.
By the time he woke up on Thursday he was all smiles and ready for his first day of kindergarten. Aside from a brief mention of how proud he knew his daddy would be of him, he didn't re-visit discussion of Joe until we got to work on the "All About Me" bag after dinner. One thing I have learned as he works through his own grief is that giving him options is important. So, in this case, we had a conversation about which "family" picture he wanted to include and which types of photos he wanted to use for all of the other categories listed on the bag (baby photo, something you like to play or do). He chose a family photo that included the 3 of us with Mr. Met and a baby photo that included him and Joe. He also picked a photo of himself at the aquarium as something he likes to do. I appreciated that he was thoughtful about it and that he expressed repeatedly his desire to use photos that included Joe. I pray that as he talks about the things he has placed in his bag that he finds joy and peace, but know that it is also perfectly ok and likely there will be sadness that will co-exist. He is wise and compassionate beyond his years.
|Domani's photos for his "All About Me" bag|
The second blog post I wrote this time last year was about Domani starting pre-K and all of the waves of emotions that came with him doing that with Joe not here. Mostly, it was a flashback to the fears I had as a caregiver when life as a widow was a huge unknown. I remember clearly pleading with Joe after he was diagnosed while he was asleep in his hospital bed not to leave me alone and pregnant. Not to leave me alone to raise a toddler. Not to leave me alone to send our child off to school. In the back of my mind was the dismal stage 4 colon cancer survival rates. 10% at 5 years. At that time - in January 2010 - my worst fear was raising the child I was bearing without my husband.
Now here I sit with our son's first day of kindergarten comfortably behind me and I am amazed at how I have been provided with exactly the strength and encouragement I needed at exactly the moments I needed it. It's not because I am a strong person that I have made it, because I am not. Just ask any one of my friends or family members who I rely on heavily for sanity and support. It's not because I'm especially smart or spiritual (although I do *try* to be both of those things). Just ask anyone who has caught me in one of my not-so-smart or not-so-spiritual moments. And it's not because I am a supermom or a super runner or a super anything that I do. I am convinced it is because God has always provided ENOUGH for the place that I am in the journey.
Anne Lamott offered the following musings in one of her books (don't ask me which one because I can never keep them all straight and all I have recorded is this quote) and I used it in one of my blog posts when I first started writing in March 2012. "The great novelist E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving at night with the headlights on: You can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey this way. It is the truest of all things; the only way to write a book, raise a child, save the world." I have found that this is how it has been for me on my grief journey.
Each day this week there was a measure of "enough". Someone. Something. Some open door or window or way that lightened the load when I felt like I just could not keep going anymore.
Today, it was a call from a truly special woman who has become a friend who knows every ounce of what I am going through with Domani because she went through it with her own children. I thank God that when she selected her Mets seats last fall she ended up right behind us at every Saturday home game. She lifted me at the moment when I needed it most and she did it during a week when I know that her own grief is weighing heavily. There is a whole story to write about the people who sit with us at Mets games and what they mean to me and maybe sometime soon I will but for today she was my hero.
God must have known that I needed one more touch tonight, though because as I settled in to write this post I got pulled into my Facebook messenger by a friend checking in about (what else?) a Mets game only to find a second message there from earlier today from a stranger. I get a lot of those, but this one was different. It was from a woman who knew Joe. She is newly connected to me through a private Afghan Whigs fan group and she is also the person who took the road trip with Joe to Bogart's back in 1999 - the road trip where he and I randomly ran into each other in line. (I know, it blew my mind too.) Her kind words about this blog meant the world to me coming on the heels of what has been an overwhelming week.
I am constantly surprised by and thankful for the ways in which there always seems to be "enough" sent my way to get through to the other side. I have been learning it since Joe's diagnosis, but perhaps my lesson once again is to focus less on seeing past the edge of the headlights and keep pressing forward to what is in front in the here and now.
|In our yard on the 1st day of Kindergarten|
with the school in the background