Saturday, November 26, 2016

WAITING IN STAGES

Well, I’d do it. I’m certain that given the real option, I’d spend the price of my soul to avoid sitting through another double date without him. Why can’t that be a thing? If not access my soul, can I at least surrender an arm? An ear? Both ears? My sight? My talents? All of it? Tonight I was alone on my side of a restaurant booth. “Put your coats and purse over here,” I told Nick and Mallory.  I'd give whatever asked to make it so Jim and I together mean that we all have to find hooks for our things.

I’ve spent the holiday week in Copenhagen at my sister, Mal’s, house. “You don’t have to try to smile,” she tells me, “It looks like it’s hard today, and you don’t have to do that with me.” She watches my gaze slide to the floor when a room’s silent and I think she sees I’m scrolling through the memories that got me here. He bought our tickets. I cancelled his. I came alone. 

There's a difference between being a tourist and traveling to visit family. It means we go to the grocery store. We pick up my little nephew from school. I eat lots I shouldn’t. I ask about my brother-in-law’s job, and he listens to me talk about Jim. We watch movies and drink tea. The time here isn’t the go-see or find-trinkets kind, and while I can’t help but laugh with any of my sisters, I often find that laughter can’t get to my eyes. But they are my family and they’re patient with me. They wish he was here too. Last year Jim and I met Nick and Mal in Milan so the guys could go ski the Matterhorn. While I’m glad they got to do that before he died, it isn’t comforting.

Venice last year after Nick and Jim crushed the Alps.
I don’t try to find comfort. I don’t even try to find forward motion. Comfort isn’t there. Forward motion doesn’t interest me. I wait for each part of this bullshit to find me on its own.

My version of the denial piece of grieving seems to look a lot like incredulity. Wait. It’s real? . . . What about now? Is it still real now? And now? Seriously? Still? I smell Jim’s cologne on his t-shirt that I keep tucked in my bed, and at the inhale I remember smelling it on him after a shower and saying, “You smell like my husband,” and I with that I recall what his back felt like under my hands while he fell asleep. I linger in a remembering space longer than a wife of the living would. Yes, Megan, it’s real. You can’t make a new memory. No more slipping into the laundry room to make out when company’s over or thanking him for vacuuming cobwebs on the porch. What you have is all there is.

My version of the anger stage isn’t anger with Jim for getting on the plane or for the pilot for crashing it. It’s at the exhausting business of death and the insensitivity surrounding the stuff that has to happen after your someone croaks. So what he made you feel pretty and took comfort that you drive the safest car? His death is just a death. Sign these papers and go cancel his gym memberships.

And Depression isn’t a stage of grieving. It’s the norm. The shifts come by way of how the depression shows up. Today it feels like sandbags on my shoulders. Today it feels like boards over the doors. And today it feels like why-can’t-I-just-take-another-Ambien-and-pass-the-hell-out-to-just-skip-this-day. After he died a few friends asked if I was going to see about upping my antidepressant dose. No. While I am on board with knocking myself out at night so I don’t spend eight hours stretching my arm into his side of the bed to feel that it’s still tight and cold, you can’t medicate away sadness. And Jim’s memory warrants feeling it all. I want to feel the tonnage of disconsolation because to do otherwise makes less of what he was.

But it makes me tiresome. I dwell. I make death-related jokes that turn conversation awkward. I fixate on memories. The number of Jim-stories I’ve got is finite, so I tell the same ones a lot. The reverence surrounding a death and the tiptoeing around a new widow means that no one tells me to stop. “We’ve heard this story before. Ten times.” “Stop saying that he ‘does’ things. Present tense doesn’t belong to you anymore.” No one can tell me to shut up without immediately becoming a colossal jackass. I’m a 34-year-old widow. The dead guy’s deified, but I’m the one they fear.

When I make comments about wishing to die, my people get uneasy. “You’re not going to, like, hurt yourself,” some say, some ask. No. I’m not that girl. But, man, I wish I was dead. It’s not that I want to bail on those here or cause myself more pain. I just want to be with my person. As that’s not an option, I’d prefer not to be here at all. The death-wish is hollow though; instead of taking action I'll just wish and waste.

Because of this: I’m still Jim’s wife. While wasting and pretty damn worthless, I still have somewhere a spark of what my husband loved. Jim was likable on sight, good at everything, and generous with all. It made him something special, and I was worthy of him. I’ve been dynamic and determined. I’ve dug out from ashes. I’ve accomplished hard things. His death is the hardest to get through, and I know that the me on the other side will be changed. My grief is about waiting. I wait for the tears and wait for them to stop. I wait to accept the void of my new normal. And I wait for pieces of the old me to find their way forward.  I’ve got a feeling that the parts that made me Jim's are the parts that will pull me to my feet when I’ve waited long enough.

Monday, November 14, 2016

WHAT'S GOOD? WHAT'S GOING RIGHT?

When Jim encountered rough stuff—say, work turning in the wrong direction or frustration from his ex-wife’s unwillingness to coparent—I’d listen, usually feed the fire, then stop and ask, “Okay, what’s good? What’s going right?”

His answers were consistent. “I have a great relationship with all my kids. I love my wife. I get lots of sex.” Even though big things might be rotten, bigger things were good.

I’m struggling. A lot is wrong. The business of death is a hassle and draining. I don’t have motivation to get myself out of the house for anyone but family and the Allens. I wish I could help the kids feel better, but I know nothing will to work. Most of all I ache like hell for my husband.

It’s a more difficult exercise now, but—Okay, what’s good? What’s going right?

I have a good relationship with all the kids. They’re my people. I get to hang out with Katelynn. I went flying this weekend with Dustin and Tjaden. I hear from Jo a lot. Ben sends me jokes. We don’t get to see each other nearly as much as we’d like, but when we were last all together Ben said, “This is like Disneyland.”

I’m mad as hell about it, but Jim left us ready. We were ready to be family without him. A year ago, we all wouldn’t have been able to brace up and enjoy each other without him around, but we’ve spent enough time together under Jim’s influence to have built trust and love enough to fashion our own support structure.


What’s good? What’s going right?

I have words. I have the ability to write about all this awful stuff. It blunts some of the despair. Writing and posting about losing Jim is like opening a carbonated drink, some pressure leaves, but all the liquid is still there.

By way of both my blood-family and my in-laws, I have a big bunch of family that I love and love me. My mom moved in with me for the month after Jim died. She went where I told her, waited when I couldn’t move, made me food, and even now if I told her that I can’t do this alone and I need her back, she’d be on the road in minutes.

I was in Utah this weekend to see my niece in a play. Before the show started her 11-year-old brother leaned across my mom to ask, “Hey Aunt Megan, how’s life?” “Shitty.” I replied, feeling only a little bit guilty that I cursed to a kid. Accuracy over prudence. “I’ll bet,” he said. Top to bottom, my family gives a damn.

I used to be superstitious. If I say something’s going to happen, it won’t. I lost that conviction in seconds. I am not dramatizing when I say that I wrote the last bit of my Terminal blog post as a specific mechanism to prevent loss. I first wrote the last paragraph as only disbelief at my good fortune. But then, afraid that my unrestrained happiness would spur some terrible event, I added as safeguard, “I know as well as anyone that things can—they will—change, fast, and life may not always look like this.” Despite my concerted effort, it was less than a week before life didn’t look like that.

Along that same hollow line of thought, I was counting on odds to give me more time with Jim. With a 16-year spread between us, I always expected to outlive Jim, but by how much? Brandon’s death gave me what I thought must be at least 20 years; best friends do not die close together. The remote chance of losing Jim soon after losing Brandon was enough for me to settle into relief that I didn’t need to worry about losing my person for a while.

Never tell me the odds. I need that on a shirt or tattooed on my body. Though the odds looked to be in my favor, they never were.

Two dead dads. When the Allen kids lost their dad, Brandon, the next best thing was Jim. He couldn’t be their dad, but he could love Traci and her kids like family. He could keep the memory of their dad fresh. He was consolation prize far from what they wanted but enough to be some kind of solace.

Nope. He only got to carry Traci’s post-vacation suitcases up the stairs one time. The only thing he got to fix at her house was the door to the playhouse. He only got to drop Brandon’s jeep off at the mechanic, never pick it up. The Allens only got to feel Jim’s runner-up support for four months.

What’s good? What’s going right?

I have Traci. Along with friendship, I have close and complete understanding from the other widow. After Brandon’s death Jim took comfort that he left behind a capable wife; Traci would do a hell of a job figuring things out after losing her love. I have that example to draw from.

I have my dogs. Since there are heartbeats waiting for me, when I come home it’s not to Entirely Alone.

I have long-suffering friends who let me have time and distance. They offer help of whatever kind I can accept whenever, if ever, I can.

I have yoga, the teaching and the taking. Yoga is somewhere to go that’s familiar. I told Cameron a few weeks ago that I appreciate that I’ve been doing yoga long enough that new studios don’t scare me. I’ve always gone to class when I travel—my husband loved that about me—and wherever I go yoga studios are places where I know what to do. With the teaching I have that slice of time when I really can ditch my sorrow and focus on someone else. I get ringside seats to students’ progress and change. It’s a reward I get paid to receive.

I have the team at Victory Woodworks, a group of talented, big-hearted A-players. A couple weeks ago I was having one of the extra rotten days, and if I hadn’t already said I would go by Victory to drop stuff off, I’d have stayed home all day. But I followed through and went to the office, and their kindness and hugs and success lifted me such that I left feeling a little bit better.

A while into my relationship with Jim I apologized to one of my sisters for being so off the grid. “I used to be a good sister,” I told her, “I used to be attentive and thoughtful. Sorry for being absent.” She said my absence was good, it meant I didn’t need them, that Jim was filling my needs. She was happy for me instead of resentful. There were so few of my needs that Jim couldn’t fill.

Because the biggest thing is rotten, I have a hard time seeing through the grief to identify what’s right. People. I read through what I’ve written above, and I see that what’s good, what’s going right, is lots about people. When I have the ability to pause and look what’s right, it’s there by way of the living.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

OPTING OUT

Most of the time I am doing one hell of a job faking it. I can’t tell if it’s a good thing or not. I go out in the world and I smile at my people and I make jokes—usually really morbid, sad ones, but they’re levity of some kind. I pull off what looks like a good mood, and if not upbeat, at least I come off as something not utterly heartbreaking. Hey, so it’s all a big fat lie. I don’t know though if it’s better to put on a smile and fool people or to do what’s more honest and tell everyone that I couldn’t possibly care less about what they’re saying and I’m even a little irritated that they aren’t as depressed as I am.

I wasn’t all that social before Jim died. I’m so much less so now so as to be antisocial. I don’t know how to talk about anything not-Jim. That’s not true. Cameron and I can talk about yoga postures for hours. But other than that, nope. Even then though we talk about Jim in between yoga stuff. I’m grateful when I learn that I’m not the only one who misses my husband.

It’s simultaneously shocking and deadeningly heavy that he is for-real gone. Like, really. Like the I’m-serious-and-still-can’t-believe-what-I’m-saying type of gone. How did I, at 34, lose the best thing that will ever happen to me? You can try to tell me that it’s not all downhill from here, but I’m uninterested in bullshit. Jim was the pinnacle. He was my trump card. When comparing myself to others, as I can’t help but do because I’m a girl, the inevitable inadequacy couldn’t beat me because I had Jim. You might be beautiful, but I get to go home to Jim. You might be smart, but I get to go home to Jim. Even if I couldn’t be the things I wished I wished I was, I could be to Jim the things he saw me to be. It was plenty. Being loved like I was loved was more than enough.

When you’re polite, and I like to think I was polite once, you talk to people about them and the things they care about. I can do that barely halfheartedly. 80% of the time as I’m saying the words that sound right I’m thinking, “ . . . I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care . . . ” It means I barely know what’s coming out of my mouth and don’t remember the conversation later. But I feel like I have to go through the motions of being a decent human or I will make myself permanently irrelevant.

It’s different when I’m teaching yoga though. Then I’m doing that being-present thing quite adeptly. I can focus on my students, and really, I adore them. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes where I can give a damn. I think I use up all my caring about others during that time and don’t have any left for casual conversation or optional social interactions. So I elect not to engage.

I suppose the fact that I can teach at all indicates some kind of progress in my process. But progress toward what? It’s all empty future without him. Okay sure, I’ll find some kind of happy someday, but I want the happy I had. It was fulfilling and unreal. And not just retrospectively. It was unreal when we were in it, ending in confirmation of the concept that if it seems to good to be true it probably is.


People used to tell me that our relationship gave them hope. Hope that they could find some kind of beauty for themselves, that when things seem all loneliness and dark there is potential for a turnaround. What I want to say after August 30th is this—sorry, but no; it’s all awful. Best I can give you is to say that you need to love your people full-on and ferociously because your version of Good can literally go up in smoke—flames and black smoke falling into an RV park and DOA—and all you’ll be left with is whatever memories you’ve created. So save the love notes, spend money on experiences, take photos of the mundane, blow off what only seems critical to be with your loved ones, and focus less on surface achievements and goals so that you can indulge in the luxury of having someone to love.

That’s the most positive stuff I can say. Everything else I have to offer is drenched in despair and outright intended to make people feel bad.

I do remind myself that other people are dealing with shit or have things they want to talk about that are interesting to them, but my response to my own reminder goes like this, “Oh, I don’t care.” So rather than go out and be an asshole, I avoid social stuff as much as I can. It’s poor manners to be with people and spend all your time sulking in a corner mumbling, “None of this matters, you know.” I run into real problems though considering that I have people in my life I love and appreciate who want to be there for me, who want to help me and the kids, and they don’t know how. I don’t know how to tell them how, and I don’t have the social fortitude to make up the difference between their love and my selfish sadness.

I often wonder why i keep the house tidy, why I don’t eat myself totally fat, why I go to class or teach class, why I voluntarily interact with anyone at all. It feels pointless when Jim isn’t my reward. The Whys I come up with are habit and fear. Fear that I’ll just make it all worse. That did not, however, stop me from sitting at my kitchen table tonight roasting marshmallow after marshmallow with the blow torch and squashing them between Oreo after Oreo. It’s what I had to work with since the preferable option of sitting on the couch tickling Jim’s head while he fell asleep on my lap was pretty well out of the question.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT UPLIFTING

I’m half Everything Sucks and half I’m The Luckiest Girl. No, I’m 70/30. And my Luckiest Girl moments irritate me. I’m sick of being grateful—grateful for the people that love me and care for me and think of me, grateful that I had Jim in the first place, grateful for the kids. The gratitude is exhausting, and I’m already physically debilitated by way of emotional trauma. Gosh Jim, where you at? I’ve turned into a total catch. You thought I was hot stuff before. You should see me now. When not sulking in public, I’m hiding in the house on the couch watching Star Trek special features on repeat.

I am in Monterey, California, for Jim’s hot cousin, Captain Amy’s, wedding. (Yes, I cried a lot and had to go take breather breaks in the bathroom, but my beautiful in-laws held my hand and supported me. We Ellikers, a sad, sad but steady group.) I came solo because my date died. He and I were looking forward to this trip. We looked forward to any trip together. “Want to go to—“ “Will you be there?” “Yes.” “Then I’m in. Duh.” We loved to just get in the car without a timeline and go explore. Ever taken that exit before? See that lake over there? Let’s find out how we can get there. But this I drove alone. I don’t mind driving alone. I mind going places alone where we were going to go together. On my drive I listened to the recording of Jim's talk at Brandon’s funeral four months before he himself bit it.

I’m not afraid to fly. You want freedom and experiences living when we do, you fly. I’ll fly to Denmark next month, Bahamas the following, and Thailand two months after that. I can’t let the manner of my husband’s death stop me from doing things he’d want me to. Hell, things we planned together. But man it’s effed up. He died in a plane crash. I hear the word plane in any context and think, “Plane? Oh that thing that spiraled down in flames to kill my husband? That kind of plane?” I watched some yoga teaching video and the example teacher told students to stretch their arms out and lean forward and down like a toppling airplane. Double take. Hope I heard wrong. Option for Toppling Airplane. Probably try to avoid saying that in class, teachers. It’s kinda tacky.

But here’s the thing. People don’t know my husband died. Or that he died in a plane crash. They don’t know that offhandedly saying things like, “Go slowly. You don’t know how much time you have,” and “toppling airplane” are going to set me off. They’re just words. Too bad they have meaning and I give them brutal context.

On my drive over yesterday I passed a private airport packed with planes. I couldn't tell if any were Beechcraft Bonanzas, the plane that crashed and offed my everything, but there were probably some. Would I go up in one? Yeah, especially if Dustin was flying. It’s getting back on the horse. Jim would want me on the horse.

There’s a lot of those assumptions flying around lately. Jim would be so proud . . . Jim would want . . . Jim wishes . . . I make the bulk of them. Jim would want to be here. Jim would want us to remember him by way of funny stories. And, if it brings us any measure of relief, Jim would want us to use his death to make jokes that make people uncomfortable. I’m quite confident on that last one.

I love how my boy said measure. mayz-jhurr. The bits of Nevada that fell out of his mouth from time to time helped complete a picture of this man I loved top-to-bottom. Sumbitch. Horse shit. I loved it all.

It’s a good thing I don’t drink, because if ever there was time the world at large would forgive me for becoming a drunk, it’d be now. I wouldn’t just drink a little. I don't have a stop button. I’d get head-over-the-toilet hammered in daylight.

Instead: Ambien for the nights. Ambien is like a sorta-friend that lives next door and you hang out because it’s convenient. She talks shit behind your back though—and you know it—but since she lives close, you get together anyhow. It’s not legitimate sleep you get with Ambien; it’s a chemical conk on the head that just lets you pass out for eight hours until you open your eyes, totally tired, and think, “It’s still real, isn’t it? I’m still a widow.” I may not know what day of the week it is, but I know that I’ll be spending it without my person. Oh my gosh, you guys, life freaking sucks. Still.

My husband was a man who one night sent my mother walking through the house in a human-sized hamster ball. Fellas like that are one of a kind.

Monday, October 24, 2016

HOW I AM

Question: “How are you?”

Answer A, the most common one: “Oh, you know.”

Answer B: “Shitty.”

Answer C: I pretend I didn’t hear the question. I really do that. Because I don’t want to have The Conversation, and even if people are only asking out of habit, I’m not interested in lying. There are times that I let, “Fine.” fall out of my mouth when someone asks how I’m doing, and I regret it. It’s not true. I'm functioning fine. I get the necessary stuff done. But I'm not fine.

Another workable answer might be, “I have no idea.” Am I going to cry in a minute? Am I going to get frustrated and throw something? Am I going to go back to bed? I don’t make plans because I don’t know if I can pull them off. I’m this lethargic, fragile thing on the verge of despondence or crying or screaming or slumping or I have no freaking idea.

I don’t want to write anything because I don’t want to propagate my depression. I’ve done a decent job highlighting what’s good, what there is to be grateful for, but I don’t feel a ton of that lately. I’m not bitter. I’m sure that will come soon. I am just so sad.

Gosh, but at the same time I’m not stupid. Or stupid enough to ignore the good of what’s right in front of me. I was sitting on the couch crying a couple hours ago, and there was a knock at my door, one of those incredibly well-timed knocks. It wasn’t just the cookies in hand that made me grateful—hell, delicious though they are, they’re so secondary to the kindness of a friend showing up at just the right time—it was the relief of being able to cry at a real person at that moment.

I get well-timed texts and emails from my people, known and unknown until now, telling me they’re thinking of me. It seems arrogant or assumptive, but I suspect that is happening a lot and I don’t know it—people thinking of and praying for me. Maybe I feel it? Or maybe I’ve just become so insufferably self-centered that I’ve deluded myself into thinking that my tragedy affected and continues to affect everyone else’s lives.

It means I’m touched though when people tell me how Jim’s death impacts them. It validates the pit of pain I’m still stuck in with no rise in sight, and also, I think it’s correct. Correct that people are changed. He was such a big personality. He had notable positive impact on really anyone who met him. I would be irked if his death was just something people felt sad about for a minute. It’s bigger than that and not just for me.

I am scared of forgetting. I am so scared I will forget what he felt like. Fretfully and with true trembling, I’m really damn scared. Over and over I listen to the couple recordings I have of his voice because I’m scared I’ll forget what he sounded like. Even with those recordings though I can’t find in my mind the exact sound of his voice when he answered my calls, “Hey baby!” I am scared of forgetting his habits. I sometimes have flashes of memory of something he did so often I can’t believe it wasn’t top of mind before. How can I forget his patterns? Time is going to pass and I am going to forget. I make notes. I try to capture what I can. I am so scared of forgetting all the things I loved about him.

On the wall just as you come in from the garage there is an 11x14 of my favorite of our wedding photos. The glass has fingerprints on Jim's half. My fingerprints. I touch that one as I walk by. I stop, run my fingers along his face, and sometimes I talk to him. Usually I just tell him, “I miss you so much.” Simple, accurate, inadequate.


I don’t like how I look in photos really ever. I’m not photogenic, and I’ve come to terms with it. I’d rather appear better in person than in photos anyhow. Point is, even though I don’t like what I look like in photos, when we decorated I hung quite a few pictures of us together throughout the house, because when I look at them I don’t see me. I see him. I look at the photos, I adore him, and then I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m in that picture too. Weird.” But euphoria, I think, makes people prettier. Being so deliriously in love has to have made me look better or—and this might make more sense to me—I know how happy I am in those photos and that makes me care less about what I look like when I notice that I’m in the picture too.

Seems when I’m in a crying phase—read: right this second—I put on makeup just to cry it off. I often don’t wipe the mascara stains from my cheeks. I don’t see many people these days so I don’t need to look presentable, and the people I do see generally expect that I’m going to be a mess. Also, I’m comforted by the honesty of looking as sad as I feel.

One of the kind gifts I received after Jim died was a Giving Key. It’s a key stamped with a word, and you keep or wear it until you find someone who needs the word on your key more than you do. Then if you’re ready you give it away. My key says Brave. When I received it I couldn’t think why I would need Brave. What does being brave have to do with losing your heart? I figured it out. It takes bravery to go out into the world when there is the risk you’re going to cry to strangers. It takes bravery to go back to things you did before. Walking out the door as a new widow requires a deep breath and mustered gumption because you’re an unfamiliar person, and you don’t know what it’s going to be like to interact with things and people from Before. Brave is appropriate. For now I need Brave.

Friday, October 21, 2016

THE CONSTANT REMEMBERING

I won my husband with a beach cruiser. Whenever I was nervous about something—teaching a new class, a presentation at work, and really all the things ever—Jim would say with total confidence, “You can do anything. You built a bike.” The bike’s what did it. I ordered a beach cruiser and put it together myself with things like ratchets and swearing, and that’s really all it took for Jim’s heart to belong to me. He thought capable was hot.

Wait, also my butt. That man loved my butt. He fell for my competence and my butt.

He loved lemon anything. Lemon cake. Lemon bars. He loved acidic food. When we were wandering around the Lake Michigan area back in May we found a shop that sold tea and fancy vinegars. He tasted the Meyer lemon-infused white balsamic and put it on the counter while I was paying for tea. “Get that too,” he told me. “It gave me lockjaw, so it’s good.” I could get him to eat anything so long as I drenched it in vinegar. Anything but broccoli and arugula.

He liked those weird, giant Smartie’s lollipops. He would put one down on the kitchen island and then smash it with a saute pan so he could eat the shards.

Thinking of him smashing the Smartie’s lollipops reminds me of a time shortly after his divorce that  Jim made chocolate chip cookies. The recipe called for softened butter and he hadn’t set any out ahead of time. So he got a cube of butter from the fridge and a meat tenderizing mallet, put them in front of seven-year-old Ben, and said, “Here, soften this.”

When I was doing the pharma thing meetings made me travel, and he always, always had a surprise waiting in the hotel room when I got there or something delivered later. Flowers. Pie. Snacks. Shoes. When I didn’t tell him ahead of time what hotel—often I didn't even check myself until landing at whatever airport they'd sent me to—he’d ask coworkers where we’d be. There was one trip where nothing came until the day before I left to go home, and I thought, “Okay, this is the time he forgot. That’s alright. He can’t be all-the-way perfect.” Actually he could. The hotel made a mistake and since I hadn’t thanked him for the flowers yet, he had to call the hotel and be like, “So you screwed up, right?” Yup. Habits are helpful. It was his habit to send me stuff when I traveled. It was my habit to thank him when I received it. Since I didn’t execute my habit, he knew something was off.

He liked that he was habitual and predictable. I pointed out that he always stood the same in the shower, and he got a kick out of that. I love that he liked himself.

Whenever Jim was proud of himself he got the same facial expression. His “proud face” I called it. That expression would be indistinguishable from the everyday to people who didn’t study his face like a wife would, but small though it might have been, that tiny shift charmed me.

When we flew places he would lean forward on the tray table and fall asleep. But first he’d take off his glasses and tuck them into the seat pocket. Then he’d take down the tray table, put up his elbows and his forehead in his hands, and fall asleep. I used that as my cue to tickle his back and his head. And when I reached around and touched his earlobe I loved looking to his face to watch the crinkles around his eyes deepen as he smiled. It happened every time.

Since he died one of the things that people tell me they liked about Jim was that he didn’t have an ego. He was humble though he had plenty of reasons not to be. I liked it though when he'd show the rare flash of ego. It was cute. I’d point it out, and he’d like that about himself too.

I feel so bad for my dogs. I wasn’t the best dog owner before he died. Now I’m horrid. I haven’t walked Gus since we lost Jim. And when I’m home it’s not like I’m playing with them. I’m on the couch or in bed. I’m grateful they’re old, that they aren’t puppies and require a ton of attention. I couldn’t pull off a puppy right now.

The rooms in the house that don’t have pictures of Jim bug me. Or even freak me out. I get all frantic and have to go find a picture and tack it up. I don’t like sitting in the spots in the house where I can’t see him. He should be all over the place. I wish he’d haunt me.

Lately the bargaining part of this shitty process looks a lot like wishing that I could just tell him stuff and know for sure he heard it. That’s all I need. I’ll stop being sad and mopey and start looking people in the face again if I can just tell him things I know he’d find interesting or would make him laugh. I don’t even need to see or hear his reaction. I can imagine it perfectly.

Being happy was fun. I have the best memories of my husband. He loved me so much and I'm grateful that I know I made him happy. I smile when I think of him and our memories. I cry when his absence is too big. It’s always there, but sometimes it's just too huge for mere gloom.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

DETACHED

I feel like I’m in some holding pattern, but I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Shit seems pointless. Nights and weekends are the worst. They make me negative. I’m not that strong person people keep telling me they admire.

I get stuff done. My house stays tidy and organized. My toenails are painted. There is healthy food in the fridge. I even eat it. I text my family and sometimes my friends. I take yoga most days. I’ve taught a few classes. When teaching I’ve done a good job pretending to be a normal person. My students laugh and move and leave with what they needed. One guy told me that he missed my wit and is glad to have me back. I replied that it’ll be better when I'm back to being myself. But c’mon, I’ll never be her again. That’s not me being forlorn and dramatic; my massive loss has made me different. I still have the the basic elements that make Megan, but I’m changed. I don’t know what I’m like now. I know that I don’t have much interest in being who I have been.

Jim said that he thought of himself as average. Average height. Average looking. Just your average guy. But we know that he wasn’t. He was vibrant. Being with him animated me.

Physically, I keep my commitments. Mentally I’m disengaged. It’s good I’m a decent faker. My days are a lot about Just Get It Over With so that my new constant companion, the sink in my stomach, and I can go home, settle into my nest in the far corner of the big couch, and watch The Great British Bake Off over and over. It’s all I want to do. I’ve seen every episode of all six seasons at least four times and the first three seasons more than that. For some reason it’s what I want to spend time with.

I look awful. I have a dull complexion and a dreary countenance. Drained, sad, weighted—my heart shows in my face—and I don’t care.

It's weird and even little offensive that people are living as usual. That they even can. But sometimes it feels stupid that I can’t get past Jim’s death. It’s never not hurting me. Should I be better? Should I have moments where I feel fine? Better not, because I don’t. People love to say “time will heal,” but A) I don’t so much want it to, and B) no it won’t. Time will just pass. It won’t heal me. It might teach me. By way of time I will learn how to do more, to be more productive, but it won’t un-widow me. It won’t bring him back. The only thing that could heal me and whole me is having my Jim.

Gone. Just gone. Trying to explain how that feels is futile. I know time has passed. It doesn’t feel like it. Has a month and a half really gone by? Has it really been that long since I’ve walked Gus or listened to music in my car? When I have to tell someone that I’m lazy or uninterested or just an all-around bummer because my husband died and they say they’re sorry for my loss and I thank them and try to push the conversation forward, what I really want to do is yell, “No! You don’t understand. This isn’t just some guy dying in a plane crash. He was different. He was special. Not just special to me because I’m in love with him, but actually special. Our relationship was enviable and beautiful and that makes all this sadder . . . ”

And here, I’ll say it, why in the hell didn’t an asshole die? The world is teeming with them, and the guy that died was Jim? Really? Jim? It couldn’t have been someone who sucks instead of the most thoughtful, most attentive, most selfless, most playful, most entertaining man, like, ever? Really? That’s what had to happen? That’s bullshit.

I wish I had his glasses. I have his backup pair and they’re the exact same style, but I want the ones he wore every day. But if his wedding ring came back to me bent and burned how mangled must his plastic glasses have been? I guess so bad that that the Medical Examiner’s office wouldn’t even offer them to me. Only the ring and his watch face, which was unharmed. Guys, buy Rolex. The bracelet from his watch was gone, but the face didn’t have a single ding and was still ticking when we got it back. If that’s not a compelling advertisement for Rolex, I can’t think what would be. The thing survived a plane crash with fatalities.

I hate this picture because it's before I got filler in my face and fixed the parentheses lines,
but I love it because it's real life. Jim is cleaning his glasses on my wedding dress. 

I’m all death all the time. Before Jim died, at the end of some yoga classes I told the students not to hesitate to ask me questions after class because “yoga is my favorite thing to talk about.” On the way home some nights Jim would correct me, “Yoga isn’t your favorite thing to talk about. I am. But that annoys people. I’m just a liiittle bit too awesome.” Too true. He was all I wanted to talk about before he died; he’s all I’m able to talk about since a fiery plane crash stole what mattered to me. It is so hard to care about anything—about anyone—else. I don’t care about the election or the fires in south Reno or people’s jobs or their kids. None of it matters to me. I’ve been thoughtful in my past, but with my heart went my good soul. I suck now.

I’m difficult to encounter in person. People don’t know how to handle me. Hey guess what? Neither do I. I don’t want to be treated differently. I don’t want to be treated the same. I don’t want to be ignored. I don’t want attention. I don’t want people to give me those sad eyes that they can’t help but give me, but I don’t want them to pretend nothing is horribly wrong. There is no right answer. Some moments I’m trying to do a good job living, teaching class, taking class, eating the right quantity of food that’s good for me. Other moments I’m laying in bed only going downstairs to get more of too much ice cream and too much Swedish Fish.

I want to park at Raley’s and before going inside text Jim to ask if he wants me to get him anything in particular at the store. And I want to get back the same answer he’d send every time, “Pineapple. Thanks, baby.” Man, he loved me. It felt exhilarating. It felt comforting. It felt too good to be true. And, well, turns out it kinda was.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

TO MY SWEETHEART

Jim,

This morning I came across a note you left me when we were in Whistler. Made me think I oughta write you one of my long-ass letters. Been a long time since I’ve done that.

Hey, so my hands smell like meat. Ben came to hang out this afternoon, and I defrosted the Kobe dogs. I was stumped on what to feed him for dinner until I remembered you got those. “I touched meat for you,” I told him, “That's how much I love you.” I use the food you’ve bought—vinegars, frozen things—and get sad(der). Someday it will all be gone. All the stuff here will be stuff I bought.

As I was cutting him some strawberries I thought of how some mornings I’d come down for breakfast and you’d already have a bowl of cut strawberries waiting for me in the fridge with a little tag: For my wife.

Earlier as Ben was starting to build a new house in Minecraft he asked me, “What color do you think I’m going to choose?” “Red?” I answered. “Yup, Victory red. I changed my favorite color to Victory red.” He misses you. Also he’s spawning Minecraft polar bears like crazy right now.

I started crying talking to him a few minutes ago. We’re both on the big couch and intermittently chatting while he builds stuff and I type. He asked if his friends can come over. I said sure. “I mean not today, as it’s a bit late for that, but sometime, sure.” He replied, “Even though I don’t live here?” I told him, “You don’t live here anymore, but it is your house. You have stuff here—” this is the part where I lost it and couldn't talk for a sec—“ and your dad is here. It’s still your house.” We got kind of weird and quiet like we all do when this happens, and then he told the Stupid Megan joke to lift us. I love that you told the kids about Stupid Megan; we laugh about it all the time. Ben’s so much like you. He's tender and kind, and he thinks he’s hilarious. He’s right about that. Just like his dad.

Don't think we only cry about you. We laugh a lot too. Like about that time that you fell asleep sitting up right next to your gate in the Portland airport and missed your flight. Dude.

There is so much I want to tell you. All the things. I want to tell you the good things—how kind people have been to your family since we lost you, how much your kids and I enjoy being together, how effing cute your grandson is. And I want to tell you the shit things, like even though I don't physically weigh more than when you died I feel like the space around my heart gained thirty pounds. A lot of the time I sag when I stand.

I miss you so much that my breathing gets messed up. I'll suddenly wonder why I'm uncomfortable. Then I remember that I need to exhale. I went to class this morning and when Cassie talked about breath, like yoga teachers do, I thought, Yeah right, like I can even breathe at all. I went through a week or something like that where I thought, “Okay, so I don’t cry all the time. Alright.” That’s gone. I’m constantly weepy. Everything is so up and down. Dammit, the only thing that's certain is that you really aren't coming home. Jim, you bastard, just come the hell home.

This totally blows. You belong here. Not wherever you’ve gone to. 40 days. You’ve been gone 40 damn days. I’m still a mess. I’ll probably be a mess forever. Sometimes I try to talk to you aloud. Yeah, that doesn’t work; I hear a blood rush in my ears, my throat starts to close, and there's tears all over again. We had it so good. At least we knew it and didn't take it for granted.

I was tidying my nightstand last night and found another note, one of your 3x5 card love notes from a while ago. “My Sweet Wife, Every day I fall more in love with you . . . ” Gosh, I miss you. Thank you for leaving me notes. Yeah, they make me cry when I read them, but how great that I have them since they make me smile too. I am so grateful I had you. 

Had.

Shit.

Oh, and oh my gosh, the freezer drawer in the cabinet? I totally turned that into an ice cream-only drawer. How did we not think of that earlier!? It’s stocked with, like, $200-worth of ice cream. It’s freaking genius. And tonight Ben had cookie dough ice cream instead of plain chocolate like usual. It way weirded me out.

All my love, really—all of it,

Your Wife

Friday, October 7, 2016

THE WIDOWS DO DISNEY

We were at Disneyland all week. Me, my four kids-by-way-of-marrying-Jim, the grandboy, Nathaniel, and the Allens (Traci and her three). We booked the trip way back in February. Even though Disneyland is not my thing, I was game to go. Jim makes everything fun. Then Brandon died. Had to cancel that ticket. Jim died. Cancellation number two. Our party had multiple deaths since initiating the booking. Don’t get too close; we’re bad luck.

On the flight down Ben sat between me and Josie. He leaned over after takeoff and told me, “It's awkward sitting between two crying people.” I cried during check-in at the hotel. On dark rides or slow lines I lost my place in time, fell into my head, and became some lady crying at Disneyland. In the evenings I curled up at the head of the bed and left mascara smears on the white linens. The kids get to a place where they have to just look away. Gonna go get ice cream, okay, Megan? Okay? I suppose it’s, uh, nice? not to have to explain why I’m crying. Again.

As we were landing at LAX Ben put his arm around Jo, pulled her to him, and put his head on her shoulder. It made me smile and then cry because whenever stuff like that happened Jim would try to take a picture real fast in case the sibling affection was a long time in returning. Blurry and dark though it was, I took the picture for him. I do that a lot and then cry because I don’t have anywhere to send the photos and videos.

A couple weeks ago I took pictures of Katelynn’s little guy kneeling at our glass door and banging on the windows. I wanted Jim to see that he has such big hands. While waiting for the kids to do some rollercoaster I hung out with our grandboy. He pulled his foot to his face—my yoga baby—and giggled. I took video and cried more, telling him, “Your grandpa would have enjoyed you so much.” I sent the video to my mom and sisters and they cooed like they’re supposed to, but it’s not good enough. I want Jim to be delighted. Please don't tell me that he is, that he is delighted watching us from heaven. He’s pissed. He wants to be here. And don’t tell me to text the photos and videos to him anyhow, that it will be therapeutic for me. I have access to those messages. I know he’s not on the other end. It’s not good enough. Nothing is.

I’m waiting for when this will all be less shitty. But at the same time I don’t want it to be less shitty. Less-bad days scare me. I want to be this sad forever because I don’t want to forget or get past or comprehend. I lost my person. Guys, I lost our future.

Every time I pick up my phone to check for messages I remember that it’s pointless. The name I want to see won’t be there ever again. I have people I care about who love me and are checking in, and when I look at my phone I see names—Margaret or Traci or Amy or Cameron or Kyle or Mom or or or—waiting for me and I feel this flash of gratitude or comfort, but the one name I wish to pop up never will.

Traci and I should probably get together and write a widows’ handbook for what to do with kith experiencing significant loss. A thing I’d include is to never hesitate to reach out despite suspecting that it might be useless or even an inconvenience. A text, an email—if you want to send something to say you’re thinking of the grieving, do it. That stuff softens the hurt for a second. Even if you don’t get a fast reply or a reply at all, trust that your note or your flowers made a good impact. Think of it like this: the person who relished caring for me is gone. When someone else does, no matter how few the words or small the gesture, it has the potential to make a moment less awful. That ain’t nothin’. I'm lucky to have scads of quality humans thinking of me and telling me so. It doesn’t get old. It’s never useless. I’m grateful. My guy would be too.

He wanted to be at stupid Disneyland. Where we all are, wherever that is, that’s where he wanted to be. We did our best with this trip. We kept track of each other. We cared for us. We were together all at once. And thats really all I can consistently pull off right now—just showing up.


Disneyland 2014

Friday, September 30, 2016

HAVING SOMETHING

The laundry is too easy now. It’s small. I have clothes enough to do it only every two weeks, and since my clothes are little, the basket doesn’t fill up. I don’t wish I had more laundry. I wish I had Jim's.

There is dust accumulating on his beard trimmer next to his sink. How do I clean off the dust without wiping away the gray whiskers still on the trimmer? I want his whiskers to stay.

Though I really try not to see it, even through the worst thing that I've ever experienced, there is too much good to ignore. I don’t have him, and while he is the only thing I want, I do have so many other things.

So say he had to go. I don’t know in what scheme of things, but say he had to die. If he had to go, we that are left behind are set up well to keep going. His company, Victory Woodworks, is stronger than ever. When I would travel with Jim for meetings or vacation, there would be days that he’d hold up his phone in the evening and say, “Not one time. They didn’t need to contact me once.” His guys—my guys—were running the business then like they are now. Jim worked to become unnecessary in Victory’s day-to-day operations. The team, they want him. They miss him. But to keep crushing it, they don’t need him.

He took care of many things around the house before he died. He swapped out the knobs on the cabinets in the laundry room so the old ones aren't there to irritate me. He fixed a part on the new garage door opener so that it doesn’t malfunction anymore. He hung a new TV. He replaced the light on the deck.

There are things in the house that aren’t so much undone as needing to get started. At 10 the night before I lost him we were in bed and I remembered we hadn’t yet decided on the new bathroom tile and I needed to return the samples to the flooring store the following day. I turned on the lights, brought him the swatch boards, and he picked which of my options he preferred. So when I get around to redoing the bathrooms upstairs like we planned I know what flooring my husband liked.

When Jim and I were talking about getting married I told my then-therapist that I figured we’d just pop into the courthouse and tie the knot real quick. She took issue with that. She was adamant that we have a wedding. It didn’t need to be big, but we needed to have something. “It’s important to engage in the ceremony,” she told me, “His kids* need to know that this is important.” I grumbled, but I made it happen. We flew in my friend Ash to come shoot it because if I was getting guilted into a wedding I was gonna have photos of the damn thing. So glad we did.

At night before my drugs kick in and mercifully knock me out I lay in bed and look at pictures of him. Every night I used to snuggle up next to my husband and tickle his back until he fell asleep. I don’t have him, but I have the photos. If we hadn’t had a wedding and hadn’t had a photographer I’d have half as many pictures of my sweetheart. If for no other reason than that, I’m glad I went to a shrink after my divorce.

And then there are the memories. I have so many great ones. I don’t have bad memories of Jim. We didn’t fight. And this should be said: that wasn’t always easy. It was a choice. The beauty of our relationship was on purpose. We’d both just come from divorces and indifferent marriages and so we were deliberate about doing a good job together. While we were crazy in love and certainly compatible in personality and desires, our relationship wasn’t without effort. A couple of my mom’s catchphrases from when I was growing up were a guide on my end (and natural on his, I swear): “You love those you serve,” and “You can say anything—it’s how you say it.” I’m sure at some point I’ll want to write more about how we did a good job being married, because we really did, but for now know that while it felt magical, it didn’t happen by way of magic. Our over-the-moon union happened by way of intention, follow-through, and abandon.

Don’t give a shit what anyone else might think of your relationship. If you want to sit next to your person in a restaurant booth, screw the naysayers and do it. If you want to lift the center console in the car, slide along the bench seat, and sit closer, do it. Give in to the sap. Kiss in public. Keep holding hands even when they start to sweat. Be a little uncomfortable to relish the comfort of closeness. Touch more.

There were times that I felt stupid and hesitant about blogging so much about Jim, about exposing my delirium and infatuation. But it was too big to keep to myself, and now I’m grateful for every word. I read my memories and can’t help but smile. I look at our pictures, listen to recordings of his voice, spray his cologne on his jacket and wrap it around me, and for a second—and maybe it’s only a single second before it all makes me cry again—I have him. Those pieces are all I have. But at least I have something.



* It may seem strange that I don’t write much about the kids. But their grief is personal. Their lives are their own. We hang out a lot and love being together, but any part of my story that’s closely intertwined with theirs belongs to them as much as me. I’m careful with that stuff. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

ONLY RIGHT NOW

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Where’s that sixth stage of grieving, the one I’m in right now—Dead Inside & Productive. DIP. I’m in the dip.

I’m holding it together remarkably well. My mom tells me, “Sorry that you’re really good at this, but you’re really good at this.” Shit. Why? I want to be one of those people that can’t get out of bed and it’s okay because she just lost the best thing Planet Earth had to offer. The problem with that is that it’s not me.

I know who I am. I’ve always been proud of my strong sense of self. Jim loved that about me. I loved the same thing about him. I wasn’t just his wife; I was his match. I am capable, reasonably smart, determined, and episodically indefatigable. I was this person before Jim. Eventually, even after losing him, I’ll be back to being the person he loved, only sadder. At present I’m just resentfully able with a hole inside me that somehow has physical weight. How can empty be so heavy?

I find that I sigh a lot. Great sighs. Stops between big things like opening the estate bank account and small things like making toast. Where I am feels kind of like dread. Maybe dread for the future. My long, long future without him. It makes it hard to care about stuff. Like sunscreen—why put on sunscreen if maybe my leaving it off can give me cancer, and if I get cancer I might die sooner and then I’m spending less time living without him? I don’t know what I believe about what happens when we die, but I know for certain that this life is now without my person. So I’d prefer that it’s a lot shorter than is expected for a vegetarian, teetotaling, drug-free yoga teacher.

Lots of stuff that I might have enjoyed before seems worthless. Okay, so I take apart the guest bed and get rid of all the big pieces and get a new one and assemble it myself, who cares? I used to do things like that while Jim was at work and it delighted me that he would be impressed. Now who’s going to be proud of me and say “my wife’s a badass” when I’m a capable asset and not a burden? What's the point?

There’s good and bad to posting how I’m doing where everyone can read it. The good is that people know. The bad is that people know. It’s nice for me to be able to express stuff I’m feeling in pretty extensive detail without having to tell everyone individually how things are going. But people I see while out running errands as I pretend to live normally know that I chucked a remote across the room one night. (They don’t know though that a few days later I also chucked my phone and a metal stool. Aw eff, they do now.)

There’s also the fact that my feelings change so rapidly that whatever I posted a couple days ago could be worlds away from how I’m feeling now.

I’ll say this though, the writing and the posting helps. I don’t know why. I’m sure there’s some psychobabble to explain it all, but I don’t actually care about the why. I care how I feel, and if I feel solace of some sort by making the details of my inner workings available to anyone who can read, well okay then.

I think that act even further solidifies me as Jim’s complement, the throwing it all out there. When Jim’s ex-wife was having an affair he told anyone who would listen what was going on and that he was trying to save that marriage. He had no shame about being a cuckold; he needed help and keeping quiet and being secretive about what could potentially be embarrassing wasn’t going to help him and his kids. Should my children see a therapist? Where is the best divorce attorney? Is how I’m feeling normal? If you don’t toss out information you may not stumble onto the stuff that could end up most useful.

Unless we’re close, you and I, it’s my habit to be an intensely private person. Except in writing. When it’s just me and the computer screen nothing’s off limits. But when I’m posting my feelings real-time and seeing people who have read it all, it’s like we’ve had this long, really personal conversation and I wasn’t there when it happened. It’s equal parts awkward and easy.

As I go through all that needs to be done after your husband dies—will stuff, business stuff, figuring out how to hang a bike from the garage ceiling—I try to move quickly. Sometimes I feel like I’m running from what what I know and what that’s doing to me. If I move fast then the truth won’t catch up. But then I'm standing in the grocery store staring at rows of cans of chili, not sure how I got there because I don’t eat that stuff, and the weight of my new lonely and shattering reality returns.

He’s gone. Tomorrow marks four weeks since I’ve heard from my someone.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

THE TIMELINE


Tuesday, August 30.

Jim kissed me goodbye at 3:45AM. I woke some but I can’t remember if he kissed my face or just my arm. I was in the middle of the bed, nestled more toward his side than my own.

Wheels up was a little after four. He'd chartered a plane to make it a day trip. On weeks where we have the kids Jim avoids overnighters. He was aiming to be back in time to get Josie from volleyball. John, the pilot who was also Dustin’s first flight instructor, flew Jim and Luke, Victory’s V.P., to Vegas where they picked up another guy before heading to their meeting in Southern California.

I skipped class that evening. I ate ice cream instead. At 6:30 I’d just mowed down my second knockoff Drumstick when Jim’s mom, Gay, called me, “Have you heard from Jim?”

“Yeah,” I told her, “He’s on the ground by now. Well, I mean I haven’t talked to him, but we texted earlier. He’ll have landed. He’s getting the kids. I expect him any minute.

“Megan, there was a small plane crash in Rock Park. I can’t get him on his phone.”

“Okay . . . Okay. I’ll Find-My-iPhone him and get back to you.”

I logged into his iCloud. All devices on his account were offline. All the iPads and iPhones, the computers. iCloud must be broken. I logged into my own account to make sure that all my devices were offline too. Nope. It located all my stuff. Refresh, refresh, refresh. All Jim’s gadgets were still offline. My calls went unanswered.

From my car seconds later I phoned Gay and told her I couldn’t get him so I would go down to that RV park. Why not? Then I called Dustin. He’s a pilot.

“I hope I’m calling you prematurely,” I said, “but I need you to try to call John.” I told him about Gay’s call, about how I couldn’t get his dad on the phone or find him. He listened to air traffic control. Nothing useful. He called me back after talking to John’s flight school. I had a hard time understanding through the new pitch in his voice. It was John’s tail number that went down. They’d seen black smoke.

I get calm right here. I think I detach.

Jim enjoyed reading aircraft accident reports. Weirdo. When he told me about the accidents, what errors pilots made or conditions that caused a crash, I always asked, “Did they live?” He’d scoff a little and tell me, “Of course not. No one ever lives in these things.

I thought of that while I drove. “‘No one ever lives in these things.’ My husband is dead. I’m driving to where my husband is dead.

Emergency people surrounding the park stopped me. Look fraught, say “my husband was in that plane,” and they let you through. I tried to read the cops’ faces. How much pity? How much did they know? I worked through the first layer of responders. Then the second. Once parked, the policemen steered me to the other side of a Suburban away from the media.

It starts to get fuzzy here. I don’t know how much time I spent sitting the back of a police car. Was it 20 minutes? An hour? Who said there were two fatalities? “But there were three people in the plane,” I told someone. Jim, the pilot, and Luke. All anyone knew was that there were two fatalities. How long before I thought to call Mike, Victory’s GM, to ask if he knew if they off-loaded Luke on their Las Vegas-stop coming back?

They did. Luke deplaned and flew back on Southwest later.

Two fatalities and only two on the plane. John. My Jim. But not really. Because he was just coming back from a meeting and he was going to pick up the kids. He was looking forward to seeing me.

The kids. At some point Katelynn called asked what was going on. Someone had told her to call. Gay sent Jim’s brother-in-law, John, and his son Rand to me. When I saw John I chucked myself at him harder than I’d ever done to anyone in my life. I can't imagine how he remained upright, but he held me.

When did I text Traci? Did I call her too? I must have. She came to the RV park.

Mike and Brandan, Victory’s COO, were suddenly there. It only occurs to me now that I don’t know how they got through the barricade. There must have still been a barricade. With them I started what would become my habit for the weeks to come, the consoling and recalling. I looked up at Mike, failed to hold it together, and told him, “I know there will be time for this—I’m sure I’ll say it again later—but Jim was so proud of you. He thought of you like a son.”

When did I call my parents? I know when I did it wasn’t twenty minutes before they were in the car on the nine-hour drive to me. I don’t think I spoke with Katelynn again. Maybe I talked to her husband Nathaniel? I know I talked to Dustin more because we discussed how to tell the little kids. What do I do about the little kids? Their dad was hours late to pick them up.

I took a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was the kids’ mom. She’d heard rumors. I stopped her. “I’ll tell you what’s true. Your kids’ dad is dead.”

The next call was Josie. It was all the way dark by then. Her sobs triggered mine, and I remember crying with her while I sank back against Traci’s car and slid to the ground.

Rand drove my car and Traci drove me. When I got in her front seat I said, “I’m going to come off as cold as this gets started. I’m good at this. I’m good in crisis.” How did I know that? My husband has never died before. But I was right. I’m irritatingly capable with this shit.

By way of calls and text messages, we, Jim’s closest family—the wife, his kids, his sisters, his mom—we knew. The rest of his close people, his Victory Woodworks family, were next.

Like I threw myself at John the night before, when we got to Victory at six the next morning to meet with the employees I hurled myself into Luke’s arms. Luke was alive. By getting off the plane in Vegas and flying home commercial, Luke lived. I remember saying again and again, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry you have to live with this.”

I’m so sorry we have to live with this. Here we are though. I’m grateful every day that Luke lived.

I spent a lot of today at Victory and told so many of the team, “We’re missing the most important piece, but we have all the other parts. We will make this work.” I’ll be damned if we don’t crush it, the work, the living. It’s been three weeks today. For however temporarily, I suppose it’s about time I got to this place.