Sunday, October 11, 2020

Dear Joe (A letter on our son's 10th birthday)

Dear Joe,

Today - Sunday, October 11, 2020 - our son turns 10 years old. 

That means it has been 9 years since we celebrated his birthday as a family of 3 - his first and only one with you here. He is way past the Sesame Street of that party, but the memories linger and they make me wonder what it would be like if you were here with us this weekend.

Double digits is a big deal for any kid. It's an even bigger deal when two years earlier Mom promised that 10 is the magic number for being able to get a cell phone. (Yep, I did that.)

The excitement has been building here in the Deak household for more than a month in a way that I only remember counting down to my 17th birthday and my driver's license. Maybe you wouldn't have agreed to the cell phone at age 10 or maybe, given your obsession with all things new in technology, you would have caved even sooner. 

You were always the best gift giver so maybe you would have chosen something I haven't even thought to get him. Maybe we would have celebrated in a completely different way than what I planned. Maybe you would have just suggested pancakes for breakfast and a quiet day inside.

As the time goes by since your death, I feel like I can predict less and less the things you would have done and what you would have thought - not only when it comes to Domani's 10th birthday, but about so many other things too. That gap is a new pain that I've only begun to confront on this now almost 9 year long grief journey.

Sometimes I engage in some real mental gymnastics with the "what ifs" and the "could have beens". I wonder if I am losing you all over again when I can't say for certain that you would have let Domani ride his bike around the block or stay up past 9pm. I go back and forth on whether you would have agreed that Domani could watch shows like Drunk History or Trevor Noah with us. I wonder if he ever would have taken dance lessons or played soccer before trying baseball.

One thing I know, though, is that you would be beaming with pride at Domani the 10 year old. 

Two weeks ago he spent all day Saturday building a gaming PC with my Uncle Bob. He had spent time researching parts and brainstorming about how to get the highest quality parts for the best price. He tracked with excitement as each part arrived and carefully packed them into a tub for transport. 

The whole process reminded me of the gaming setup you created in our basement and I do know that if you were still here this would have been a father-son project for sure.

Beyond his new found interest in computers, he is thoughtful and empathetic, independent and determined. 

He has a quirky sense of humor and is able to land jokes with almost spot-on comedic timing. 

He speaks Spanish, excels at math, and has a memory that means I need to be extra careful what I say and especially what I promise to him. 

He has an interest in bugs even though he will often be freaked out by them. 

He can follow directions to put together small projects like his shoe rack all by himself.

He is kind and loving and always working to do better. 

He has areas to grow too - like his constantly messy room and displays of impatience (he gets both things from me obviously) - but he is an impressive 10 year old which helps me feel like we are on the right path.

We miss you terribly, Joe, and there is no doubt that life would be more full if you were still here with us. But you are not absent from our lives. In fact, you are woven into all that we do and who we are as a family.

So, in those moments when I am unsure if I'm doing things right with our son, I return to a truth that I learned not long after you died. We can only do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Judging our past actions using information we did not have isn't helpful. 

So, today, on our son's 10th birthday, I center myself in that. Even though I may not be certain what you would have picked out for Domani's gift this year or how we would have planned his celebration in the midst of a pandemic, I do know that he has a lot of you in him and that's more than enough for me.

With Love,


Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday in a Pandemic

Good Friday.

The day on our Christian calendar where we fully acknowledge death and the separation it brings. Before Joe died, it was nothing more to me than a speed bump on the way to Easter. Once 2012 rolled around, though, this day began to carry much more weight as I felt the sting of death in unique ways with each passing moment that year.

How much more it stings now for those mourning in the midst of a pandemic as waves of grief are flowing deep and wide around the world.

Good Friday is the world as it is - with all its pain and brokenness, anxiety and fear. Over the years, I have come to appreciate this day not as a speed bump, but as one of the truest reflections of our reality. 

After all, it is in this "world as it is" that we all live. We see it around us starkly now, as family members grieve in isolation without the physical gestures that often get us through those initial moments of shock and despair. We see it in the frontline workers who are confronting an unseen, but deadly virus every day. We see it in the desperation of people whose place in our destructive economy is laid bare in new and frightening ways.

I recognize that in my own life over these past few weeks I have gotten through day to day by finding ways to compartmentalize all of the pain, only allowing it out from time to time in small doses. I have made it a point each day to instead list 10 things for which I am thankful. I have purposefully sought out moments of joy and ways to change up routine within our home.

But today, I observed Good Friday by allowing myself to connect with it. I prayed through the stash of Christmas cards I keep by the side of my bed. As I touched each card and looked at the faces and handwriting of friends, family members, and co-workers, it drew me to the flood of pain that so many of them are working through right now. I began to feel the heartache of living in this world as it is right now.

And then I turned to writing. I have never written so many sympathy cards in one sitting and the truth is that it shook me. We aren't even through this yet and there are so many people who are enduring deep levels of pain and are doing it in isolation. 

I know that I can't fix the grief for my friends or family now any more than they could do that for me 9 years ago. In fact, my favorite card that I dropped in the mail today says on the front "Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason." (Thank you, Emily McDowell cards.) This is not a time for pithy expressions. It is a time for us to be real with each other and acknowledge that, even though this is our reality, we can show up for each other in the midst of it.

Good Friday is about the world as it is. 

Yes, ultimately we can change that. It can happen through building community. Through organizing. Through showing up for one another. Through the model of hope that comes on Easter morning. 

But let's not rush through today to that. Let's not pretend as if this doesn't hurt. 

Let's allow our friends, our family, our loved ones time to grieve.

Let's allow it to be Good Friday. Easter will come. It's just not here yet.