Living The Christmas Shoes Song

Let me start with a funny anecdote about Shannon…So the song, Christmas Shoes…It’s the worst. Can we just all agree on that? Let me post a link to a comedy routine by Patton Oswalt (who I loved as a comedian before, and feel even more of a kinship with as he became a widow in the last year as well and took on the “Superdad” role to his child) about that damn song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq10bz3PxyY (Warning, pretty sure it is not edited, so Explicit Language and NSFW). But yeah, Shannon hated it too. I mean, yeah, it’s a sad song and you want to turn it off because of that at Christmas time, but even more it’s just SO damn cheesy. So Shannon would warble along with it when it came on the radio, and it always got a laugh out of us.

And then we had to live the damn thing.

Losing a spouse, a parent, a child is hard enough. Losing them around a holiday is especially hard. I can’t really think of a tougher holiday to lose someone at than Christmas though. Maybe losing someone right before their birthday, as then each birthday is marred by also recalling their final hours. But really, Christmas seems to be the toughest holiday to get through without someone.  Lots of family get-togethers, lots of missed memories, lots of love and happiness, which is twisted into sadness of watching other families get to spend the holiday complete, while our family is not.  And probably toughest of all, we have to do so with two kids at such a young age that this is still the prime of the age of “Christmas Magic”, where this is supposed to be such an exciting and joyous time of year, but there is always that pall that hangs above our heads, reliving the final days of Shannon’s life in the midst of Christmas celebrations.

Last year at Christmastime, maybe I was more caught up in the motions of handling the first Christmas by myself, but I didn’t reflect much on the build up to Christmas and translate it back to our lives a year before.  I spent a lot of time trying to re-create traditions for the kids, trying to make sure to get in as much family time as I could, trying to inundate my kids with love and activities to try to distance them from the emotions of thinking back to what happened a year ago.  But this year, I seem to be caught up a bit on thinking about the series of events that marred the end of our 2014 year.  About Christmas Eve spent not preparing last minute gifts and getting the kids into the spirit, but instead rushing to a hospital and passing the kids off to family to be watched.  About Christmas morning, keeping Shannon’s gift and stocking intact, and recording a video of the kids wishing her a Merry Christmas and We’ll See You Soon!, thinking still that she would be back with us any day now.  Then of missed memories in the days after Christmas, when the kids’ excitement over new toys and gifts were tempered by arranging hospital stays and them going again to other family members.  Probably the one that haunts me the most, beside the Christmas morning video which I think I still have somewhere, is that they never saw Shannon again…I didn’t bring them to the hospital while she was in a coma, to avoid that image, and when she passed they were hours away with family, and so I made the decision to not have them see her body hours after she had passed.

At the time, those decisions felt right.  Even now, I can see the benefits of why I chose to do that.  But, the truth/fact still stands…my children never got a goodbye moment with their mother.  No, they wouldn’t have gotten a true interaction, but they never got the closure of seeing her one final time.  I have to tell you, I have nightmares that when the kids get to their teenage years, they’re going to hate me over that.  They’re going to resent the decision I made.  They’re going to say things to me out of anger and pain that are probably going to be tough for me to hear and not react (Got my first dose of that from a 5 year old, mad that I told her that she couldn’t be part of the birthday party from the last blog post, when she said I was “not a good Dad”…and before people react to that…she’s 5, I get it, I brushed it off…but it still SUCKED to hear that, and took a lot of careful thinking before I could respond without myself resorting to a 5 year old level).  Maybe I’m overthinking it, but it really does worry me.

So, getting back to Christmas Shoes…so, we lived it, in a way.  We had Mommy, in her final moments, on Christmas Eve, away from the family, and struggling with what to do.  Did we expect that we would lose her?  No.  Was Noah asking to go out and buy some shoes for Shannon to wear?  No, because that would just be pointless and cheesy and (Nevermind, going to stop the rant there).  But all the same, my kids had to go through that Christmas without knowing what would happen.  They had hope, but I know they had fear as well.  And then the pain of losing her just days after the magical time of year for a kid.  The remarkable thing to me is that, last year and this year, they are still feeling the magic of this time of year.  They aren’t marred in grief and anxiety, they aren’t dreading the times ahead.  They are celebrating family and memories and love.  Now, I try my best to continue traditions and continue to include Shannon as part of our holiday traditions.  2 years in a row now, I’ve still put out her stocking.  And on Christmas Eve, it will be filled with socks, candy, games, and fun stuff she loved to share with the kids.  That will continue to be her little gift back to them.

So, maybe my hope is that, while they do still honor her memories and hold their love for her in their hearts, that my kids aren’t going through the same sadness I get at this time of year, because instead of thinking about the particular day, and instead of looking at Timehop or Facebook On This Day and realizing what I was doing in the days before everything hit bottom…maybe they are just living her spirit in the here and the now.  And maybe Christmas night isn’t a reflection on where they were before, but where they are going in the future.  That would be a great thing to hold onto at Christmas, a great way to honor Shannon and live her spirit, without marking specific days with sadness and grief.  And maybe it’s a lesson I can try to live a bit better each year, to focus more on where we are going, and less on how we got there.

 

Speaking of socks…I want to float something here…at least the idea of something, and see if anyone feels like it’d be a great way to keep Shannon’s memory and energy alive.  So, among the more dreadful and sucky parts of widowhood is cleaning up.  No, I don’t mean keeping the house clean (that gets to be it’s own animal with two kids who complain every one time a month I ask them to clean up their own rooms).  I mean pairing down the stuff for two into just your stuff.  So, one thing I put off doing anything about was Shannon’s socks.  I’m not kidding when I tell you, she had enough socks to fill a large Rubbermaid bin.  That girl LOVED fun socks.  Christmas, Halloween, fuzzy, toed, Moose…whatever.  She went sock crazy.  So, when I was going through that large bin of socks, my first goal was to make pairs.  But as I did that, I started sorting two piles…plain socks and special socks.  I ended up with probably about 30-40 pairs of socks that I don’t just want to get rid of.  And while I did repurpose a few to the kids, their feet aren’t anywhere close to big enough to fit them.  So, let me just leave you with a question for now…would it be weird or kind’ve grody to pass along second hand socks to someone?  Thoughts?  Obviously, they have been washed (I’m not a savage).

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Living The Christmas Shoes Song

When It Rains, Then Pours…

So the last week has not been the best in our house, to say the least.

Let’s start with the more cut and dry issue (and why you will find it ironic that I say that). Our main (read, “only”) vehicle that gets us around is a 2009 Dodge Caravan. Shannon picked it out new, and after awhile, it became my primary vehicle while she was resting at home during treatments and such. I have a Sonata, but I have SUCKED at taking care of it, and as such it would be better just to donate it at this point. It isn’t running and I don’t really trust it even if I could get it back to running. So, last Monday going home to get the kids, my brakes suddenly started engaging while driving. I wasn’t touching the brakes, but the car would jerk like it was trying to slow down or stop. After about 30 seconds of this, I was able to drive and the ABS light came on. Did this both on the way to get the kids, and on the way home with them. I may not know a lot about cars, but I could tell this was NOT GOOD. So, last Tuesday, on a tow truck it goes, to a local garage to get checked out. Slight wringing of hands on how expensive will this be, or will they be able to figure out what it is. Turns out not very expensive, and easy to figure out what it was. Happy ending, right? WAIT, I forgot to mention one thing: The part needed (A clock spring, of all things to be critical to the steering and braking of my car!) is currently on NATIONAL BACKORDER. And the ETA for it? NONE. They LITERALLY have no idea when Dodge will have the part we need. So, the mechanic told me he’ll check on it week to week and see when it comes in. Week to Week? WE ARE WITHOUT A VEHICLE!!!!!! UGH! Luckily, my Dad has an old Buick LeSabre as a spare, so he’s letting me use that for a while to see if they can figure out where this part is. I’m glad for the assistance, but I hate this. I hate that my car is just sitting in a garage somewhere, easily fixable, but the part is just nowhere to be found. Oh, and let’s not mention THIS IS A SEVEN YEAR OLD VEHICLE!!!! How do they just not have parts for it on the ready? I was told by one of the places I called that they can see THOUSANDS of requests for one of these. That means in order for me to get it, some company has to finally get around to producing SEVERAL THOUSAND OF THESE. And I’m guessing it’s been on Backorder for awhile then.

So, there’s that…and then there was Darcy’s illness/issue in the past week. So Wednesday morning, getting ready for my Dad to drive the LeSabre up to me, so I can drive him home and go into work. And go figure, Darcy is telling me she feels like she has to go to the bathroom, can’t get anything to come out, and can’t go to school. TODAY? OF ALL DAYS? So, I tried to nudge/coax/plead with her to try…not happening. This has been an intermittent/ongoing issue. So, with no idea what else to do, I hold her out and she goes to my parents for the day. No bathroom issues at their house, go figure. And we talk about going back to school and trying and all. So Thursday morning, she goes to the bathroom fine, she eats breakfast and….”I have a tummy ache Daddy”. *sigh* Here we go again. Need to go to the bathroom? No. Need something to eat? Didn’t help. Feel like you’re going to throw up? ….Yeah . Great. And btw, 1 hour after calling her out of school AGAIN, I go up to her room and she is trying on snow pants and going through her closet. But “my belly feels worse. even worse!” Call to the pediatrician, assuming they will just laugh at me, but they decide to see her anyway. Took a sample from her, but said everything seems okay, just sounds like constipation again. Try pushing more water, try giving softener from time to time, try adding fiber to her diet. I’m still wondering if it’s a psychological thing, but she went back to school on Friday with a little nudging (and bribery…I give, I had to do SOMETHING to fix this!), and she’s been fine this week. Still, I sit here wondering how long until the bathroom issue keeps her out again. School says to have pediatrician rule out medical issue first, then we can talk about guidance/behavior options to address it. More than anything, I don’t want to ignore Darcy here. I don’t think she’s doing it to get out of school, she genuinely likes her friends there, but SOMETHING odd is going on. This child ALWAYS needs to use the bathroom within 5 minutes of arriving somewhere (Grocery store, basketball practice…basically anywhere she doesn’t want to be. Gymnastics is fine, going to family member’s house is fine). I know we need to do counseling (I’ll address that more in another blog post), but I’ve been putting it off. I wonder if these issues are the right catalyst to finally get me to say “It’s time”.

So, let’s wrap up this post with the “moral of the story”. This wasn’t a post about my issues that came up this week. They sucked, I’m still dealing with them, but whatever. It’s a thought I had when I was taking my lunchtime walk yesterday. I’ve been through losing my wife, my love. I’ve been through telling my kids they won’t see their Mommy anymore. I’ve been through countless explanations to a little girl that no, Mommy isn’t alive anymore, and what that means, and had to reassure her about her own fear of mortality! A car being down, a child being ill without definition….these things suck, but they are DROPS IN A BUCKET compared to what I’ve had to do. So, for now, I’ll use the loaner car (Thank you again Mom and Dad), and I’ll start calling and setting appointments with counselors in the area. But I’m not going to punch the walls, scream out in anger, or rip the little hair I have left out (Did all of those on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday anyway), because if I had to go through the hell of losing Shannon, there’s only a handful of things that can be as bad or worse, right? When it rains, it pours. But it’s not usually going to drown you.

(I have neglected this blog WAY too much. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now, I’m going to try posting a bit more often. I have a few blog post ideas I’m going to draft out in the next few days, so I can post a couple things leading up to end of the year. Thank you for reading, please keep doing so and I promise I’ll keep sharing the inner swamp of my thoughts about life)

When It Rains, Then Pours…

Decade

10 Years Ago today, I awoke in your house. The house you went out on your own and bought, to take the steps to show you could make it on your own. Not because you didn’t want me to be there with you, but to prove you were strong enough to do it. I awoke, and you weren’t there. My brothers were there, but you weren’t. But I was not worried, I was not scared. I knew where you were. I knew where I was going. I knew were WE were going.

The day was gray (I’m not intending to rhyme there, it just really was gray out). We had planned an outdoors wedding, we knew this could happen, we had “a backup plan”. Still, it did not calm our nerves, thinking about all the re-planning we would have to do, getting everything into your parents’ house. I sat downstairs in their basement, knowing you were upstairs…and all while I was a bundle of nerves, the worst part was not being able to see how you were feeling, to see if you were calm and collected, trusting in our plans, or if you were trying to fix it all, and wishing I could be there to help.

Just before our decided time…the clouds broke. The light rain stopped, and it all just seemed meant to be. Finally, with our families behind us, we pledged our lives to each other. With all our siblings surrounding us, we affirmed the love we shared. And finally, all the planning, all the dreaming, all the wondering was past. WE had arrived. It was now OUR time.

The rest of the day was a blur. You claimed it was because I had one too many drinks, I still claim to this day I didn’t, that it was because of ALL the nerves and stress we had was finally moving past, and we tried to soak in as much as we could in the time we were there. But after some time had passed, it was done and over. The mess was left for the next day, we were driven home, trying not to pass out from exhaustion. We went to sleep that night, cherishing the rest we got in OUR house. With OUR family anew, ready to begin.

A decade has passed, and how much is changed. That house, long since sold to another. A different house, now well lived in. Many pets have come and gone in between. Two beautiful children growing up way too fast. All new worries and dreams line my thoughts, the ones from a decade ago now long since past.

But obviously, that decade has an asterisk with it…a large cloud that dampers my view on it. Much like 10 years ago, I can not turn to see how you are feeling, if you are calm or running around trying to fix things. I miss this every single day, not being able to bring my gripes, my worries, my problems to you, to hear you figure out the balance to my way of approaching it. Or, just to share in our complaints, in our frustrations. Or just to hear you playfully ridicule, either the situation or even me.

But I can not let that cloud block out all of this decade. Because I have my memories. Because I have our children. Because I still love my family, your family, OUR family. Because I know that, where I am in life, I would not be anywhere without the years we had together. I cherish that time, though short it was. There was so much we missed, so much we didn’t get to, but we lived a great love together, and that can not be erased, can not be blocked out.

A decade has passed, and through it all, through decades to come, I will always love you.

Shannon and Joe
9.16.06

shannonjoewedding

Decade

Vacation, The Next Generation

Last year, my blog basically stalled around a post about our first vacation without Shannon. So, while I am trying to revive myself into more often check-ins, it’s a bit ominous that my 2nd post back…is about vacation again. Just need to make sure I plan something on the other side of vacation to keep this going…

In any case, the Hamilton Family is going on vacation again. To Ocean City again. So, why is this post worthy?

I’m doing it solo.

I planned it this way, but we’re going for 5 days, just me and the kids. This way, I can prove to myself that taking the kids on a long trip by myself CAN be done. I mean, it sounds like a slam dunk, no brainer…I keep the kids all the time by myself, we do plenty of things by ourselves, so this should be a piece of cake…

But then, I start thinking of all the “exceptions” that come up on vacations:

Amusement Park Rides – While I’ve discovered I apparently have two thrill seekers on my hands who might be willing to ride more roller coasters than I can, I also have two kids separated in height by 10 inches. So, there is a class of rides that Noah can do, but Darcy can’t. Our option there is either Noah goes solo, or we don’t go. Also, there’s the Bat House. This is the legendary Haunted House on the OC boardwalk…it’s really not that scary of a ride, but for 2 years now, Darcy has been obsessed with trying to ride this thing…only to freeze up when walking up to the entrance. I anticipate the same dance this year, only that if Noah wants to ride it, again we have the same issue…

Bathrooms – This has become a concern even when not on vacation, but given that we are going to a VERY populated place with lots of crowds…Darcy has gotten to the age where she wants to go in the Women’s bathroom primarily. This obvious presents a pretty big challenge because I have to wait outside and hope that she doesn’t walk out half naked saying “Dad, I need some help…”, also because if Noah has to go to the bathroom, I would have to weigh letting him go to the Men’s bathroom without me within direct proximity. You can see why I like family restrooms more than anything!

The Ocean – The kids love boogie boarding. And they have much improved on their swimming. Still…I am one person, watching two kids trying to ride waves in a wide open ocean. I should be fine on this one, but it definitely means I probably will be playing more lifeguard than boarding with them.

Tantrums – This actually came up last year when we went, but because I was with others, I was able to handle it better/differently. Darcy has a penchant for going nuclear when I won’t give in to her ways. FULL. BLOWN. So, when I’m out with the kids by myself, what are my options? I could ride it out, but then she’s making a scene and I am limiting my options to redirect her attention and calm her. I could give in….but yeah, not going to do that, because that’s just setting up for future problems. So, my last option? Walking out. But, then I create a Noah tantrum when he gets upset about missing something HE wants to do because of Darcy. Also, she has definitely read into this and has even started doing it sometimes when she doesn’t want to do something Noah wants to do. That girl can be a master manipulator, I’m telling you (So can Noah too, but more in that he manipulates Darcy into making a choice or agreeing to something so he can get his way)

I think that’s a pretty good sampling of the things making me nervous for this vacation. That, and my crazy plan to take the kids canoeing/kayaking on the Pocomoke River while we are there…Now that they are at least a bit swimming literate, I want to see how they do on the water in a small boat. But I get a feeling one, or both of them, or ALL of us, is going to end up in the water at least once.

But, this is what I want. I could’ve had people go down with me, I’m sure. I always have offers for help on these things. But if anyone knows me, at least the me from these past 17 months, they know that I’m always looking for the opportunity to prove I can do it on my own. I did this with snowtubing this past year. I knew it would be easier if I had another adult or two with me, but I wanted to show myself that I CAN handle this. That way, a whole new world of possibilities open up. This won’t be the last trip the kids want to take. Shoot, when I ask Noah what he wants to do for a DAY TRIP, he’s throwing out things like “Go to Maine” or “Go to Tennessee” or “Go to Alaska!” (The boy needs some work on geography if thinks ANY of those is a day trip). But, we’ve talked about New York in the past…and I keep talking about going to Carolina, for multiple reasons (Shannon’s grandparents, Erin, spreading Shannon’s ashes at Carolina Beach, NC)…and I want to make sure these kids have the adventures that Shannon always loved taking. I remember when Shannon planned our trip to Maine. Her one criteria: we go somewhere we’ve never been before. She had three places picked out, all of which were brand new territory for us. And at some point, I want to take the road trip she always wanted to take…make sure these kids get to see the rest of the country.

I know I can do it.  I know it will be fine.  I know that, if I get into a situation that might involve too much difficulty, I am going to overplan the stuffing out of it and make it into a non-issue.  But I am still nervous/excited to clear this hurdle, and prove that when I take any of the trips I mentioned above, I will feel like a veteran at solo kids trips.

Baby steps. It all starts with baby steps. And the first one? Going to OC, MD by ourselves.  Wish us luck, say a prayer…the Hamiltons are coming to OC.

Vacation, The Next Generation

Rebooting

So…yeah, I stopped updating this much, didn’t I? I can’t really say why…I could choose to blame it on using the iPad at home more than a PC, but it’s not that hard to fire up a work laptop or the home PC from time to time. I could blame it on life being hectic, which it is, but that hectic? No. I guess I just got worried that I wouldn’t have much to say, and so I let it go. And then there was TOO much to say, and so I neglected further.

So I’m back, and I’ll try to stay back at least once a week or every two weeks. Because there is always something going on. Whether it deals directly with our ongoing grief story or not, there is ALWAYS something. So, with a post promised for early next week on a MAJOR topic, I’ll just do a quick hit list of things we’ve done in 7 months of 2016!

– January: We got hit with a blizzard! Was mildly challenging for me as a single parent, having to shovel TONS of snow while asking the kids to fend for themselves inside, and certainly convinced me in the benefits of a snowblower, but WE SURVIVED

Also, I MUST give a shoutout to Noah for his basketball. I love my kid, but he’s definitely on the heavy side. So when he expressed an interest in playing basketball, I was not so sure about this. But he played, he survived, he had fun, and I was totally wrong about things not going well. He wasn’t the fastest kid on the team, but he kept up and again, HAD LOTS OF FUN! So, there you go, Dad can admit when he was wrong

-February: I usually have to “drag” Darcy to events Noah picks out, but this time SHE got to pick as we went to Disney On Ice (I told Noah he could skip it, but he also wanted to go). That was an experience…luckily we avoided shelling out $100 on snacks and souvenirs, and she enjoyed it, so that’s good!

Also, I went to a movie by myself, Deadpool. Not earth shattering, but that’s the first time I flew solo at a movie since…2002? Yikes. I did okay.

-March: Darcy turned 5, she got a Princess Carriage bed, which she ADORES, a play kitchen which she loves, and a castle playset, which she has just about pulled apart. I took the kids snowtubing solo, and Darcy did the big tubes for the first time. We had a minor hiccup after the first hill, as Noah disappeared on me (!!!!!!) but we found him eventually just waiting in the wrong spot. After a brief freakout, everything else went super smooth, it was great to prove to myself that I CAN do things on my own like that.

In stuff more related to me, I got promoted! I’ve been working hard at getting this bump for 3 years and I finally got there. It was bittersweet not to have Shannon there to celebrate with, but I know she was proud of everything I worked hard for to get there.

-April: Onto Baseball for Noah! Nothing much other wise (I’m using Facebook posts to recount some of these and I really didn’t post much of anything in April).  I did decide to finally get the kids signed up for swim lessons in April…and they have taken to it like a fish in water.  Noah was deemed “safe in the water” by his instructor a few weeks ago, and expects to be able to complete his deep water swimming test next week for the Westminster Pool.  And Darcy is just paddling all over the place with her backpack float on.  I am glad we finally got them comfortable in the water!

-May: Noah turns 8 on me, that’s just CRAZY! My son is old enough to be legally left on his own at the house (No, I haven’t done it, but MD legally recognizes he could stay home while I go to the store, so…he keeps asking about it). I decided to finally rip out the bushes I didn’t like in front of the house and do my first attempt at planting flowers. It is…not going as well as I hoped, but I’m learning! More importantly, I’m starting to trust myself when it comes to making my own decisions on the house.

For Mother’s Day, I continued my tradition of floating a dozen yellow roses down the Monocacy River in Shannon’s memory.  And I continued the tradition of falling into the river while doing so, which I know she enjoyed.  I also hit my 10 year work anniversary.  It is crazy to realize it’s been 10 years here, but…that is just one of the 10 year things I will go through this year, and the other one will be a bit sad.

Darcy graduated from Pre-K…It was a momentous occasion, and I was infinitely proud of what she has accomplished.  I wasn’t as emotional as I was expecting, especially knowing it was the “goal” I was hoping for Shannon to survive to see and she wasn’t able to.  But, I’d like to think her spirit made it’s way into the McDaniel gymnasium for a night to see how much Darcy has grown.

-June: End of the school year for Noah, start of the Summer!  For Father’s Day, I took the kids fishing with our church group and later, we watched a movie on the M&T Bank Stadium field.  While the kids played at the beach with family, I finally got around to building Noah a Nerf Gun storage rack for his wall.  I had promised it for his birthday, and I finally got it done.  Tentatively, I’d like to build some more stuff for the kids, like storage crates or maybe even some stuff for their walls.

-July: Took the kids to a couple amusement parks…We did Adventure Park USA one and a half times (Second time, Darcy went with me while Noah got to see Zac Brown Band in concert with Danya, Joe, and Zach!).  I also took the kids to Hersheypark, where BOTH of them (Yes, BOTH of them) rode an upside down roller coaster for the first time.  Noah also went with me to do Lightning Racer and Wildcat, so it seems like we’ve got a thrill seeker in the making (Heck, Darcy was ready to ride those even though she was too short for them, maybe I’ve got TWO thrill seekers!).

I’ll leave you with one negative post from Hersheypark, which I will then spin into a positive.  So, I’m big.  I know I’ve gotten big.  While riding coasters, my gut definitely posed some challenges on some of the rides, but I rode them.  Near the end of the day, we decided to ride Great Bear, an inverted coaster I’ve been on several times before.  When seating for it, I was unable to get the restraint over me.  Even with TWO attendants trying to shut it, it was no go.  So, we had to ALL get off the ride, and wait for the next train…which had the “Larger Rider” seat.  I fit in that one, but I was already beside myself with shame and embarrassment.  I was so large, I almost couldn’t ride a rollercoaster.  I weigh about the same amount I did in 2011, before Shannon was diagnosed.

So, I said there was a positive, right?  The next day, I got back on Sparkpeople, and I’ve been doing that for 10 days now.  I dropped 5 pounds after my first week, but that is probably not going to hold, so let’s say it was 4 pounds.  My goal is to get down to 220 by next August, when we’re going to Disney.  It’s a conservative goal, so it’s one I know I should be able to hit.  That still leaves me “overweight”, but it was about the weight I was at in December 2011, and I know I felt so much healthier then, so that’s my target for now.  From there, I’ll decide where else I want to go, but I WILL get there.

So…with all that said…life is being lived.  I’ll post again next week, with a post about what’s coming ahead in our lives.  Because we keep moving forward.  For the kids.  For Shannon.  And yes, even for me.

Rebooting

One Year – A Letter to Shannon

Dear Shannon,

 

I can’t believe it has been a whole year since I was able to hold your hand, kiss your lips, hear your voice.  I can’t believe that time has kept moving while the world has lost such a wonderful friend, mother, wife, sister, daughter.  The days have been counting down in my head, but it was as if, it always seemed like such a far away date that maybe it would never come.  But here we are.  Christmas has come and gone, and just like last year, we find ourselves facing a new year without such a big part of our lives.

 

I have relived the events in my head, over and over again.  It is haunting to think about each event.  My last conversation with you, the night before Christmas Eve, about the kids’ gift exchange at Little People’s Place (We chuckled about Noah trading his gifts away to get one of those McDonald’s football toys.  I have that toy in our lockbox now, keeping it safe as something that Noah can cherish, knowing it was the last thing we spoke about).  Sitting in bed with you, trying to get you to respond while Darcy sat playing with your iPad, utterly unrecognizing of the situation unfolding.  Sitting in the hospital with you over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the days after.  Starting out with so much hope that this would be a minor setback, then realizing with each day what inevitably lay ahead.  Standing in the room when your heart beat it’s last, and suddenly realizing what was happening.  Having to walk out to the waiting room to tell your parents and brother the horrible news.  Then having to wait for the kids to come back from the beach, utterly unaware of the fact that was about to shatter their world.  I have spent so many days trying to examine it all, trying to figure out if I did something wrong, if I missed something that could’ve saved you, or maybe bought you more time.  It all ends up in the same realization, that we weren’t able to keep you here with us.

 

I have dreamed of you.  I like to think those times were your spirit checking in on me, but every time I dream of you, I have to explain to you all over again what happened, the tragedy, the sadness, the emptiness.  And every time I wake, my mind is swirling with emotions.  Anger at it all being a dream, confusion over why it keeps happening that way, regret that I was never able to tell you what was happening to you.  There is also regret over the kids not being able to have a proper goodbye to you.  I worry that someday, they will grow to hate me for it.  I didn’t want them coming to the hospital when you were connected to machines, thinking that eventually, you would recover and they would see you then.  And when the end came, I had sent them away to try to get their minds off you in the hospital.

 

I want to tell you about what has happened in the year that you have been gone.  I like to think you already know it, but in case you don’t, this is the story of how we have gotten through this year.  It has been a year of learning, adapting, exploring, and remembering.

 

Darcy is still the same headstrong little firecracker you loved.  She can be so stubborn it drives me crazy at times.  But I see the mischevious, goofy side…The same things I saw in you when we fell in love.  She got it from you surely.  She loves being silly, laughing, pretending.  It drives me crazy sometimes, her not taking some things seriously or thinking I’m joking when I threaten to get rid of the toys she won’t clean up, but I can see that same silliness I saw in you.  She is learning every day.  Her teachers tell me she has been opening up more and more to friends at pre-school.  She tells me that she misses you, and reminds me of things you did with her, like taking her to the Cow to get ice cream, or playing dolls with her.  She spent a lot of time struggling to realize you were gone.  It broke my heart to keep reminding her, but she understands now that she carries a part of you in her heart, forever.

 

Noah is becoming more and more a little man every day.  It just shocks me how much of a grown up he is at times.  He still plays the little kid role from time to time, driving his sister nutty, which drives me nuts in turn.  He loves reading, and though he complains from time to time about being made to read on his own, he loves it when he realizes he can learn all sorts of new things from books.  I can see that while he inherited the shyness genes from both of us, he can be very sociable when speaking about things he likes.  He bugs me EVERY day he’s home to play with Sterling down the street.  He also got involved with a group at his school for changing families, allowing him a chance to explore his feelings.  He continues to love playing sports, persuading me somehow to cart him around to basketball now as a 3rd sport.  He also started baseball in the spring, something we had talked about before you left us, but never had the chance to sign him up for.  He loves being on teams and being among other kids to have fun.  What truly impresses me about him is the dedication I see from him.  He may not always show it (at home, when I ask him to clean up at least), but whenever we volunteer to help with church, or friends, or other family things…he is always ready to help out.  I want him to lead his life the way you did as well.  You were always someone ready to help friends in a moment of need.  I want him to keep that drive alive inside him as well.  I know he misses you too, he always sleeps with his photo blanket of you.  He also takes great care of Boo-Boo Kitty for you.  He may not speak about you a lot, but I know he sends his love often and thinks back on the memories you made with him with fondness.

 

The hardest part of this to write may be describing the year I have had.  Simply because, I’m not sure what kind of year I have had.  Losing you has certainly opened a hole in my life.  It is strange to sit at home at nights in solitude, no one to talk about my day to, no one to share thoughts on news or books, no one to watch our shows with.  This year, watching The Walking Dead without you was so much less.  I could even imagine the way you would react to certain things that happened, the exact words I know you would say (You loved telling the show runners you would punch them in the head if they put Daryl or Glenn in danger).  I guess the best way to put it is I have had to learn to live without half of me here.  I still find time to enjoy things in life.  We went snowtubing finally in February, which was a blast…but at the end of the day, you weren’t here for me to tell you about it.  Taking Noah to his first real Ravens game was exciting, but you weren’t here for me to re-tell all the joy I saw on his face (and also tell you about some of the words he uttered which sparked a whole DIFFERENT conversation from me!).  Finally getting the kids up to Strasburg Railroad to ride the Santa train was an amazing experience, but you weren’t with us, so it felt a bit emptier.  I guess what continues to drive me on is giving the kids the experiences and life that you would want for them.  We have done SO MUCH of things they wanted to do in this year.  Most weekends I think, I really just leave it up to them as to what we should do.  We’ve done snowtubing, Dutch Wonderland, Port Discovery, Smithsonian Museums, Orioles games (7 to be exact this year!), Frederick Pool, Ocean City…and of course lots of the bounce place at the Mall and Players FunZone for Noah!  I was able to take them to the movies (Not Bengies, but the ACTUAL THEATRE.  TWICE no less!).  While I stress to them that there ARE times we need to work on the weekends, with grocery shopping, cleaning, yard work and such…we also make lots of time for them to have fun and explore.

 

You are missed, every single day.  I see that from our kids and myself every day.  I see it from your parents and your brother, as they watch Noah and Darcy growing up and wish you could be hear with them to enjoy the wonderful kids they are and continue to become.  Not just watching your kids, but talking with you about life.  You were always such a great listener.  You would let me complain about work, about things I worried about, about challenges I had with parenting or life, and you would always have something to say that would help me either figure it out or put it in perspective.  I know your Mom and Dad and Zach miss being able to talk with you.  I see it from your friends too.  You should’ve seen us on Dress In Blue Day this year.  Your Facebook wall was FILLED with people in blue, in your memory raising awareness for Colon Cancer.  I check your page weekly now, because so many people leave remembrances in your name.  Your online friends continue to check up on me, and let me know that they send their love and support.  They send gifts to Noah and Darcy too, like this year, each of them got a delivery of Christmas socks.  I know you will appreciate that sentiment, given how much you loved socks!  I know you struggled with depression and self-worth in your lifetime.  But I have seen so much this year how much you were and continue to be loved!  The Celebration of Life we held for you was OVERFLOWING with people from high school, college, work, wedding boards, EFFers (some of who were able to watch online even!).  People whose lives you touched maybe even only briefly came out because of the love they had for you.  They continue to carry your spirit in life every day.

 

I don’t know what the next year holds for us all.  I have worked at adapting to this new lifestyle, one where I am the one making the decisions for the household now.  Some of it came easy, some of it I keep second guessing weeks and months later.  We face some big milestones in the next year, which will certainly make me feel the absence of you more.  Darcy going into Kindergarten, my 10 year anniversary at work, your 35th birthday, OUR 10 year anniversary, one we never will be able to celebrate.  I already can feel the emotions of those big days, seeing our family incomplete, wishing you could’ve seen these days.  I find myself still breaking apart over the things we were robbed of.  I remember you talking about taking a road trip before your cancer got too bad, even starting to plot out points for it.  It is something I may be able to have the kids experience one day, but still something you never got to do!  I hope that your spirit, your energy, will still be able to see these days from somewhere in the universe.  I continue to try to carry on your spirit in the parenting and friendship I give to others.  I hope one day to find some way I can extend that spirit to helping others, whether it be helping the Colon Cancer alliance, or continuing to fight for the same ideals you held dear.

 

Sitting here as I finish typing this letter you will never read, I want to finish with renewed promises I never said aloud to you, but I hope you knew them in your heart.  I will always put our children first.  I will make sure they have the wonderful life you wanted them to have, AND MORE.  I will continue to make sure they know they are loved by your spirit, by me, by ALL THEIR FAMILY, and by all our friends.  They will always know that we have two families.  Your parents, your brother, your aunts, uncles, cousins…they are all as much family to me as my own family is, and they have meant the world to me this past year, as has my own family.  You are on my mind every morning, on my lips with every word I speak to our children, and in my heart for all time.  I miss everything about you, every laugh, every tear, every adventure, every misadventure.  You were, are, and will always be the love of my life.

 

With All My Love Forever,

Joe

One Year – A Letter to Shannon

Vacation

For the first time in over 10 years, I’m going on a vacation without Shannon. We were already planning on holding off on any big trip this year (We have been taking “bigger” vacations every other year since 2010…Pigeon Forge in 2010, Disney World in 2012, Maine in 2014), but my parents suggested we take the kids to OC for a little bit of time this summer so we still had a chance to get away.

Part of this ties into what happened when Shannon died too. The kids were in OC with my parents and Bill’s family, as part of a trip that had been setup awhile before Christmas. Basically a chance for the kids to enjoy Winter OC. We originally hadn’t planned to go anyway, but with Shannon in the hospital in a holding pattern, I sent the kids with my parents to OC to get their minds off her in the hospital. Just a day later though, these wonderful kids were being driven back to Westminster, with no idea that when they got here, their whole world would be shattered. The trip was cut short, and we promised them at some point later, we would get them back there so they could get to do all the things they had missed out on. So in a way, this might be some catharsis for them…

In another way though, I am a bit worried it will stir up some repressed emotions in them. Back in Spring, I asked them if they would want to go with my parents alone, just in case I couldn’t find anyone to watch the pets. Noah said something along the lines of being worried that if they went and I stayed, something bad would happen again. Heartbreaking, but I totally get it. He went to OC without me, and his Mommy died. He goes to OC without me again, and ? Probably nothing would happen, but that would be a lot of stress for him to shoulder, worrying that something would happen.  Darcy also had a very weird reaction when we dropped off Lucy at Danya and Joe’s tonight.  When we went to leave, she FLIPPED THE F OUT, saying she wanted to bring our dog home, saying she wanted to keep our dog, not let Danya have her.  I tried explaining over and over that they aren’t TAKING out dog, but just watching her.  I think later it came out that it was partially because Joe was having a bit of fun with her earlier and pretended to take her Hallie doll, so she was more worried about leaving Lucy with HIM (I assured her he wouldn’t do anything bad to Lucy, and Grandma Danya would certainly be ready to get him back with her pincer tongs if he tries anything like he did with her Hallie doll.  Mean old Pop-Pop! :-P).  It’s just more very random emotions that come out of nowhere to me and make me worry at the types of trauma/challenges she’s going to have later in childhood.

I am a bit unsure of how it will go. I’m sure we will have some fun, since all the cousins are together, and getting away from work and all will be relaxing. But it’s going to be strange to not have Shannon with me. She was never a huge fan of OC, but we had our traditions there, we had our things we liked to do. She loved the arcades there, particularly the quarter/dime crane machines (Although, I think those were removed in the last couple years). We went to Sneaky Pete’s a few times, we usually hit up Dough Roller breakfast. Thrasher’s fries were a must each time we were there…Things I can do in her memory, but things that I wish she was still here to do with us. I saw on Facebook, two years ago is when we were down there with all the family. I took this snap of her with Darcy and tagged it with a hashtag that OCMD was using at the time for some tourism thing where you might be retweeted or shared out, etc. It’s just a wonderful moment between the two of them, and something I hope Darcy can retain some memories of.

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So, keep us in thoughts…as we experience a new “first” in this terrible new normal.  First vacation without her.

Vacation