Friday, June 7, 2013

Three years ago

Dear Michael,

  I can't believe three years have passed since you died. I still think of you every single moment of every single day. It's as if you are physically a part of me. You are my in my thoughts, in my breath, in my entire existence. Especially in my heart.

  So much has changed in the past year. In the past few months actually. I'm getting married. And Julia and I moved to South Carolina. It's a good thing for us. It took a while, but I am able to feel happiness again. And I am. Happy, that is. And so is Julia.

  I promise you that Andrew will take good care of our girl and love her as much as you do. She's better off with a father figure around. To be honest, I haven't been stellar as a single mom. I've lived in a constant state of being overwhelmed. I was working, going to school and at one point even doing an internship. All while trying to raise our daughter. It was so hard doing it alone.

  Despite my flaws, Julia is an amazing little girl. She just finished kindergarten. She is reading chapter books. She tells jokes. She laughs hysterically. She is eager to learn. But in many ways, she is still the same little girl you knew. She still likes her routines. She still eats the same food. She still won't try new things. She still takes Ella everywhere she goes.

  I try to tell her things about you. I told her about your white eyebrow a while ago. She thought it was funny. I'm doing my best to keep your memory alive for her. It breaks my heart that she won't know you.

  It's somewhat bittersweet, getting ready to start this new chapter of our lives. But I know in my heart you would want me to be happy. Because that's who you were. That's the kind of person you were.

  I feel so blessed to have been your wife. You taught me so much about how to love and be loved. Thank you for that. For everything.

  I miss you.

  I love you.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Ashes at sea

We threw flowers into the water and had a Bailey's toast.

Last month, a group of us boarded a boat in the Outer Banks and headed out to sea. We were there to scatter Mike's ashes. To honor his wishes.

I wrote about my experience with Julia on the Daily Mail Mommyhood blog. You can read it here.

These are the words I spoke that night ....

I know the exact moment I laid eyes on Mike Cherry for the first time. It was May of 2000 and I had just started as an intern at the Daily Mail. Mike drove by the newspaper in his brand-new Honda S2000. Another reporter told me: That's Mike Cherry. He covers WVU for us. He just bought that car, but he lives in an apartment without a stove.

Two years later, Mike would give me the keys to that car, so I could drive here to the Outer Banks. The first night I got here we stayed up late, sitting on the beach, talking, and he finally kissed me. And that was pretty much it for us. This is the place where our story began.

Over the years, we would come back here many times. We got married here. We brought our baby here for her first vacation.

So it seems fitting that our story will end here.

And while it didn't have the happy ending we wanted, our story had so much happy. So much happy.

Today, I am feeling grateful to Mike for giving me all of you, for giving me sisters, for making me an aunt, and for giving me the most precious gift of all, Julia.

I am grateful for all the moments in between.

The evening had been overcast, but the sun came out just as we were scattering the ashes.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Two years ago

Dear Michael,

  I can’t believe it’s been two years that I’ve been without you. Sometimes it feels like it just happened. Sometimes it feels like it was a lifetime ago.

  I won’t lie. It’s been a rough year. Maybe even harder than the first. I was still very numb then. This second year, the reality set in that you are gone. You are never coming back. I will never see your face or hear your voice again. What if I live to 85? That’s 50 years without you. That thought is like a cold, dark winter in my heart.

  I spent the first half of this past year bitter and angry. Pissed off. Robbed of my happily ever after. I was mad at the constant feeling of being overwhelmed by life. I was resentful of happy families. I pushed people away. I was distant to everyone.

  You wouldn’t have liked me.

  I didn’t like me.

  So I did some things to change. I got a job. I went back to school. A whole new profession that I love. You always talked about the importance of loving what you do. I moved us out of the big house that required so much work and into a townhouse where I don’t have to worry about anything. I enrolled Julia in preschool.

  A calm started to set in. I finally felt some purpose, some normalcy again. I am finally starting to get it together.

  And I opened up my heart and let someone else in. I struggled at first with how I could possibly have feelings for another man when I love you so much, and when my heart is still aching. But my heart has room, you know. And I know you would want this for me. He’s good to me. And he’s good to our girl.

  I still miss you every single moment of every day.

  I cling to things that are tied to you. I have an old skirt. The orange one with ovals. I don’t really wear it much anymore, but you loved that skirt. I can never get rid of it. On cold days, I wrap myself in your Sports Illustrated sweatshirt. Julia and I watch The Stooges. I can’t bring myself to toss Julia’s bathing suit from two summers ago, green with white polka dots, because you knew her in that bathing suit. You saw her wear it. I can’t throw it away.

  You should see her now. You would be so enamored by her, I just know. She’s going to start kindergarten in the fall. Kindergarten! Can you believe it? She is a bit of a goofball, kind of like you. She likes to wear a cape and dig for worms in the yard. She tells jokes that make no sense. She dances like Elaine from Seinfeld. She’s quite the character. Quirky. Unique. A joy.

  She’s so smart, Michael. It’s scary. But really, did we expect any different? I got some books to help her learn to read before kindergarten and she sat down, opened the book and read them. Just like that. Her teacher says she really likes science. She likes to investigate and explore and get her hands dirty. I’m hoping this means she won’t be a journalist.

  I haven’t been the best mom to her. But I’m getting better. We’ve gotten into a nice groove and have a good little relationship going. She’s scared something will happen to me.

  I needed you this year when her preschool teacher thought there might be something wrong with her. She wasn’t very social in school and had some odd behaviors. I had to get reassurance from the doctor and a grief counselor because you weren’t here to tell me everything was ok. It’s just her personality. She’s fine. I can almost hear you saying it.

  I’m afraid she doesn’t remember much about you. I keep talking, hoping she’ll know you through me. I told her about you getting the snake out of our house and how you rode your bike across the country and how you had a funny tennis serve.

  In a week or so, we’re going to be scattering your ashes in the ocean along the Outer Banks. It was such a happy place for us and I know you’ll be at peace there. But I still like to think of you watching over us, looking down at us, smiling, shaking your head perhaps. I wish you would come to me in my dreams though. I would do anything to see your face and hear your voice. One more time

Love, C

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.