The five-year mark since you died is fast approaching. Hawaii didn't really exist for me before you died. I'd never been there, and I don't think I really even thought much about going.
But since you died, Hawaii has somehow played a big role in my life. By chance, I'll be there again this year on the actual date of your death, visiting the beautiful island of Kauai. Maybe that's as good a place for me as any on another tough day.
By this time next year, you'll have officially been gone longer than you were here. You moving further away from me like that is a scary proposition that's been repeated many times.
When they loaded you on the ambulance and shut the door, a small gap began to grow.
When they decided your condition was deteriorating and they needed to put you on the ventilator, it grew some more.
When they pulled your lifeless body from my arms, I felt you leaving.
When Mary and I sat by your casket, neither of us wanted them to shut it or to begin shoveling dirt on top. Both of those acts symbolized even more distance between us.
It's the same now with these damned milestones. Each passing birthday or holiday just seems to pull us further apart.
Even acknowledging your death date has that effect. What is it they call it to try and make parents feel better?... angelversary or something.
Fuck that. It's more insulting than comforting. You died. Why can't we just say that?
I don't know how I even made it this far without you. I still think about you every day - sometimes many times a day - and tell stories about you all the time.
I figure if I keep talking about you then maybe you're actually still here in some small way. I don't even remember these stories I'm telling all that well anymore, and I sometimes wonder which parts are true and which are made up.
I know you got up earlier than me one morning, quietly snuck into the kitchen, got the carton of eggs out of the refrigerator, and started rolling them around on the sofa cushion. I woke up to the sound of your giggling, and when I saw the egg carton I leapt from bed.
Holy shit!!! Did that baby get the eggs out of the fridge??? That's not going to be good at all!
Christ, I even made myself dizzy jumping up like that. There are reasons normal people have kids well before they're 38.
I was sure I was going to find a slimy mess of cracked eggs all over the floor. When I get to heaven, I'm going to want answers to a lot of big questions from somebody important. You know, all that stuff about why they needed you so soon.
But before I ask any of those, I just want to ask you, my little peanut, how the hell you managed to play with all those eggs without breaking any. That was weird!
You loved eggs like some kids love dolls. That story is true, and I can still picture you in your footie pajamas and that smoker's cough giggle of yours like it happened yesterday.
But I just don't know about some of these other stories. Did you really carry a gallon jug of cranberry juice by pinch gripping the lid with one hand or did I make that up? You were really strong, but I can barely do that myself after all these years of lifting weights.
If I made it up, I'm sorry. I don't need to invent stories to make you seem cooler or tougher than you already were.
You were tough with no embellishment needed. You really did shove that oxygen mask out of the way when your lungs were full of pneumonia so you could growl and make a muscle for me.
That happened, and I'll never forget it or you. But even if it didn't; even if every stupid story I tell is some product of my imagination; even if you were pretty much just an unremarkable child like every other who died before she had a chance to make any real mark on the world; you were still plenty good enough just the way you were. You were my child and that alone made you special to me.
I just love you and I miss you and I want to talk about you so maybe people will know you even when I can't remember anything to tell them. It's frustrating as hell that people I meet now never met you and will never know anything about you except through some dumb story I tell that might only be half right.
As anybody can see, I'm still struggling with lots of questions I'll never answer. I wallow and I'm angry and I think people who try to say something helpful usually haven't thought their comments through very well at all or they'd have realized how ignorant they really are on this subject and would have just kept their mouths shut. That stuff is probably never going to change.
But five years into this, I'm not quite so day to day with my struggle wondering if I'll be able to get out of bed. I've actually mustered the will to do just that something like 1,825 times and counting since you died.
I have a solid track record of gutting it out, touch wood. And so, I'm starting to look backwards at my journey so far and forward to what lies ahead. I guess I'm searching for a little perspective.
That word "perspective" usually makes my blood boil. The source, you see, is often some holier-than-thou asshole telling me I'm lacking it and that I need to look at things differently. Problem is, this so-called perspective mister high and mighty wants me to adopt almost always means I need to see things exclusively through his lens.
It's never, Hey, you're a little bit right but so am I and maybe we can meet in the middle. It's more like, You're an idiot. I'm all knowing. You better get with the program and see this shit my way.
Here's my concise little response to that:
That kind of all or nothing way of thinking is never persuasive to me. So, when I say someone has shown me a new perspective, it's a rare occurrence indeed.
My last blog post, Fine Again, was a bit of a hit that apparently resonated with a fair number of people and ended up my third most viewed. That was pretty gratifying - not simply for the views but because maybe I'm reaching a few people and helping them cope with their own losses.
In that post, I wrote about how someone can appear to be doing quite well and moving in a positive direction outwardly in the months and years after a traumatic loss even if they're struggling mightily internally. The world sees them as fine when they're anything but.
That message, and perhaps the caustic way I tend to put things, struck a chord with quite a few people. One of them was a friend I've known since childhood. Here's what he had to say about it:
I've been reading your blogs and I've been wanting to say something to you for a while now. First, I can't even imagine the pain you went through and I'm not going to tell you I understand. However, I will tell you this, which is coming from my heart and being your lifelong friend. I want you to think about this from time to time. You had one thing I will never have in my lifetime and that was the opportunity to have a precious child and to experience what unconditional true love was all about. We're 48 now and I look back and wish that for one moment in my life, that I was you and I had a child - someone, who would love me no matter what; someone who would need me every day; someone who would want me around to laugh and play with. For one time, I just wanted to be able to hear that word when my child looked at me and said, "Daddy."
I know this doesn't compare to what you're feeling, but trust me, I envy the fact that you had the chance to experience that bond that only a parent can have with their child. I'll never get that chance, and knowing that kills me every day. I know you're upset and I don't blame you one bit, but when that pain comes over you just step back for me and take a moment to say, "I have memories that my buddy will never get a chance to experience in his life, no matter how brief it was, and one day I will get to see my little girl again and I will truly understand why God let this all happen."
I hope and pray you’re not offended by what I said, because that's not why I said it. I said it because I've never had the chance to even get to see the smile on my child's face at Christmas. I've spent them all alone. So, I hope and pray that you think about this when you’re feeling down and like shit. Just know that you had something I'll never get a chance to have - a child and all the glorious memories that come along with that.
Your Lifelong Buddy,
Whoa! I think I better just pump the breaks for a second, take all this in, and try to digest it.
That's about where I am five years into this thing. I still miss her like hell, but my eyes also don't turn red with rage anymore when someone coming from a genuine place of empathy gently points out to me how lucky I was to even know her at all. I'm closer to being ready to hear those words.
Even now though, maybe that sort of message couldn't come from just anyone. You have to earn the right to say something like that to somebody who's hurting.
In order for me to accept those hard to hear but oh so true words, I really have to know the person saying them. I almost have to have shared the unique bond of growing up with them in West Virginia to be open to their viewpoint.
This post started as a letter to my precious little one, and I want to finish that.
Perspective is elusive when the one thing you couldn't bear losing is lost, but I'm trying.
I've had a really interesting life these past five years. Things haven't always gone my way, but I've taken some chances and done some cool things I never even dreamt of doing.
You'd be proud of the way I leapt with both feet just like you so often did. For maybe one of the rare periods in my life, I don't have many regrets over missed opportunities.
And if I could do you over, I wouldn't change that either. My friend is 100% right.
Even if I could get rid of all the pain by not knowing you at all, I'd never choose that path. I'd choose you, just the way it went, with every bit of heartache.
Maybe the memories are starting to fade and get jumbled in my mind or whatever, but that doesn't really matter at all. I knew a kind of love many people will never experience.
I remember that feeling as if you never left. And when you occupy this much space inside my heart, maybe you never did.