Saturday, December 10, 2011

Every ornament has a story

It all started in Hatteras. If I close my eyes I can still see the light from the Hatteras Lighthouse blinking in the distance the night Mike kissed me on the beach. I was wearing a gray sweatshirt. We were drinking wine. I still have the cork.

A few months later, we took our first trip to Savannah. We would go back many times over the years, even got engaged there. We bought this ornament of the famous Waving Girl the day after he put his mother's diamond ring on my finger. That night at dinner, Mike kept fidgeting with his shoe. He had put the ring in his sock. Don't ask. That was just Mike. He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I couldn't finish my lobster bisque.

We would go back to the Outer Banks to get married. Hurricane Alex (or was it Isabelle?) had done some major damage to Hatteras the year before, so we got married in Duck. We bought this sand dollar ornament the day after we stood barefoot in the sand and said "I do." We had just climbed the Currituck Lighthouse. We felt like we were on top of the world.

We honeymooned in St. Thomas. We snorkled for the first time. I loved it! Mike, not so much. He couldn't see all the fish without his glasses, but he indulged me. He also tolerated the Jimmy Buffett that played everytime we went out on the boat. Once, while the boat was docked offshore, we jumped off and swam to the beach. I don't ever do anything like that! I remember lying there in the sand, without even a towel, and thinking if I died now, I would die happy. I didn't think anything better could ever happen to me.

April and October meant horse races at Keeneland. Sometimes we went alone. Sometimes we went with friends. Mike had an elaborate system for betting. He liked to pick jockeys. I bet based on horse names. Our wins were about equal.

We spent a long weekend in the other Charleston. We fell in love with it and wanted to make it our home. We tried. But it didn't quite work out, work wise, so we had to move on.

For Mike's 50th birthday, we went on a cruise. Right after I booked the trip, I left AAA and stopped at Publix for a pregnancy test. It was positive. I was about four months along by the time the cruise rolled around. Mike thought it would just be the two of us (actually, the three of us) but once we boarded, he was surprised to find his sisters and brothers-in-law on the ship.

Five months later, Julia was born. She was only two months at her first Christmas. Her gift was Goodnight Moon. I still read it to her.

When Julia was nine months old, we flew into Washington DC, the closest airport to Canaan, where our good friends Marina and John were getting married. It was our first trip away from the baby. Our luggage got lost somewhere. So instead of driving three hours into the mountains and then having to come back, we decided to spend the night in DC. We checked into a hotel, closed the blackout curtains and napped for hours. It was bliss. Mike bought this ornament when he went to pick up our bags.

This is why Christmas is so hard.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The stockings were hung...

I wasn't going to hang Mike's stocking this year. I felt like it would seem weird. And that it would invite pity.

Julia noticed the two stockings.

Why are there just two?

Well, I was thinking we wouldn't hang up dada's stocking this year. What do you think?

I think we should hang it up. He's still a part of our family.

You're right, baby, he is.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankful vs. unthankful

I really want to feel thankful this time of year. I have so much. A beautiful daughter. A new home, a townhouse that requires NO lawn maintenance. A mother who lives close by and is a tremendous help. Health. A job I love. Working on a new degree. My sisters-in-law and extended family. Good friends. Food. Clothing. Wine...

But man do the holidays make that hole in my heart even bigger. Mike's absence is so much more pronounced around Thanksgiving and Christmas. He was the center of our little family, the glue that held us together. The one who made us laugh.

It's hard to push through. It's hard not to pull the covers over my head. It's hard to feel joy. It's hard to make these special days seem more than just another day.

On Thanksgiving morning, I lay in bed trying to remember all of the Thanksgivings I spent with Mike. I wanted to write them down so I wouldn't forget.

In 2002, our first holiday as a couple, I took him home to Moundsville to meet my mother. My great aunt talked his head off the entire time, but he was gracious and kind to her.

In 2003, we made another trip to Moundsville for Thanksgiving. The details are hazy though.

2004 was our first married Thanksgiving, but we lived apart. He in Charleston, WV. Me in Charleston, SC. I flew, alone, on Thanksgiving morning to Pittsburgh where he picked me up at the airport and took me to my mom's for dinner. I remember he had to leave that afternoon to cover the WVU-Pitt Backyard Brawl.

In 2005, we were in Florida. And I had to work Thanksgiving night. It was our first holiday away from family. I was determined to make an entire dinner from scratch, all before I went to work. I got up at the crack of dawn and slaved over a hot stove all day. I don't even think the food was that good and I was exhausted by the time I got to work. I do remember I managed to get Mike to peel the potatoes. He wasn't the handiest in the kitchen.

The next Thanksgiving we had Julia. She was only five weeks old and I had this insane notion that now that I was a mother I needed to prepare an elaborate, multi-course meal from scratch, served on a Martha-Stewart-like table. I thought Mike could take care of the baby while I was cooking. I emerged from the kitchen to find her in her car seat facing the dining room wall while Mike sat in the living room watching football. A huge fight erupted. I blame the hormones and lack of sleep.

2007, the last Thanksgiving before cancer. We took a walk with Julia in the stroller that morning. And had dinner with my mom that evening. We ate during Julia's nap so we could have a peaceful meal. It was rather uneventful. Perfect, really.

By 2008, Mike had undergone several rounds of chemo. He was bald. He was nauseous and couldn't eat much. But we had just come back from seeing Dr. Greco in Tennessee and had some hope that things were going to get better.

2009. Our last Thanksgiving. Mike had a good year. We celebrated the holiday with friends at our house. I said grace. I thanked God for health.

When I write them down like that, I feel thankful that I had all those years with Mike. And I feel thankful for the friends who took Julia and me in the last two years, so that our hearts wouldn't be so empty.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

On death and dying

I've been thinking a lot about death lately. And a lot about what ifs. When someone you love is dying of cancer, there's a lot of second guessing.

A woman we used to work with left her job recently because doctors told her there was nothing more they could do for her cancer. She was out of options and she wanted to spend her remaining time with her family. I didn't know her all that well, but she and Mike used to talk, commiserate about chemo and the like.

But it got me thinking. If we (or was it me?) hadn't pushed for that last chemo, maybe Mike would have had a few more months to spend with his family, to enjoy his little girl, to write a letter for her, to say goodbyes.

It would have been nice. But in reality, I don't know what I would have done if we (he) had ever stopped fighting. I don't know what I would have done if it came to a point where he had stopped treatment and came home to die. The only way for we (or was it me?) to continue to breathe in and out was to keep pushing forward. I think he felt the same way. There was a little girl. He had to do everything in his power, take every last chance, cling to whatever hope, to try to be there for her.

There's a country song about a wife who is diagnosed with cancer. The husband tells her: When you're weak, I'll be strong/When you let go, I'll hold on/When you need to cry, I swear that I'll be there to dry your eyes.

I can't bear to listen to it, because it makes me feel like I was never the strong to Mike's weak. He was never weak. And I wonder now, was it because he knew I couldn't handle it? He couldn't cry because he knew I would break. He had to keep going, for my sake. Maybe he, like the woman at work, wanted to stop and wanted to come home. And maybe I pushed him.

So strong was my desire for our lives to be normal and to avoid the horror that we didn't even talk about the possibility of death. Mike had Stage 4 cancer and there was never once a conversation about where the important financial papers were located or what specifically he wanted in terms of a funeral. Denial? Maybe. But at the time, I just always felt like we were operating under the promise of hope and to talk about death would be like giving up.

Did we do the right thing? I don't know. I hate what ifs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My baby is FIVE!

I can't believe my baby girl is five years old. I just can't believe it. I wrote about it here. So I thought for this blog I would just share some pictures of this past year. When I look at them all together here, her beauty just takes my breath away. I know it would Mike's too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I hate the word "widow," but now that I am one, I'm having irrational thoughts. Most of them angry. Maybe I'm entited, maybe not.

For example, as irrational as this may sound, it really pisses me off when people say things like "Mike's death really makes me realize how short life is and how I need to live every day to the fullest." I know people mean well. But you know what I think? I think, good, good for you, you go have a wonderful life, hug your husband tight, live happily ever after, yay for you. Meanwhile, Julia and I will just go to bed alone tonight with huge holes in our hearts. You, go, live it up. Glad Mike's death was good for something.

I've become an unkind person. But it's just how I feel.

And when I read recently about another young widow who was taken to the ER because she was catatonic, found completely unresponsive outside a coffee shop, instead of feeling sympathetic, I felt jealous. I told you -- irrational. This woman has two young children. I have one. How did she get the luxury of being catatonic? I sure wouldn't mind being completely unable to respond to the world around me for a little bit. To not have to think or do or speak. Just for a while. But I can't. I have to keep going and taking care of my daughter. Maybe I don't really want to be catatonic. But I wouldn't mind a whole day in bed. Alone. I haven't been able to do that in the 16 months since Mike died.

And more irrational thinking -- my goodness, did I not love Mike enough? I didn't love him enough that losing him left me catatonic at a Starbucks. This other woman loved her husband so much that losing him made her break with reality. Am I doing this wrong?

I hope Mike understands. I have to keep going. Keep moving. Keep taking care of our daughter and attempt to take care of myself.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I haven't been able to listen to "Levon" since Mike died. One note takes me back to the darkest hours I've ever known and hope I will ever know.

After the dust settled with the doctors and after the decision was made not to put Mike on life support, I had a chance to sit alone with him in the ICU. I was dressed in a yellow gown with gloves and a mask. He was asleep, or more likely nearly comatose, in the bed beside me. I held his hand. I listened to his labored breathing. I was watching him die.

I thought he would appreciate some music. Mike loved good music. We had made a playlist of songs not too long before. His favorite was Elton John's "Levon." I can still see him singing and drumming on the steering wheel. I turned on my iPod and the room filled with music.

Mike turned his head and opened his eyes. It would be the last time. Several hours later, he died.

Any time I would hear it on the radio, I would have to immediately change the channel. It made me feel like I was sitting in that room.

Fast forward 15 months.

It is a beautiful day, almost fall. Sunny, breezy, 72 degrees. Julia and I go to the park. We played on the playground. We sat by the pond and watched the ducks. We put a blanket in the grass under a tree and read five "Curious George" books. It was a perfect afternoon. I snapped the picture at the top so I would remember it.

But soon it was time to go home. Mine and Julia's lovely day had come to an end. We put the blanket in the trunk and got in the car.

I turned the key and the music started playing. It was "Levon."

But this time I didn't have the instinct to change the station. A feeling washed over me. This sounds nuts, but it was like a message from Mike. That he is watching over us. That he was with us. That he was part of our perfect afternoon. Even if it was just by playing his favorite song.

I turned it up and sang at the top of my lungs.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


You would think that after one year, three months and one day, I would start finding my own groove, learn how to handle things on my own. But I'm not. I'm overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with worry. Overwhelmed with stress. Overwhelmed with life.

Julia's left eye is doing a weird thing. I'm petrified she has a brain tumor.

I made a couple mistakes at work. I'm terrified I'm going to lose my job.

I went back to school. I'm fretting I've taken on too much.

Julia cries some days about having to go to school. I ache for her.

I started to like someone. I am incapable of moving forward.

I feel so alone. I feel overwhelmed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Talking about Mike

I was talking with a friend at a party recently. We were talking about Mike. She grew up with him and we were just standing there, sharing a few stories. Nothing I can specifically remember. Just Mike.

And it was so nice.

My friend lost her daughter to cancer several years ago. She told me she wanted to talk to me about Mike because she knew that other people were afraid to bring him up. It's true. I guess it happens after someone dies. They fear saying his name in front of me will send me into a sobbing, snotty heap on the floor.

It won't. I love talking about Mike. It makes me feel close to him. It brings him into the present. And I want nothing more than for Mike to be in my present.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My year of magical thinking

I just re-read Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking" and realized I've had some of my own "magical" thoughts this year. Didion writes about how she can't give away her dead husband's clothes because he'll need them when he comes back. She can't move because her husband won't know where to find her when he comes back.

I haven't really indulged in thoughts of Mike coming back, but I was overcome by a strange feeling at a restaurant recently. I was having dinner at a place on the beach where Mike and I once ate. Then, it was a cold winter day in Florida. It was raining and we had just gone out for a drive along the coast. Julia was just over a year old. We stopped for a bite to eat. I remember running through the parking lot because it was so cold. We hurried inside and got a table and ended up eating the best lobster bisque. The inside of the restaurant was kind of dark with kitschy beach stuff on the walls. It was warm though. I didn't want to leave.

The other day, I was with someone else. Julia was there. We sat outside on a deck, shielded from the hot Florida sun. I could see the door that led to the inside. It was kind of dark with kitschy beach stuff on the walls. I couldn't stop staring every time it opened. If I walked through, out of the sun, would my old life be waiting for me? Would Mike and Julia be sitting at the table waiting for me, as if I had just gotten up to go to the bathroom? If we went out the front door would it be cold and rainy? Would we have to hurry to the car?

I could see it so vividly. The door was pulling me in. I wanted to go and see. But I knew I would just be disappointed. I had to stay focused. My old life was not on the other side of that door. No matter how bad I wanted. No matter how much magical thinking I did.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

One year ago

Dear Michael,

It’s been 365 days since you died. Three hundred sixty-five days since I saw your face. Three hundred sixty-five days since I sat next to you, holding your hand, listening as the time between your breaths got longer and longer. Three hundred sixty-five days since I leaned in and told you I loved you, promised you I would take good care of our baby girl and that it was OK for you to let go; you didn’t have to fight anymore.

I wish I could tell you in all those days that things have gotten easier, but I still miss you all the time. I miss you when I see something funny and want to tell you about it. I miss you when I walk into a dark, empty house. I liked it when you would wait up for me at night. I miss you on holidays. They have been so hollow, sort of pathetic, really. I miss you when Julia is wearing me out and I feel like a bad parent and I have no one to tell me that it’s going to be OK, that I’m doing the right thing. Or if I’m doing the wrong thing, no one is here to tell me what’s right. I miss you when my friends complain about their relationships, because even though I liked to bitch about you never once turning on our dishwasher, you really were a good husband. You loved and honored me as your wife, and as the mother of your child, and you never once spoke disrespectfully to me, even though I’m sure I deserved it on more than one occasion.

And speaking of my annoyance with your lack of household help, I see now what contributions you made to our family. So I miss you when I’m pushing the lawnmower up the damn hill and taking the car in to get the oil changed and paying the bills.

Sometimes I’ll come across something, like your handwriting or a photo, and it will literally take my breath away. I got my West Virginia license plate and on one side is the number 5, the other side, 30. Your birthday: 5/30. I like it. Feels like you’re with me. Other times, I feel a physical emptiness, a hole in my chest. I feel incomplete.

But when I think about you, I think about how you were full of life. You loved life. You were larger than life.

I envision you sitting at the Anchor, everyone gathered around, cracking up at whatever you were saying. And I felt so happy being the girl sitting next to you. The girl who got to go home with you.

And I know that you would want me to live life. To teach our girl to live life. To love life. To get on with life.

It scares me a little bit, because to let go of the pain would, in a way, be like letting go of you. But I will never let go of you. I’m working on separating the two. I’m trying to push those memories of you so sick, struggling to breathe, out of my mind. But oh, do they haunt me…

I want to remember the you who still ate the key lime pie I baked for you, even after I dropped it on the floor, because you didn’t want me to cry. The you who took me out for a drive in your car with the top down on a Sunday afternoon. The you who saved the cork from that bottle of wine we were drinking the first night we kissed. I still have it, by the way.

I want to remember you kissing Julia’s belly while she squealed with delight. And watching Eagles games with her. And pushing her around the neighborhood in the stroller.

Oh, if you could see our girl now. You were always so eager to watch her grow and learn and discover new things, while I was the one who wanted her to stay a cute, cuddly baby. You would be beaming right now. She just finished her first year of preschool. She spent weeks watching caterpillars turn into butterflies. She can put together 100-piece jigsaw puzzles by herself. She’s finally starting to pedal on her bike and can successfully blow a bubble. And on this very day, she’s taking her first tennis lesson. I have to admit, it is pretty cool.

She’s not into dolls or really girly things. She still likes books. She sneaks them into her bed at night. It reminds me of how you told me you used to go to bed with a radio to listen to Phillies games. She still eats blueberry Eggos and vanilla yogurt every single day for breakfast and still can’t drink through a straw.

She can still test my patience, wear me out and get on my last nerve. The whining and yelling. Oh God, the whining and yelling. But we’re working on it. I’m trying to teach her to be a proper young lady. She’s so smart. And funny. And beautiful. But you already know that.

Thank you for giving her to me.

I feel like I haven’t been the best mother to her this past year. I’ve been distant, in a fog. But I want to snap out of it, and I know you would want me to snap out of it. You would want me to live. So I’m going to try. And I hope you’ll watch over us and maybe point us in the right direction. We’ll try not to disappoint. And I hope you know that you’re always with us. Always.

Love, C

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An honor for Mike

We went to Florida last week for a tennis tournament. As a sportswriter, one of Mike's duties every year was to cover the MIMA Foundation USTA Pro Tennis Classic. It was one of the things he liked about his job. It seems he made an impact on them as well. They named one of the competitions after him: the "Mike Cherry High School Skills Challenge."

Lisa, Madison, Julia and I attended the award ceremony. It was very nice. Such an honor. But also a little more emotional than any of us expected. As we get close to the one-year anniversary of his death, I'm starting to worry that I haven't really grieved. At least not properly. And I'm scared it's going to catch up to me.

For one, I don't have time to stay in bed and cry. I have a 4-year-old who needs to be fed, dressed and tended to. I have to do some work keep a roof over our heads. I have to clean and do laundry and yardwork. But also, I try to avoid situations that will really let me feel the pain. I haven't had more than a couple glasses of wine at one sitting in a year because I'm afraid of totally losing it and being one of those sobbing, hysterical drunks.

What I've just been doing this past year is moving. Moving. Moving. Moving. I don't sit still. It's all about constant distractions. This doesn't mean I don't think about Mike every second. And sometimes, something will stop me in my tracks and bring me to my knees. Like a few months ago, I came across his glasses and I was just standing there holding them in my hand. I started picturing them on his face and then I realized I couldn't remember which of his eyes was the lazy eye. He had one pupil that was a little lower than the other. It was barely noticeable. But I noticed. And now I can't picture it. And that was more than I could bear. Am I starting to forget?

Friday, April 1, 2011


I took Julia to the dentist for the first time this week. Despite all the talking we did about it and the book we read, it was a disaster. She screamed, kicked, thrashed and ran away. She wouldn't let the hygenist clean her teeth and barely let the dentist even look at them. Total nightmare.

We got in the car to go home. It was gray, rainy and cold. I started sobbing uncontrollably. I was mad. Not just at Julia for her behavior. But mad at Mike. Furious, really. Furious that he died and left me here all alone to deal with this crap.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I've only had two or three dreams about Mike since he died. I didn't dream about him at all for the first five months or so, which really upset me. I read some other young widows' blogs, and several of them have written about how they have these great dreams about their husbands, almost like they were there. A visit, of sorts.

I've been waiting for my turn.

In all of my dreams, Mike has been sick. In the one last night, we were in an airport. He wasn't obvioulsy sick, but I knew that he was. He was carrying Julia and walking in front of me, so I couldn't see his face. I woke up with such longing for him and such an emptiness. A punch in the gut. I couldn't shake it all day.

In a previous dream, around the time I sold our house, I dreamed that Julia and I were getting ready to move. But Mike wasn't coming with us. And I was upset, worrying about who would take care of him. But he wanted us to go. That much I knew.

It will be three years next month since cancer came into our world. Have I forgotten the happy, healthy Mike? Do I not remember what it was like when we were just normal people in love with each other and our baby girl? I would give anything to dream about him, before cancer. To see his face and hear his voice.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nine months

I miss how he used to call me and Julia his "girls."

I miss that hint of Jersey in his voice when he said my name.

I miss the mornings when Julia and I would pounce on him to wake him up.

I miss hearing him crawl into bed after Friday night football.

I miss shopping for polo shirts without any sort of logo because he hated logos.

I miss kissing his temple.

I miss sitting next to him on the couch.

I just freaking miss him.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stupid cupid

I don't know if it's all the Valentine commercials or what, but I've been in such a funk lately missing Mike. One in particular says Valentine's Day isn't for saying "I love you," it's for taking the time to say "I love us." And I really did love us. Mike and me. Me and Mike. We were funny and sweet. We laughed. A lot. We traveled. We laid in the sand. We danced in the living room. We ate good food. We made a beautiful baby.

It's easy to forget "us" after having a whole other person to take care of. And then cancer. But I've been remembering lately. And knowing there's no more us is like a physical hole in my body. I don't even know who "me" is without "us" anymore. I don't even want to know. So far, she's not nice. She's not fun. And she certainly doesn't dance around the living room.

But I'm working on it. And looking at this cute face certainly helps.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A new year

Wow. 2011. A new year. A new house. And Julia's getting to experience something new: snow!

Our holidays were a bit all over the place -- we had our closing on Dec. 21, visited family in Naples, camped out at my mom's house for a week and then made our way north. I'm grateful for the chaos on this first Christmas without Mike. I didn't have much time to dwell. Or get sucked into the sadness.

So far this year, I've been busy trying to get us settled into our house. We're seeing old friends, sitting in front of our giant picture window watching the snow fall and playing lots of board games. And of course, we're taking many trips to Target for shopping and soft pretzels.

The other day, though, I couldn't shake the feeling that our house didn't feel quite like a home yet. I went to Pier 1 and bought some stuff for the wall. Still not right. Then it hit me. The reason it doesn't feel like a home is because part of us is missing. Mike is not here. It's going to take some getting used to.

Here are some pics of what we've done so far:

The living room:

The dining room:

The kitchen:

Julia's room:

Back half of the downstairs family room, also known as my work area and Julia's play area:

Built-in bookshelves in the front half of the downstairs family room (new furniture including a lovely red couch will arrive Thursday...):

Downstairs fireplace:

And yes, we have a pink bathroom. It's growing on me:

So, we still have some work to do. But we're liking it so far.
Happy New Year!