Dreams

The dreams are back.

At first, I wished for him to be in my dreams.  I wanted to sleep forever and just dream about him, to live in the parallel universe a small part of me believed existed where he was still alive, my life was still the same, and we still had each other.

Ironically during those times I had insomnia and would lay awake for hours each night.

Then the dreams came that were more like flashbacks.  I think my brain was trying to process the trauma I had compartmentalized far away in the depths of my consciousness while Jason was sick.  I remember in particular that I would often dream of our last 4th of July, when I watched fireworks from his hospital room.  That day, I was cool, calm, and collected as I drove him to the emergency room in my Mini Cooper.  He was throwing up because spinal fluid was leaking from an internal incision from his brain surgery a month earlier that wouldn’t completely heal.  I remember calling his parents and telling them we wouldn’t be able to make it to the family picnic that night.  I am calm in my memory of that day.  But the dream was always a nightmare, where I felt terrified and unsure of what to do. There was a time when I would have a dream like that every night, when I didn’t want to shut my eyes for fear of what I might be confronted with.

As time passed, those dreams did too.  It helped that I talked about those flashbacks with other widows, my therapist, other people experiencing grief.  I processed them during the day so my brain wouldn’t have to do that wrestling with itself at night.

It’s been a few years since I consistently had dreams of Jason.  He would pop in every once in awhile, but in a welcome and comforting way.  Lately the dreams have been different.

One recurring dream starts with him coming ‘home’.  I find out the truth is he never actually died, he was taken to a special hospital in Kenya where they treat people who have terrible illnesses like his, and put them in comas until their bodies have time to heal.  The healing process is very slow, and takes a long time, and for some reason it has to be done in Africa. Now, after 6 years he is better and ready to restart our life.  I’ve woken up from this dream, in varying editions, several times in the past two weeks.

The second one also involved him coming ‘back’. This time he is essentially taking me out on a date, trying to woo me again.  I think we went to dinner, but the part I remember clearly is him taking me back to his parents house after.  Neither of us ever says this, but in my dream I know this is the point: his parents and his family have been struggling since he died, and now that he’s back, we need everything to go back to the way it was to help them start living again, too.

Both dreams end with me needing to make a heart wrenching choice, the choice between my old life and my new one.

This is a new type of dream in my grief  journey, and I’m shaken by it.  I do think there is a reason for this turn, and I need to understand it in the same way I needed to understand those flashbacks.

Fear still sits in the back of my brain.  Grief has made me acutely aware of being grateful and helped me let go of worries that don’t seem worth the energy any more.  But sometimes fear still creeps in.  I am afraid of feeling too happy.  I worry that if I am too happy that means something bad is bound to happen.    I guess I can’t let go of the evidence in my life that bad things do happen to good people.

Guilt is the second reason those dark thoughts creep into my brain.  I shouldn’t be too happy with my life now, because in some way that’s being a traitor what was before, and maybe even to Jason.

I think my brain is using these dreams to remind me that I can’t just tuck that fear, or that guilt, far away into my subconscious and try to keep it there.  I need to process the feelings that come with being so incredibly grateful and satisfied with my current life while also always sad for the life and love I lost.

In some ways as time passes it gets harder and harder to let myself do that work.  I want to be present for my family, and not bogged down by events in the past.  But no matter how much time passes my life is still framed by this loss, I must live differently because of that experience.

I suppose this is just another bend in the road in my grief journey.  The scenery is changing, and the road isn’t as smooth as it has been for awhile.  But I’m still moving, the horizon is still beckoning me forward, I just might let myself go a little slower for the next few miles.

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Dear Nicholas #2

One year old

Dear Nicholas,

This past weekend we celebrated your first birthday!  It was so much fun, it’s Tuesday and the decorations are still up because I cannot bear to take them down.  I printed out all the pictures your dad and I have taken during your first year of life and hung them all around our house.  From your first bath, to your first taste of sweet potatoes, I love being surrounded by those precious memories of you and life we now share together.

You are growing into a delightful child!  You are still my baby, but you are so much more than that now, you are a definitely a toddler, and I see glimpses of the little boy you are becoming every day.  You continue to resemble your dad, with your blue eyes, blonde hair, and that sweet smile.  I can also see some of Gubba in you, and Grandpa Havlik is in there as well.  We love being a little family, me, you and your dad.

Our life has settled into a nice routine now.  You go to day care a few days a week, and Grandpa and Grandma Havlik come stay with you on Wednesdays. You don’t like being dropped off at day care but you have fun once we leave, and even brought home your first craft for Easter.  Your dad and I miss you all day while we are at work so we make sure to have the time we spend together be quality.  We play with you, we laugh with you.  We build towers of blocks and you toddle over to knock them down.  Lately you even try to build your own towers.  We put the legos in the lego bucket and you take them all back out again.  You love to put things in something else, or play with the top of your bottle, taking it off and putting it back on again.

We eat dinner together every night. Now you mostly eat whatever we are having for dinner, and we can usually get you to try anything.  You love frozen vegetables, especially peas and green beans.  When you are done eating you throw your food off your tray to Bella, who feasts below.  Your dad and I work really hard not to laugh at that, but it is hilarious.

You are so much fun right now.  You love to play peekaboo when we are eating dinner, you put your own hands up and cover your face and wait for us to say ‘Where’s Nicholas?’ Then you laugh like crazy when you ‘reappear’.  You love to throw balls and will walk up and down the hallway throwing the soft baseball I got at a Cougars game when I was about 18.  I knew it would come in handy someday.

You have also started snuggling more.  We ask you for a hug and you lean in and touch your face to our face, or we ask for a kiss and you put your open mouth on our face.  It’s adorable and gross all at the same time. You have a clear love for me and your dad.

You say mama and dada, and a version of Bella that’s more like ay-ya, but it’s definitely an attempt.  You love to babble and squeal as you toddle around the house.  You are always trying to run everywhere and sometimes your feet go faster than your body and you take a tumble.  You like to take your socks off and then try to put them back on again, or play with the blue striped bear hat, or a pair of sunglasses.  You are so curious about everything around you.

We love you so much, Nicholas.  We love being parents, we love being a family.  We are so incredibly blessed by you, and we can’t wait to see what the next year holds.

5 years

5 years ago on this day my life changed forever.

It’s a bit of a blur, but moments of clear memory will still hit me every now and then. Earlier in the day I stood in the kitchen while the hospice nurse explained what to do if Jason’s breathing should turn to that tell tale rattle that meant death was near.  I think she knew that it would happen that day.  We said goodbye only to call her back a few hours later when everything changed.

Our final moment together, really together- him looking into my eyes, me standing over him holding on tight- it’s burned into my brain.  I hope it never leaves me, honestly.  He looked at me so intensely, and I told him it was okay to go, I would be okay, I remember saying those words, it’s okay, I will be okay.  He mouthed the words I love you and then he was gone.

I got to hold him as he died, I got to call our family and friends to surround him and speak words of love over him as he left us.  I have met many widows who didn’t get that moment.  I choose to be grateful for the chance to experience that with him.

It’s hitting me a little harder this year.  Maybe because 5 years feels like a bit more of a milestone.  Maybe because it’s a Friday again, and every hour I am hit with another memory of that day I didn’t know I’d forgotten.

I’d love to know what he thinks about what I’ve chosen to do with these last 5 years.  I know he is proud.  I know he watches over me, I feel his presence as I stretch myself and grow through the pain of losing him.  I know he has had a hand in the path I’ve followed.  My loving husband, our beautiful son, I can’t help but believe he is sending me these gifts. 

I am a different person today than I was 5 years ago, and I’m very proud of that.  Death is hard. Grief is immense and complicated.  There is no end to a grief journey, I am not over Jason’s death, I will never be.  Our life together, the experience of living with cancer, and the crushing pain of losing him is always going to be in my heart.

That’s why I have to embrace the perspective it gives me as I continue to live.  I feel like it’s a way I can honor him, and our 15 years together.  Sometimes, when I’m working out and my heart is pounding away, I can’t help but cry.  I am alive, just that heartbeat is amazing. I am grateful for the ability to appreciate the simple things in a deeper way.  The serenity of an evening stroll with my little family.  The pure joy in the laughter of my son.  The blessing it is to be in love, to be loved, and to give love.

Sometimes the complexities of being a widow are overwhelming. It’s complicated to love my life now so deeply, to adore my husband and cherish our son with my whole heart, yet always wonder what would have been.  What box do I check on forms? Married? Widowed? I am both. I am loyal to both lives, to both loves. 

I’ve been coming back to this all day trying to find a way to wrap up my thoughts and nothing seems just right. But maybe that’s fitting. This day, the five year anniversary, doesn’t represent the end of anything, certainly not the end of my heart missing Jason.  In so many ways my life began again as I learned to live the last five years. I can’t help but end with my favorite quote: 

“It’s not the length of life, but the depth of life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Do that with me please, to honor Jason. Live. Live fully, live deeply. Just live. 

Dear Nicholas #1

6 weeks old

Dear Nicholas,

The fog is clearing and I can finally put some thoughts together to remember this amazing time in our lives.

Tomorrow you will be 6 weeks old.

These six weeks have flown by, and in some ways are just a blur.  But I also feel that sense of completeness, like you were a piece of my heart I never new I was missing until I held you the day you were born.  That day was wonderful, giving birth to you was a beautiful, simple process that went so much faster than I expected.  Your dad and I truly experienced it together, he took care of me so perfectly the whole day.

You wouldn’t come out!  So on April 8, 2016, I was induced.  I joked that we had to evict you, you were so cozy in there!  But when you came out you were perfect, your little gaze latched on to us and you snuggled  on my chest.  Your dad and I didn’t cry much, I think we were more in disbelief that you were real, and here, and just so perfect.  It was an amazing moment to share, just the three of us.

Everyone loves you so much.  Our family- your family- finds you just as amazing as we do. You stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Havlik while your dad and I went to a movie with our friends Phil and Stacy last week.  It was a real date night for us, we saw the new Captain America movie (Maybe someday you can take over the comic book movie going duties for me!) and you stayed with Grandma and Grandpa.  It was the longest I have been away from you yet.  I wasn’t worried about you, I was more just wondering.   What were you doing, what did you think when you woke up and saw new faces taking care of you?  Turns out you really didn’t care! You were great for them and they loved having you. You are a very lucky boy with all the grandparents you are blessed with.

We are figuring you out, slowly…truth is sometimes your dad and I have no clue what to do with you!  You might be crying, and we just aren’t sure how to help you.  I guess that’s going to happen a lot as we learn to be parents!

You’re starting to make your ‘I’m going to wake up’ squeaks and grunts so I’m going to go check on you. I love listening to those crazy sounds!  And then when you open your eyes and realize there’s something to look at…your face lights up and melts my heart.

I love you, my sweet boy.

Love,

your mom

Dear Baby #7

40 Weeks

Dear baby,

Well, now we are just waiting!  Your due date was April 2, which was Saturday, today is Monday, and you are still comfortably rolling around inside my belly!  I still feel pretty good, being pregnant has been a great experience and I’m not terribly uncomfortable yet.  It is hard to bend down because my belly is getting so big, and a few times I have asked your dad to tie my shoes for me!  I walk a little slower now, too, because I’m carrying around a watermelon sized baby with me! We have everything ready at home for you, all the laundry is done, you have lots of places to sleep, and we are as prepared as I think we can be.  Now we just need YOU.

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I really have enjoyed being pregnant.  I like feeling you with me as I go about my day, resting my hands on my belly and feeling your little bottom pressing out.  Sometimes it’s a lot of pressure!  You are kicking around right now as I write this, and you seem very happy in your little world in there!

Your dad and I have so many hopes and dreams for you, and now that your birth is right around the corner we’ve been talking even more about how we are going to raise you.  Often the conversation includes expression of self doubt from each of us, we just aren’t sure we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into!  But the bottom line is we are so excited to be clueless together, that being this little team- being a family- will be the most amazing adventure we’ve ever been on. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we will figure it out together.  Soon you will be part of that ‘together’.

I’ve been pretty emotional lately, it seems like I cry at the drop of a hat.  Friday I was in Trader Joe’s and a nice young many gave me flowers and said congratulations, and it was all I could do to hold it together as I finished shopping!  I got in the car and as I drove home a popular song came on the radio, and it sealed the deal, I sobbed all the way home.  It’s called Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw.  It pretty well sums up everything your dad and I hope for you as you grow.  We will have many challenges as we decide how to parent you, but the bottom line is we just want you to grow into a kind, thoughtful, hard-working man.

These are the lyrics.  Someday I bet we will sing Tim McGraw songs together, and who knows, maybe this will be one of them.

We love you so much, and we can’t wait to meet you.

You know there’s a light that glows by the front door
Don’t forget the key’s under the mat
Childhood stars shine, always stay humble and kind
Go to church ’cause your momma says to
Visit grandpa every chance that you can
It won’t be wasted time
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

Don’t expect a free ride from no one
Don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why
Bitterness keeps you from flyin’
Always stay humble and kind
Know the difference between sleeping with someone
And sleeping with someone you love
“I love you” ain’t no pick up line so
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

When it’s hot, eat a root beer popsicle
Shut off the AC and roll the windows down
Let that summer sun shine
Always stay humble and kind
Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re goin
Don’t forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind

Love,

Your mom

Dear Baby #5

36 Weeks

Dear baby,

3 weeks and 3 days until your due date!  Right now I am always thinking about when you will come.  Will it be before April 2? A few days later?  Will you be born in March, perhaps?  For the rest of my life I will think of that day a little differently because it will be your birthday.  I am excited for that day, but I am also getting a little anxious, too.

We had our shower about a few weeks ago.  Our dear friend Jen and your Aunt Kate hosted it for us.  It was the perfect day and all of the people who will love you so much were there.  You are going to be so special to so many people, friends and family near and far.

We go to the doctor once a week now.  They do an ultrasound to check and make sure you have enough fluid, and then they hook me up to the monitor for 20 minutes to see how much you’re moving around.  They are checking to see if you are ‘reactive’ and boy you are!  You have been so cooperative so far, wiggling around as if to say, I’m here and I’m happy!  This week when we went you had the hiccups, so we watched my belly twitch every few seconds as the hiccup shook your little body.  I’ve felt hiccups a couple other times, too.  I wonder what your little brain is thinking when that happens?  It seems to make you twitch and kick a lot, so maybe you don’t like it and want it to stop.  Or maybe you like the sensation of being jostled around in there.  I guess I’ll never know!

I feel you wiggling around in my belly all the time now.  I always want to remember the feeling of your little bottom pressing out on my belly as if you want to crack me open like an egg and crawl out!  Or during Pure Barre, after lots of ab work, your little feet are pressed up against my ribs and I can’t bend at all.  I love putting your dad’s hand on my belly, watching him smile in amusement as you press out as if to say hello.  He says it’s a little creepy- cool, but creepy- to feel you moving inside me.  He doesn’t want to squeeze me too tight when he hugs me so he doesn’t squish you.

I can’t believe it’s getting to be the end of this time we have had together.  I actually have loved carrying you around in my belly and feeling you grow.  I didn’t think I would enjoy pregnancy so much, but I have.  This has been such a wonderful experience, I can’t imagine how wonderful it will be when we finally meet you.

I hope I can continue to do this as you get older, so we remember the special moments of the life we are building as a family.  We love you already, our baby boy.  Your dad and I can’t wait to hold you and tell you that in person.

Love,

Your mom

You will be so tired, they say

You will be so tired, they say.  Sleepless nights for months, they reminisce.

You will be tired like you’ve never been tired before, they warn.

I listen, I nod, I smile.  They mean well, they want to share their experiences, relive those precious moments of their pregnancies with me as I experience mine.  It’s a sweet gesture and it’s one part of pregnancy I am enjoying more than I thought I would.  I have always watched that bonding occur between mothers as an outsider, and now I enjoy being part of the celebration in a whole new way.

But in the back of my mind I can’t help but think of other sleepless nights.   Of days I fell asleep at my desk at work from sheer exhaustion.  Of lying in bed with my hand on my husband’s chest all night so I could be sure he was still breathing. Of sleeping on the floor next to him when he could no longer get up the stairs.  Of sleeping whenever he slept, waking to his murmurs, rubbing his back and holding him as he fell back asleep.

It’s a strange parallel, the last few months of life and the first few.

The summer of 2011 comes to me in flashbacks, vivid and strong, sometimes attacking at inconvenient times.  It’s been happening a lot these past few months, as I anticipate the birth of my child.  I suppose I am comparing this life changing event to the other most significant event in my life, the one that changed everything forever, as I know my son’s arrival will.

During the darkest time I wrote this in our Caring Bridge journal:

You know, I’m almost 32 years old.  I spend my days taking care of someone I love so much it hurts.  I feed him watermelon and bits of popsicle.  I tell him the nutrition shake is chocolate milk so he’ll take a few sips. I wake up every few hours each night to rub his back and soothe him back to sleep. I’m trying to rest whenever he does, because I’m just so tired.  I have a hard time leaving him with anyone because I just don’t think they will take care of him the way I would.  I always thought I would be doing all these things as I cared for our child, not for my husband.   

I will be caring for our child in a similar way, but I have to keep telling myself it will just be similar.  Not the same.  This is the beginning of a life. I have Jeff beside me and we will watch him grow together.  God has our boy in His hand, and knows the days He has planned for him.  This experience will change and evolve as he grows and I have to remind myself that this time it’s not the end of something beautiful, it’s just the beginning.

Ask me in a few months if I feel this way still…but right now, I can’t wait for that exhaustion.  It was so worth it to be present for every moment while Jason was dying, and it will be worth it again to be there for my son as he grows.  I can’t wait for the lessons I will learn from him.  If death taught me so much about life, imagine what I have to learn from being a mother?

For now, I will smile when they say it.  You will be so tired.  Yes, I will.  I will be so tired, and I will be so grateful.  I will listen to him breathe, I will soothe him back to sleep in the middle of the night.  I will rest whenever he does, and I will have a hard time leaving him because no one will ever care for him like I will.  This time though, Jeff and I will do these things together.  We will do this for the child we will cherish, the child we are so thankful for.  This time it will not be the end of a beautiful, well lived life, but just the beginning.