Sunday, June 17, 2018

Memories of His Dad - A Box for Domani

Tonight my heart is full. I just finished putting together a Father's Day gift for Domani that has been more than a month in the making. Friends and family have been sending me photos and written memories of his dad in order to create a memory box for him to keep and I couldn't be more excited to give it to him. This past year as Domani has been attending his peer grief support group he has become more and more interested in hearing stories about his dad so it seemed like perfect timing to pull together a gift that would do just that.

When Domani is thinking about his dad or on special days like Joe's birthday, he loves looking at old Shutterfly photo albums and the two "Daddy and Me" board books I made for Father's Day (one for Joe in 2011 and one for Domani in 2016). He has gone through those albums and books so many times over the past year especially that he almost has them memorized. I realized that it was clearly time to expand his "Joe library". We started to do that over the holidays with some family members writing down memories and a few including photos too, but I could tell that as we moved past Mother's Day and towards Father's Day there was a need to do something meaningful for him. He was looking for ways to connect to who his Dad was.

I know as his mom that I will never be able to fill the void that was left when his Dad died. There will be moments when he feels cutting pain and sometimes those moments will come in the midst of really wonderful things. There will be times that he is caught off guard by his grief - like tonight when he was asked by a well-meaning acquaintance what he had gotten his dad for Father's Day. There will be times when all he wants to do is rail against how unfair it all feels. 

I know some of those things as a woman who has lost her spouse. I do not know them as a child who has lost a parent. So I do what I can to support my son. Just after Mother's Day, I made the difficult ask of friends and family to go through photos and write about their memories of our beloved Joe. I know it wasn't easy. I did it myself and for as many times as I have already cried looking at our photos from our 2010 tour of Citifield there were still a few more tears left. But things are not easy for my little guy either and I know that having these stories will be such a gift for him as he grieves his dad.

I think I received memories by every method you could imagine, with the exception of fax and carrier pigeon. The flood of Joe stories and the diversity of people who shared them were truly special. As the memories came through, I was struck most by all of the love - the love in the stories, the love in the time and emotional effort it took to tell them, and the love of those who are continuing to be in community with Domani and me through so much of life's hard stuff. 

This is a beautiful box because it is full of love and I am sure we will be adding "Joe stories" to it for Domani for many years to come. This truly one of those moments in life where pain and joy can co-exist. Father's Day is hard in our house, but my heart is full and I am thankful.

I leave you with a quote I came across in a book I'm reading that has been life-changing for me this last month.

"In the end, nothing we do or say in this lifetime will matter as much as the ways we have loved one another." -Daphne Rose Kingma as quoted in The Happiness Makeover by M.J. Ryan

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Happy Birthday to Me...Without Him (the reprise)

It hit me all at once while I was out to lunch with one of my best friends last Wednesday. I'm turning 40 in less than 2 months and I have a lot of feelings about it. The only thing is they have so little to do with getting older. Sure, I am catching myself wondering from time to time why I can't seem to remember things quite the way I used to and I am noticing an increasing number of aches and pains setting in. But what I've been feeling is bigger than dreading a few "over the hill" balloons and banners and an aversion to the getting old jokes constantly thrown at me from younger friends and family members. 

This was a troubling to my spirit that had started bubbling up more and more each time a conversation turned to what I wanted to do for my birthday this year. It's not that I hadn't thought about it. Maybe I wanted to go on a cruise with my sister or down to Port St. Lucie for Mets Spring Training or perhaps I wanted to throw myself a big party. Each time I would contemplate any of these things (or others) I started feeling outside myself. Then disoriented. Then tight. Then sad. 

At first I did write it off to the typical emotions that must come with approaching a milestone birthday, but the more I started really examining what was happening the more I knew it was different. And then, for some reason, what I had started to talk about in bits and pieces at a grief group the week before all became clear for me that Wednesday afternoon over my portobello mushroom sandwich at the Mill Hill Saloon. Because what I wanted more than anything was for Joe to be able to answer those 40th birthday questions with me (or perhaps even for me) and for me to have been able to do the same for him 3 years ago when it should have been his 40th. Missing these milestones with each other is exactly what has been gnawing at me. It has been that uncomfortable chunk sitting in the back corner of my brain and it has been that unsettled part of my heart.

It's another one of those times when grief, even though far removed by years, has snuck back into my life for one more bite at the apple.

I started this blog with a post I wrote on the first birthday I celebrated without Joe. Our respective birthdays continue to be heavy days for me because even without him here physically, they are markers. There always remains the question of what will I do (or not do) on those days and there are always the what ifs that play in my mind. The one thing I have come to realize, though, is that ignoring the day never seems to work. Some years have been better than others, but always he is there in some way.

The Wednesday lunch cry was helpful. It led my friend and I to a discussion about ideas for what I actually wanted to do for my birthday this year (a run with friends and family and perhaps a small birthday dinner) and it freed me to set aside those things which I actually did not want to do (the trips and big parties I would have to plan). We are still talking and planning, but I am confident we will figure something out - even if it means scrapping all the "plans" the day before and doing something completely different.

The cry also provided me the final kick in the ass I needed to do something for myself.

I had been waffling about signing up for my first Spartan race for some time, feeling like I needed a new physical and mental challenge to welcome in my 40th year, but also feeling beaten down about my ability to actually do it. The cleansing tears and conversation with my friend were just the push I needed to sign up. During that lunch break, I finally committed to the race and to the training. Before I was back from my lunch break I had the race confirmation in my email. So, at the end of April I'll be taking on my biggest racing challenge yet - 12+ miles up a mountain with obstacles thrown in. I have my work cut out for me, but as my friend pointed out...this is exactly the kind of thing I thrive on. 

And it is exactly what I need.

So, a big thank you to Julia. Now, for better or for worse, I have one big piece of my 40th year already coming together and I couldn't be more terrified...I mean, excited!