Monday, October 9, 2017

Hurricane Season

The recent deluge of hurricane coverage and forecasting has left my boys curiously fascinated.

We don’t have cable television in our home so the car radio has become a source for disasters both political and environmental. Under normal circumstances, our morning car rides to school allow me to perform my best work as a deejay; I queue up songs for the boys, they make requests, and we dance and drive – a skill I have perfected over the years (just ask any passenger who’s had the pleasure of riding shotgun next to me).

Lately though, we have opted for the nice NPR newscasters to accompany us on our rides. The radio news has always intrigued me. When I was little, I used to think there was a tiny man living in the car radio system. His microphone was miniscule but his topics were big and interesting to my mom. As I watch the boys in my rear-view mirror, I wonder how they imagine the broadcast.  As they listen with intent and determination, I see one of my boys hanging on every word the newscaster shares. His eyes are wide open and squinty all at once. The other one sprinkles several follow up questions here and there for the duration of our drive: “Do Tsunamis happen in New Jersey? What was the worst hurricane you ever saw? What happens to horses in hurricanes?” Mostly, I bullshit my answers but during my finer parenting moments I simply say, “I’m not so sure. Let’s ask Pop when we get home.”

And sure enough, the minute we sit down to eat, the boys begin their barrage of questions. Watching my Dad answer them turns into a spectator sport for me. The boys lob some doozies at him yet he deflects, defends, and describes with great ease and agility. They listen to stories of Sandy swirl around the dinner table as my parents share their memories. I try to interject from time to time but my mind’s eye travels back to a damp and chilly November. Like the storm we suffered, I sink back into darkness and stillness.

I hate that I’m about to quote Dickens right now but I can’t find better words – perhaps one day.

“It was the best of times - it was the worst of times.” [The weird thing about that quote: After Todd died, I was perusing one of our bookshelves. My fingers landed on Great Expectations. I was compelled to pick it up. Todd asked me once for a list of books I felt he should absolutely read before he died. Now – to be fair, he asked me the question when death wasn’t really on the table. (Had he asked me that question when death was at the door, I think my list would have differed slightly...) Anyway, I picked it up and found a boarding pass disguised as a bookmark in the middle of the book. Now – this is the kind of shit people tell you after someone dies and you’re like, “C’mon. Did that really happen?” The boarding pass/bookmark was like a little fountain of information: miles accrued, seat number, gate number, boarding time, and most strikingly – the date. I have no idea what year the flight was – I’ll have to dig deeper. But at some point, Todd took a flight to Santa Ana on January 27th. I don’t mind January 27ths. The four January 27ths I have encountered since Todd died have collectively become my permanently penultimate day with him.]

In the background, the conversation in the kitchen is still on Sandy. I’m not in my parents’ kitchen with the boys though. I’m fading in and out of their house as I find myself in my bedroom putting the final hurricane preparations in place. The wind doesn’t seem as bad with Sandy as it did with Hurricane Irene but I make a half ass attempt to protect our house nonetheless. I jerry rigged the doors facing the ocean with bungee cords and moved the furniture off our front porch. That’s all I could do. I was still nursing the boys and Todd just started hospice. He was already sleeping downstairs in our makeshift hospital room. My life was propelled by a polarity which I could direct simply by walking upstairs or downstairs in our home. Upstairs, the boys were sleeping soundly in their room. Their carpet, soft and cozy, was a lovely blue color; it reminded me of the ocean. Downstairs, Todd was sleeping a different kind of sleep. His narrow bed was guarded with metal rails making it difficult to fall out or get in. The rails were always cold to the touch and I had to wrap socks and baby blankets around them to make them more user-friendly.  

We woke up the next morning and discovered that Sandy spared our home and town but she left us without power for a long stretch of time. The weeks following Sandy were some of the greyest days on record yet I still felt warmth and happiness interspersed quite often. The boys were 5 months old and illuminated everything they touched. They were trying solid foods, they were smiling…they were communicating! I hated leaving the boys each morning for work although we had a pretty good system in place. I would leave the house in darkness around 5:30am as soon as Todd’s parents arrived to cover the daytime hospice shift. I drove north on Ocean Avenue for 9.7 miles to the ferry. The sun began to rise the further north I drove and the quiet dawn revealed Sandy’s wreckage on my route. It littered both sides of Ocean Avenue - bathtubs, flooded and abandoned cars, and debris everywhere.

Glazed eyes and groggy mind, I parked my car and boarded the ferry. Disembarked in New York City, I began my 25-minute walk to work. I made a playlist at the time which I titled “Walking Mellow.” (It should have been titled “Jesus Fucking Christ: These Songs are so Depressing.”) The one terribly gloomy song that cheered me up was from “Les Misérables.” I would listen to Anne Hathaway’s version of “I Dreamed a Dream” and think to myself: Well, shit. At least I’m not a French prostitute living in revolutionary France who lost her daughter and is forced to sell her hair….

Once at work it was all bright things and fancy jewelry. I enjoyed working but missed the boys and Todd. They seemed so far away. It was only a two-hour commute (door to door) each way, but the distance seemed much further. It’s hard for a new mom to return to work after the honeymoon-maternity -leave phase. And it’s really fucking hard to simultaneously tell your husband he must start hospice. Of all the things I regret in life, my biggest regret is that I didn’t have the wherewithal to tell the doctors, “Hey pals - If you want to put Todd on hospice, you tell him…” But, I told him and I don’t think he ever forgave the messenger.

I plodded through my day until it was time to walk to the ferry and commence my commute home from cold, grey New York. By the time I got off the ferry and began my drive down Ocean Ave., the sky was pitch black and softly held a “winter in a beach town” vibe. It was beautiful and it hid the wreckage with exception to the bathtubs. The bathtubs were the strangest and most striking to me. Their white porcelain finish glowing in the moonlight made them prettier and more visible than everything else. Eventually, they would become my beacons each morning and night as the days got longer and darker; I counted them to pass the time on my drives home. I tallied five tubs in total one night in December…

Finally, I’d walk up our path and into our home. My jacket still on, I checked on Todd and talked to his nurses for a few minutes. I’d then head upstairs to kiss the boys and watch them sleep for a little bit. Once in my pajamas and out of my jacket, I’d head back downstairs and curl up onto Todd’s hospital bed that was now occupying our living room. I had to keep the baby monitor under his pillow in case the boys woke up.  But, they slept. We slept. We were all tired, I guess.

Although I’d like to be stuck in November for a little while longer, I am wearing flip flops and the boys are directing their animated attention at me since my dad must have left the table. “Mama, don’t worry. We can make a great fort if we have a hurricane. And, Pop knows EVERYTHING about hurricanes. Plus, our house isn’t made out of straw so we will be fine, right Mama? Right, Mama?” And just like that it’s September and sunny and warm again. “Right boys – we will be fine.”  

Friday, June 23, 2017


Today would have been Todd’s 43rd birthday.

Strange how timing works out…Todd’s birthday, Father’s Day, and the boys’ birthdays all fall within the same week.

The boys are 5 now and are asking questions daily about their dad – or painfully lack of a dad. The questions are pragmatic in nature; my answers are philosophical by default. Last night, we were lying in bed and Andrew asked me (seemingly out of the blue): “Mama, how do you talk to God?” What I wanted to say was, “Jesus fucking Christ. I don’t know…” Instead, I said: “Just speak from your heart.” And he did – and it was beautiful.  

Since the boys were only 5 months old when Todd died, for better or worse, they have no memories of him. The memories they have are the ones I created for them. I am trying to work out this concept in greater depth and have been pondering my responsibility to make these boys feel like they knew their dad – and still have a dad – even though they didn’t and don’t.

Last week, I was going through some old emails and found one I hadn’t read since we received it a couple of months before Todd died. As I read it, I realized with great relief that I share this responsibility with so many of Todd’s friends and family.

Today the boys and I will make Todd’s favorite cake and head down to the beach to enjoy the things Todd and I used to enjoy doing together. I am not sure how much the boys will enjoy sitting under an umbrella listening to AM sports radio  - but we will give it a whirl. J

Perhaps not today – but one day, I will share with them this beautiful reminder in someone else’s voice of the kind of man their father was:

“You are a man of integrity, uncompromising character, an inspiration and a hero. There were times in college when I found myself slightly jealous of you. You fit in effortlessly to all types of groups and situations. I'm not sure what movie it's from but the quote I use to equate to you was, "men want to be you and women want to be with you" (sorry Amanda, but its true).  You are one of those rare people that everyone wants to be around. They feel like being around you will make them better. I know I feel that way.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about you.  You drive me to be a better, man, husband and father. Your boys will always know what kind of man I think you are, and they can count on me for anything at anytime, anywhere. If my boys grow up to be half the man you are, I would be overjoyed.

It's not fair the situation you and Amanda are in. It's not right and no person should have to go through what the two of you have gone through these past 8 years. But know that you are inspiring thousands of people to take nothing for granted, cherish every moment, live for today and be thankful for what we have.  You are making a sacrifice that no one should have to make but it's not in vain.

And the last thing I will say on this topic is that your friends.....the Forgers, Walshes, Shattucks, the Kennedys, Handlers, Nardinis, and Deshaws of the world, along with countless others would jump at the chance to take a bullet for you. In my eyes, I can't think of any other example that demonstrates what type of man you are. I know I wouldn't think twice.”

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Under Pressure

Three years ago today Todd died. Three weeks ago David Bowie died. 

The night Bowie died, I imagined he and Freddie Mercury were performing one hell of a duet in heaven. Todd was sitting on the bench watching their performance in complete awe.  

My dark but lovely fantasy about Todd and Bowie hanging in heaven reminded me of a drive we shared, years ago, on the way to chemo. 

Even though Todd fought his battle publicly, he was a very private person. I was lucky enough to be Todd’s confidant when his fears and frustrations crept to the surface. We had some of the best conversations riding in our car. 

That morning, Todd was quieter than normal until the song “Under Pressure” came on the radio.  He tapped along with the opening chords and looked over at me with a loving, affirmative grin when I said: “Man, this is the best song.”

Since it was one of the only songs that Todd and I both happened to love, I seized the moment and turned up the volume all the way.  With the windows rolled down and the speed accelerating, we belted out the lyrics together. When the song ended, Todd spoke with passion and optimism. He suggested we use the song in one of our Seas It videos. “Under Pressure”, he felt, completely captured his daily struggles with cancer and the challenges of life, in general. Particularly, when Bowie sings:

It's the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
'Let me out'

I suppose that’s how Todd felt during many of his treatments and hospital stays. He rarely (if ever) complained and never felt sorry for himself. In some ways, listening to this song with Todd gave me a glimpse into how solitary he felt.  As a caretaker, I always thought Todd and I were fighting the battle together – and, we definitely were. But in addition to the battle we were fighting together, Todd
was quietly fighting his own heroic battle.

I think that’s why I like my Bowie/Govvy fantasy so much.  They were both heroes on earth and, now, they “can be heroes, forever and ever” in heaven.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Hold me 'til I die...

“Hold me ‘til I die. 
Meet you on the other side…” 
- Pearl Jam 

Except with the two friends that were with me, I have hardly talked to anyone about what happened the night Todd died. I don’t even know why I am writing about it now. I suppose I am worried that, one day, I will forget the details. It’s a bit counterintuitive actually. For nearly three years, every time my mind’s eye wanders back to that bleak, cold, January night, I find myself shutting off my memory like a light switch. 

It was a Monday night and I had just gotten my 6-month-old twins to sleep. I was exhausted but felt a little less so having left my job two weeks prior. Two of my oldest friends were downstairs waiting for me in the kitchen. It was calm and peaceful in the kitchen – it felt warm even. I was hungry and sat down to a nice meal the girls had prepared. At that moment, the hospice aide came in to tell me Todd was having trouble breathing. I looked at my friend Nina (who happens to be a doctor) and we both went into Todd’s room. His breathing was labored. It was awful to hear. We made the decision to give Todd some more morphine, which Nina assured me, would make him more comfortable. I knew as I dropped the morphine under his tongue that our time was running out. I waited with him for a while until his breathing calmed down. I left him briefly to check on the boys and eat something. I sat down and my friend poured me a glass of wine. With panic in her eyes, the hospice aide came out again and asked if Nina could check Todd’s pulse. I ran into his room and climbed into his bed. This was it. 

Nina held the stethoscope and calmly gave me a countdown as she listened to Todd’s heart beat its last beats: 

Amanda, you have maybe one more minute. Thirty seconds,. Amanda, you have about ten seconds.” And that was it. He was gone. I held him until he died.   

Anyway, as I wrote, I am not even sure why I am writing this. Except to share that when you actually hold someone until they die – well, that fucks with you. Maybe ‘fucks with’ isn’t the correct term. But, that night has stayed with me for obvious reasons but has also left a mark in me that I wish were sometimes visible on the outside. As with anyone who has suffered loss, I have gone through the grieving process and come quite far in a short period of time

I have gotten so dark and low in my despair that the agony of Todd’s absence and the finality of death felt like knifeblades stabbing my stomach. In the darkness and stillness of the night when the boys were sleeping, I would find myself standing in my room in the exact spot Todd once stood. I let the pain stab me until I couldn’t breathe. Finally, the time came when the sharp pains dulled. I could tell the wound was healing but could still feel the tremendous scar.I carried on, stiff upper lip, as I have always done. I made it through the first year and was entering the second year when seemingly, all at once, the fog lifted. 

felt good again on my own and apart from the crutch of joy the boys provided. I listened to music again. I went out with friends. I was having fun. 

My memories of Todd no longer made way for the void; instead they seem to wrap themselves around my shoulders like a warm blanket from an old friend.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It Makes No Difference

The other night, I was at a concert and had one of those rare moments where, although I had heard this song a thousand times before, it felt like I was hearing it for the first time. And, despite having written, reflected, and shared my feelings on grief intermittently over the past two years, it was as though nothing could sum up how my soul has felt more than hearing a rendition of Danko’s performance:

I went to the concert with my childhood friend who, oddly enough, happened to be at our house the night Todd died. She looked over at me as I was honing in on the lyrics and said something like: “This song is totally you and Todd.” Yes, it was. 

The next morning I read an article by Patrick O’Malley titled "Getting Grief Right" in the New York Times.  I found it comforting and spot on especially this excerpt:

“Based on my own and my patients’ experiences, I now like to say that the story of loss has three “chapters.” Chapter 1 has to do with attachment: the strength of the bond with the person who has been lost. Understanding the relationship between degree of attachment and intensity of grief brings great relief for most patients. I often tell them that the size of their grief corresponds to the depth of their love.”

Todd and I had such an amazing, wonderful bond that stemmed from our compatibility and attraction to one another but developed and grew because of our intense situation.  At such a young stage of our marriage, we found ourselves skipping through decades of phases most couples go through in a lifetime together. And, certainly the depth of our love could fill an ocean.

O’Malley’s article continues to explain the debilitation his patient suffered during her time of grief. It’s true there have been days I’ve wanted to stay in bed and let my sadness and loneliness cover me like a blanket but I had the boys and they needed me as much as I needed them.

I feel unbelievably lucky (I don’t know if that’s the right word) that during the days, weeks, and months following Todd’s death I never felt debilitated. Instead, I was able to compartmentalize things  - for better or worse – into two separate rooms within my heart and mind. There was the room for the boys which was filled with a lightness and joy that, as a new mother, I hadn’t felt before. Then there was the room that contained my grief for Todd. The idea for the rooms began as a figurative image in my mind but as time went on I realized it came from a literal place.

The boys were only 4 months old when Todd started sleeping downstairs in his hospice bed.  Moving Todd out of our bedroom and into his new, makeshift room was the second worst thing I had to do. (The worst thing happened about a month before - when I had to walk into Todd's hospital room and tell him that Hospice was our only option.)  As a family of four, we hardly spent time together in Todd’s room. It was just too difficult. Twins. Alone. Hospice. I spent most of my time with them either in their nursery or the kitchen. So, I would wait for the boys to fall asleep at nap-time or bedtime before I could sit in Todd’s room.

Very recently the two rooms I created and separated seemed to connect for the first time. The boys and I were lying in my bed, watching the sunrise, and snuggling.  William pointed to Todd's hat on the dresser and asked, “Mama, is that Pop Ricky’s hat?”  I told him, “No, it was Todd's.” Andrew then asked, “Now it's yours?”  I nodded my head, “Yes.”  Quietly, we watched the sunrise until Andrew asked very sweetly, “Mama, where's Toddy?”  I couldn't answer. My eyes welled up with tears. Breaking the silence, William whacked me on my nose by accident causing a few more tears. They each snuggled up closer to me and Andrew said, “Don't worry Mama, I'll take care of you...”

Yes – the sun still shines – sometimes even brighter than before. It’s a different kind of sunshine though. And, when I am in that room alone dealing with the loss of Todd as a companion, husband, best friend, and more it just “makes no difference…”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Your closet.

I finally cleaned out your closet yesterday. It was actually easy to sort through the clothes I wanted to keep. Your familiar sweaters and favorite jeans looked as comfortable on the hangers as they did on your body.
I know you were never a fan of “keeping stuff to keep stuff” so I did my best at creating piles: one for me, one for Good Will, and one for some well dressed friend that might like your brand new, never worn Dunhill shirts and pants. I bought those for you right after the boys were born. I loved shopping for you. You hated that your pant size was constantly decreasing.
I expected that it would be hard to clean out your closet. Every time I opened the door to it, I gently flipped through your clothes until I came across an item that you wore all the time – your blue Patagonia, your perfectly soft yet crisp button down...I would find myself clutching the arm of your shirt staring ahead blankly and wondering how empty and far away the clothes feel. You once walked into the room with such vitality and glimmer.  It makes sense, I suppose, that your closet is empty now too.
With each jean pocket, blazer pocket, and backpack, I found myself checking for treasures that you may have left behind. One more chance to find something of yours I had never seen – a note to me, a receipt from a dinner we shared, a movie ticket stub, perhaps. Your jean pockets felt like they might contain something and I got excited too hastily.  A stash of catheters you used toward the end was the only thing hidden in your jeans. Opening up your hockey bag, I thought for sure I would find something good to save for the boys. Nope  - just a dozen or so of those morphine lollipop sticks. Painful mementos of your suffering…It made closing the door to your closet a little easier.
I went to sleep last night thinking heavily about your empty closet. But, this morning I woke up to a beautiful sunrise and the boys in my arms. And, when I opened my closet door, I saw the beautiful reminders of you – your colorful Hermes ties making my morning a little brighter. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Holding On

Throughout my life, I have always been attached to inanimate objects: When I was a baby and well into my childhood, I carried around a blanket; At Taft, I had a disproportionate fondness for my bathrobe; In college, I wore the same Patagonia vest every day regardless of the weather or my outfit underneath….

My attachment disorder began to wane when I met Todd. He wasn’t a fan of clutter and couldn’t understand why I was holding on to mixed tapes or notebooks from 11th grade French class. He believed in a “zero sum” policy and explained this to me one Christmas when he gave me a new bathrobe, “Now you can get rid of that robe you’ve had since high school.” And he was right. It felt good to shed some items and embrace new ones. 

However, since Todd’s death, I find myself clinging to his possessions with such a reluctance to let them go or lose sight of them.

A few weeks ago, a friend stopped over for some coffee. She helped herself to a mug from my cabinet. I saw the mug from the corner of my eye… “Oh, not that mug. That’s Todd’s mug.” Todd used that mug pretty much every morning for 8 years. I don’t know. The thought of someone else using the mug just didn’t feel right.  While the boys were napping yesterday, I organized my mug cabinet and safely “retired” Todd’s mug to a higher location. I don’t have too many tall friends so the likelihood of someone taking it down is slim to none. Was it a productive use of the only free hour I have in a day? Probably not. Did it give me peace of mind? Yes. And, I guess that’s all one can hope for after losing someone.

Todd didn’t have many pet peeves. But one of his weirdest pet peeves was seeing a collection of hats or stuffed animals (which were usually cats) in the back window of someone’s car. At the time, I sort of agreed with him.  It was only after he died that I deduced a theory on those drivers: What if those hats or stuffed animals belonged to a loved one who’s no longer here? What if those drivers were like me? A recent widow driving around wishing your best pal was still upfront with you? I keep some of Todd’s baseball hats (his favorite ones) right where he left them – on the dresser in our bedroom. But, one of his hats has a prominent place on the dashboard of our car. At the very least, the hat in my car is a good conversation starter for passengers who wonder why or how I’ve become a Kansas City Royals fan.

Tomorrow, I am trading in that car for a new one. There’s no doubt that I will be happy with the new car and that the boys and I will be much more comfortable. But, I just can’t get past the fact that the steering wheel I will be holding on to won’t be the same one that Todd held on to for all those years.