Monday, December 6, 2021

The Mystery of the Christmas Lights

Towards the end of last week I read a book called Words at the Threshold by Lisa Smartt. It's mostly an examination of the words people say as they are nearing death, but there were also some parts that dealt with experiences of family members after the death of their loved one. The timing of reading Smartt's book could not have been more perfect because it had a section titled "Doorbells, Alarms, and Lightbulbs" and I was having some of my own issues with such things in this week leading up to the 10th anniversary of Joe's death. I found that two and a half page section to be speaking directly to me and it was both liberating and heartwarming.

You see, I've been down this road before with things not working as they should. Not long after Joe died Domani and I took a trip down to Washington, DC. We had done the same trip in the same car (the one that belonged to Joe) together as a family the previous fall to watch the Mets play the Nationals. This time though, the car stereo on this not-even-2-year-old SUV decided to completely crap out just as we were ready to leave. I tried everything I could think of to get it working again because the prospect of a 3 hour drive with no music seemed truly awful. I remember talking to Joe, asking him to help me fix it and wondering if this was all just him trying to get my attention.

Then, at some point (I don't remember exactly when) it just started working again. No service required. No rhyme or reason. No obvious intervention on my part. It just started working again. Common sense told me it must have just been a loose wire or a faulty connection that resolved itself when I went over a bump. I'm sure there could be a thousand logical explanations and so I chalked it up to a quirky coincidence even though I knew in my heart it connected me back to Joe.

Then, I started hearing stories from other widows. They shared with me their own interactions with electricity and every day items that require power to run. Clicking off and on. Working and then not working and then working again. All at moments or in ways that had some particular significance. Many of them felt the same presence, the same saying hello as these things happened that I did with the car stereo. I found comfort in those stories and told Joe that I'd listen and pay attention.

Fast forward to now and the story of Joe's little tree and the outdoor Christmas lights.

We have a tree in our home that we call the "Joe Tree". It was the tree that he had in his apartment before we were married. His mother had bought it for him and started him off with a selection of ornaments so that he had some Christmas in his place. I love her for that. It has white lights and a beautiful gold star tree topper that also plugged in and lit up. Our favorite ornament that goes on the "Joe Tree" is a naked Peter from The Family Guy holding a strategically placed present. The tree is both fun and sentimental.

Joe and I continued putting up his little tree in our home after we married and when he died it took on an extra special meaning as Domani and I put it up each year. We add to it ornaments from places that we have visited. It's our way of sharing those adventures with Joe.

This year, we carefully brought the tree down from the attic and set it in its spot in the living room. We plugged it in and enjoyed its lights for a few days before putting on any ornaments. Wouldn't you know it though that just as we were preparing to decorate, the lights stopped working. Domani decided we would replace the white lights that weren't working with new multi-color lights. And then we plugged in the star which was also not working. Obviously it's not unique for lights to stop working. Any of us who have cussed out a strand of lights while trying to decorate can attest to that. It's the timing and 1-2 combo of the lights and the star that caught my attention and once again had me noticing Joe with a smile and a quiet nod. 

However, I was not at all prepared for what happened next.

It was time for the grand finale of "Doorbells, Alarms, and Lightbulbs" - this time with the outdoor Christmas lights. My mom had offered to help me put up the rest of the outdoor lights I hadn't gotten to so they would be up when we held Joe's remembrance yesterday. On Friday afternoon, she came over and put up lights on our trellis, bushes, and along the back fence. When night came and the lights clicked on I noticed there was one strand along the fence that was completely out. I tried adjusting them that night and even took a look the next morning. I just couldn't figure it out and had resigned myself to having one strand out for the Christmas season.

When I told my mom about it she confided that she hadn't tested the lights, just asked Joe for his help in making sure they all worked. She jokingly complained that Joe hadn't done his job and we both got a laugh.

That night I arrived back home to the lights still out. I left the house for all of 2 hours and when I came back the strand was ON! I immediately was thankful to my mom for coming over and fixing the lights. Except that when I asked her about it the next morning, she said it wasn't her. At that point, there was no holding back the tears because we both knew in our hearts what had happened. I'm done trying to find logical explanations for things that are, in fact, liminal in nature. 

There are ways that Joe still says hi even 10 years later and sometimes that way is as simple as turning on the lights.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Lent and Grief and Waiting for Easter

Anyone who knew both Joe and me also knows that he was the neat and organized one who could always put his finger on anything he was looking for and I am the messy one who is always searching for something I put somewhere. So, to say that Joe would have been amused (and thrilled) with my Lenten undertaking this year would be an understatement. For the second time since he died, I decided to embark on the "40 bags in 40 days" idea and ride the wave of cleaning, organizing, and moving things out of my life.

When I completed this in 2014, it was intense. It involved finally eating the two chocolate bears that were in my refrigerator (one with my name and one with Joe's) from three Thanksgivings before and wrestling over and over again with WWJD (in this case, What Would Joe Do?)

Over the past 46 days (Sundays are "little Easters" in Lent for those who don't know), I have cleaned out a wide variety of spaces in every room of my home. For good measure, I even added in some spaces not in my home. I used this opportunity to clean out the car that was Joe's and is now mine and to start throwing away some non-essential items in my office. For the most part though, I was tackling my overrun junk drawers, packed until they burst cabinets, and closets that could have been hiding just about anything.

I shared with a friend early on in the journey that I always feel more connected to Joe when I do things like this because he was the one who would not hold on to things. So, anytime I hit a moment of hesitation, even around things that may *feel* sentimental, I channeled an inner conversation with him and found the resolve to either throw it away or give it away.

Obviously not every item got moved out. During one particular night of work I came across a ticket stub (remember when those were a thing?) to the last concert that Joe and I attended together. We saw Greg Dulli at the Trocadero in Philly. We sat in the balcony because with his colostomy bag and generally weakened state, he wasn't up for standing on the floor - our usual spot at shows. As I looked at that ticket stub and remembered that show it hit me that the Trocadero is now closed. Even before COVID-19, the Troc had closed. At least I have the ticket I thought as I tucked it away in the display on my wall that I have for such things.

Over the course of the last 46 days I have come across so much that reminded me of Joe. It is now almost ten years since he died and after a lot of grief work these remembrances are much more likely to bring smiles than tears for me. I still miss him in a million different ways, but I have learned that processes like this one help me to keep bringing him with me as I move forward in life.

It has been years since I remember having a dream about Joe. But during this process, as I was moving through the spaces of our home and channeling those "inner conversations" I had a dream about him. Even now I get teary thinking about how I felt that morning when I woke up. I don't remember the details of the dream, but the way it made me feel sits deep with me even weeks after it happened. As I found during the first time I spent my Lent cleaning and organizing, there is something profoundly spiritual about making space.

As I made my way through my 40 days I documented each day with a photo. It was pure joy today for me to be able to look back on all of those photos and think about the myriad areas in my life that now have more space. I admit that there have been times that I have opened my drawers just to remind myself that they are not loaded down with things or looked into my bathroom closet just to admire the way that everything has a place. I can feel Joe cheering me on (and also reminding me that there are still random piles of things on the bedroom floor). Perhaps I will get to those too.

I rounded out my 40 bags in 40 days with a Holy Week focused on moving and listening. Each morning no matter the weather I went for a walk (as I have every work day since January 19) and on Good Friday I did something extra special. At the suggestion of a dear friend, I listened to David Suchet read the Gospel of Mark. It took two hours and I listened and walked as the sun came up on Friday morning. 

Throughout that walk there were moments when I stopped to process, to let my tears flow, and to take in all the beauty around me. I was overwhelmed by this story of Jesus that emphasized God's abundance, unconditional love, sacrifice, and even humor. It left me feeling thankful and hopeful, two things I needed at my core.

Tomorrow will be Easter. It will also be Joe's birthday. He would have turned 46. Thanksgiving and hopefulness are two states of being that I crave for myself tomorrow.

Since I found them on my Good Friday walk, it seems fitting that I close out this writing with the photos I took while I was listening to Mark. 

May you encounter the spiritual in a way that leaves you with thanks and hope for the road ahead.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Ten, A Poem




they continue




still more




not quite done because at this moment the final number is


Easy counting

if you're a toddler and don't know

that each one is a minute and a lifetime 

all at the same time.

Two hundred and forty hours of birthdays.

14,400 minutes acknowledging a milestone.

864,000 seconds celebrating without him.

And some of that, 


I spent sleeping.

Please let me wake up and have it be over or maybe let it last forever 

in pregnant expectation of what could be

Each one

Empty and full.

The glass is both.

It's a steady stare at all that's firmly in the past, but also a bright red arrow pointing to what is still in my


Joy and pain living together 

like opposites that attract

and refuse to be pulled apart.

Never completely one thing or another

Always some mix of what's gone and what remains

A decade of birthdays with me

and not him.

Written by Anne Luck-Deak, 3/8/2021

Today, my 43rd birthday, was a good day. I didn't work, spent some time with one of my best girlfriends, and ate so many foods I love. Domani and I took some old gift cards and went shopping at Target, we walked on the towpath at sunset, and then grabbed our favorites from Tortugas Mexican Village for dinner. My order was undoubtedly the same one I got 10 years ago today when Joe and I brought 6-month old Domani there to celebrate my birthday.