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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Whisper of a touch

A man I barely know touched my shoulder in conversation recently and I bristled. My body actually stiffened on a noticeable level. I realized that this sort of innocent touch happens often between two who are intimate, such as husband and wife.

Like when I would be at the sink washing dishes and Andie would need to wash his hands- our bodies would brush against each other. Or when I was cooking dinner and he would lightly kiss the back of my neck as he walked by. Sometimes when we were both in a rush to get ready and would end up in the closet picking out clothes at the same time we would bump into each other. I remember our arms touching in the car as we both would rest an arm on the center console- often this would lead to us holding hands for a few seconds, or me rubbing his arm. I think of passing each other in a doorway, he was almost as broad as the doorway and we would both have to turn sideways to make it through but we would have a moment of connection. I remember touching his shoulder often when I talked to him, just like the man who recently touched mine. When I would hand him one of the babies while he was sitting on the couch and our legs would rub against each other. Or our fingers would meet for a second as I was handing him the car keys. The most comforting closeness was lying in bed next to each other and feeling the presence of him- often in the night he would roll over and lean against me.

It reminds me of the studies I've read about infants in Russian orphanages that are left in their cribs almost 24 hours a day with no cuddling and no touch. The psychological damage of that is lifelong and they often go on to develop numerous psychological problems, failure to thrive, Reactive Attachment Disorder. To know that something so easy to give and so rewarding for both people involved, is the very thing that keeps these babies from thriving is truly heartbreaking.

The catch phrase "Reach out and touch someone" holds significant meaning- we need touch, connection, validation from another that we exist and are important and are valued. Funny how an innocent pat on the shoulder can hold so much meaning; "I'm still alive and noticed," it says. I'm usually one that has a definite "bubble"- I've never been a hugger. But these days I'll soak up any kind of touch I can get- I even welcome hugs and the requisite intrusion of my "bubble".

Of course I miss the kind of touch we all think about; hugs, kisses, holding hands, shoulder rubs.

But what I miss the most is the whisper of a touch...those barely perceptible moments of connection that you don't even realize you have.

Until they're gone...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tracks of my tears

This morning on my way to work I decided to change out some of the CD’s in my CD player. One I chose was a Motown/Golden Oldies mix that I put together years ago with artists like Smoky Robinson, The Supremes, Otis Redding, The 4 Tops, etc. Not sure why I chose that one, other than it must have been my unconscious trying to work some things out.

You see, we used to vacation in Kerrville every summer at our family’s one room cabin with no a/c, no TV, no phone, etc. All we had was a radio that was always tuned to the oldies station- my dad loved oldies and especially when we were at the cabin. I think it reminded him of his own childhood summers spent there. Immediately when my CD came on I was taken back to when I was about 8 years old. The sound of oldies on the radio slipping through the screen door while me and my brother climbed trees, or played tag, or explored the woods around the cabin. This was the place where my father taught us to find arrowheads, and make flint rocks spark (in the unlikely event that we ever get lost in the woods and needed to build a fire), roasted marshmallows on the open fire pit, and hiked nature trails with us. It was like a time warp- we did all the things that he and his brothers did when they explored those same woods and hills when they were kids.

So this morning I was taken back to this place in my mind and I realized that in just over a month, my father will have been gone for 15 years. Half of my life. I was struck by the eerie similarities of losing him and losing Andie. They both died unexpectedly of heart conditions that were unknown to all of us at the time. They both were taken way too soon, leaving a wife and two children behind. They both could have been saved if medical intervention had gone the way it should have. And then, there’s Kerrville-the place my father loved the most and I practically grew up, the place where Andie’s parents grew up and graduated high school, the place we were vacationing when Andie died.

Now, as an adult, looking back through my not-so-rose-colored glasses, that place has lost its charm for me. There isn’t a sense of nostalgia when I think of Kerrville-there is a sense of dread. It makes me think of the two most important men in my life, both of whom are gone and never to return.

I picture it like a black hole on map- something to be avoided for fear of what could happen next. Like the Bermuda Triangle smack dab in the middle of Texas- there are warning signs, “Do Not Pass Through- Go Around!” It makes me abundantly sad to think that a place that used to hold so many happy memories is now something I want to avoid thinking about. I feel like the universe is trying to teach me a lesson, as if it is saying, “You didn’t get it the first time around, do you get it now?” I'm still not sure I do...I'm continually trying to find meaning in all of this.

Now as I type this, I find myself humming a song that got stuck in my head this morning...

“So take a good look at my face/

you'll see my smile looks out of place/

if you look closer, it's easy to trace the tracks of my tears"

- Smoky Robinson & The Miracles

Monday, October 25, 2010

The color of a widow...

Black is the color of mourning but I’ve come to believe gray is the color of a widow. The widow’s world is overshadowed by guilt, regret, doubt, uncertainty, and gloominess once the actual mourning has subsided and we begin to “move on” and establish a new normal. So to me, gray is most appropriate shade.

Guilt and regret are the most salient emotions for me these days…there are a thousand decisions along the way that if I’d made differently might have resulted in a different outcome for Andie.

As I was walking with the girls the other day on the familiar route that Andie and I used to jog together a memory ran through my mind like a jumpy movie reel- fleeting snippets passing through my consciousness. A few weeks before he died he had complained that he got short of breath when we were running. This was one such occasion, and he had to slow down and quit running. He told me to go on ahead without him and finish the run- he would walk home behind me. I remember turning to him and saying, “Oh yeah right, with my luck you’ll have a heart attack and drop dead and there will be no one here to save you, and I’ll just be waiting for you at home. I’m not leaving you.” So we walked the rest of the way home together.

The irony of that situation is that I didn’t leave him, and when he did “drop dead” from heart problems I was lying right beside him in bed. I stayed by his side until he passed from this world, and despite the fact that I was right there with him I still couldn’t save him. So it didn’t matter after all, except that it gives me peace to know that he was not alone in those last moments and that I was there the whole time.

I have a lot of guilt over not being able to do more to save him-not acting quicker, wishing I hadn’t gone into panic mode, not knowing what to do. I regret making the flippant comment that “with my luck” he would drop dead. I regret that I didn’t make him go see a cardiologist after he couldn’t finish our normal run. I regret that we went on vacation and were miles from the nearest hospital when he died. There is guilt that in an effort to lessen his anxiety about his chest pain, I tried to act as if it was just something minor instead of being honest with how scared I was. I regret that we chose to have his doctor look at him on Monday when we returned from vacation instead of going right in on Friday morning. There is guilt that perhaps I didn’t tell him enough how much I loved him or how much he meant to me. There is guilt about all the fights and things said in the heat of the moment over the years that were hurtful. I regret that this past year of having twins was one of the most difficult years in our marriage and I didn't have more patience with him.

My guilt colors my world. There is a dense fog over my perceptions. It makes me second guess all the decisions I’ve made and will have to make. What if I do it wrong again, what consequences will I have to suffer the next time around?

Guilt: the color of a widow and regret it’s close cousin...tandem shades of gray.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My "purple heart"

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military.

It occurs to me that many of you may not know the exact story of what happened to Andie. In a nutshell, he had heart disease that led to a fatal arrhythmia while we were on vacation at my family reunion. One minute things were fine, the next minute they weren’t. It was sudden, and unexpected, and traumatic.

It was like I entered a war zone. This is how I received my “purple heart” for being wounded in the line of duty as a wife.

While the emergency team worked on him in the ER they allowed me to sit beside him and hold his hand and talk to him. They even got me a stool and I remember being concerned that I would be in their way. I never let go of his hand, and never stopped telling him that I needed him to hang on. The doctor told me that they had gotten to a place where they needed to stop trying to save him, but that if I wanted them to they would keep working on him a little longer. Of course I asked that they continue, all the while knowing that even if they got him back he had been without oxygen long enough that there would be permanent damage, and he would not be the Andie that we all knew and loved. After another round of medications, and shocks, and CPR, and all efforts- there was still no heart beat. The doctor looked at me and our eyes locked, and I knew what the next moment would bring- I had to let him go.

It’s funny the things you think about in moments of extreme stress. I looked at the clock and it was roughly a quarter to midnight, and I asked if they could wait and not call the time of death until after midnight because then it would be 6/19- I did not want him to die on 6/18 because that was his niece’s birthday and I didn’t his death to overshadow her life. The doctor told me that it was too long to wait and they needed to go ahead and pronounce him. All I could say was, “okay”. I stayed on that stool holding his hand, kissing it, and caressing it on my cheek for what seemed like an eternity.

The necklace I wear with Andie’s wedding ring on it was put on me that night by a nurse and I haven’t removed it since that moment. The trauma team had gone and a nurse came in to turn off the machines. I was in the room alone with him and the nurse, and she asked me if I wanted his necklace. I said I did, so she removed it from his body with such tenderness; almost like she was afraid to hurt him. She went to the sink to wash the vomit off of it and brought it back to me. She asked if I wanted to wear it, I said I did. In that moment of silence as she put the necklace on me and clasped it, my world shifted. The finality of all that had just happened hit me. The necklace that I had never seen my husband without was now around my neck. In that moment the nurse showed me the meaning of human connection- silence between us with a thousand words unsaid. I don’t even know her name but she will always hold a very special place in my heart and in my memories for her loving act of compassion.

So I wear his necklace with his wedding ring on it like it is a war wound, my “purple heart”, my “medal of valor”. It’s my symbol to the world of what I’ve been through. I feel almost as strongly about removing it as I do my wedding rings. I find myself toying with it during the day, slipping his wedding ring on my own finger, touching my hand to it when I speak of him. Often I don’t even know that I’m doing it, it’s like my subconscious way of reaching him.

That necklace is a symbol of our last moments of connection as husband and wife. Where he ended, I began.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You're gonna think I'm crazy...

Andie connected with me from the other side. I’ve been touched by an angel.

There, I’ve said it. Out loud- to the whole world.

You probably think I’m crazy, I did too…until it happened for the third time last night.

Last night was a difficult night. The girls went down without a peep right on time so I decided to go take a bath and wind down myself. Suddenly Allie starts crying- I wait- she keeps crying. After about 5-10 minutes I decide I better get out of the tub and go deal with her before she wakes Addie up. This pattern has been going on with her for almost two weeks- she goes down right on time, falls quickly asleep, then wakes about 2 hours later crying and ready to play. I brought her to bed with me to try to calm her and she would not be still, constantly moving position, crawling, bouncing, babbling, etc. After a while I put her back in bed and told her she was just gonna have to cry it out because it was her bedtime, and now mommy’s bedtime. I let her cry for 10 minutes then went back in to calm her. When I left she cried again, and I mean screamed for 20 full minutes- it was excruciating to watch the clock and pray she would just exhaust herself- and she never did. Then the dreaded happened- Addie woke up too, so now they were both crying. And I was fuming.

I tried holding and calming them in their room but to no avail, so into my bed all three of us pile. They nitpicked at each other, played with each other, stole each other’s pacifiers, they did everything but go to sleep. After about 10-15 minutes I had had it, back to bed they both went. I decided I would steel myself and they could both cry themselves to sleep. Mother of the year? I was not. Patron saint of patience? Not even close.

Addie went down right away…Allie fought it, and fought it, and fought it…now we are looking at close to an hour of her refusing to sleep and screaming at the top of her lungs. I flung myself out of bed and stomped into her room. I picked her up to bring her back to bed with me and told her, “You are really frustrating me, and your daddy isn’t helping me out any!” I figure if he had to die, the least he could do is help me out from the other side, right? Doesn’t he have some special powers now that he’s an angel, can’t he see I’m having a hard time and somehow send calming vibes to the girls, or to me? Can’t he give me something?!?!

I promise this is going somewhere, just bear with me…

So I lay Allie down on my pillow and I lie down next to her and nuzzle my face in her neck, inhaling the sweet baby smell, telling myself to calm down and take a deep breath. And for the first time, she lies perfectly still and gets quiet. She dozes off within mere minutes then shifts position and rolls over on my chest and throws her sweet little arm around my neck. As I start to doze off I get a sensation right behind my ear…I’ve had this sensation twice before and I’m convinced it’s Andie making contact with me from the other side.

I can’t even describe the feeling; it’s like an energy on my skin. The sensation that something is touching me, but not touching me at the same time, sorta similar to the hair rising on the back of your neck but the hair isn’t rising, there’s no goose bumps and it’s localized to one specific spot. It’s like if you hold your hand millimeters away from your face and close your eyes, you can feel the presence of your hand, the energy from it, but you know that something is not actually touching you.

It startled me a bit because it started out faintly then got stronger, I actually reached my hand around and felt behind my ear to see if something like the sheet, or Allie’s hand had wandered up there, and there was actually a perfectly good reason for the sensation. There wasn’t anything there and the feeling continued a little longer then faded away. I am convinced that he heard my plea of needing help and he answered, he calmed Allie down in the few seconds it took me to walk from her bedroom to mine and lay her down. Then he touched me to let me know he was there supporting me.

It’s happened two other times before. I really thought that I was just going crazy, or making things up in my head, but now that it’s happened a third time I’m convinced that he is showing me he is here. Every night before I fall asleep I talk to him and ask him to give me a sign he’s here and to visit me in my dreams.

The first time it happened I was lying in bed and in that state between awake and asleep where you don’t have all your senses about you. I got the feeling that something was lying on top of me, there was a weight on me and I couldn’t move. It woke me up fully, and I had the distinct sensation that Andie had just been lying with me. That was only a couple of weeks after he died and I wrote it off as part of my imagination and being in the crazy throes of grief. Even my mom kinda looked at me like I was going cuckoo when I told her about it.

The second time it happened was much like last night, I was lying in bed and this energy sensation appeared on my temple, almost like he was kissing me goodnight, or brushing my hair away from my face. Each time that it has happened the feeling has lingered long enough for me to become fully awake and aware of myself, so I know that it’s not something I’m dreaming.

I choose to believe that he hears me, and knows when I need him, and is sending me a sign that our love and connection still endures.

Even if that makes me crazy…

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The price of healing...

“Money often costs too much.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The other day while sitting at the lake and having a few minutes to myself I was reflecting on all the things Andie and I had dreamed about: buying a boat, having a lake house, building our dream home on our 2.5 acres, traveling, getting him a new truck, etc. They were all things we couldn’t afford to do, or felt would be irresponsible to do when there were things like retirement and college funds that needed more immediate attention. We always thought we would “get to it” later….it occurred to me that the irony of my situation is that now, thanks to life insurance, I have the money to actually afford those things but I don’t want them. I could go out and buy a boat, or a lake house, or both…but I don’t want to because there is no joy in it without Andie to share it with.

So there it sits in an account earning interest (I am nothing if not responsible and practical, afterall) becoming an ever larger, looming, burden…and I have NO desire to spend it. Whatever I bought with it would seem tainted to me, like I would always know in the back of my mind I traded Andie for this house, or boat, or whatever…

The joy of spending money comes from working hard to earn it. I didn’t rightfully earn the money I now have- I sacrificed my most precious gift for it. I lost my husband, my life, my everything, and got several big checks in return…how messed up is that? I have apathy towards the money, a hatred for it, a denial that it even exists because it represents my husband’s life and puts a value on something that is priceless. To put a numerical value on what a person is worth is impossible, and absurd. He deserves so much more, I deserve so much more, my kids deserve so much more. Not more money- more time, more hugs, more intimate moments, more laughs, more life! Whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness was right on- I can’t buy my way out of this pain. There is no price on healing.

So, yeah, the money I have did cost me too much…and it so wasn’t worth it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Life goes on...

" In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on"

- Robert Frost

I was in a funk for most of the beginning of the weekend, knowing that the 4-month anniversary was coming up. I had dinner plans with friends on Friday that got cancelled and Mom had to leave shortly after I got home from work on Friday, so there I sat with nothing to do and the thought of a spending a weekend alone was crushing. I felt so abandoned and couldn’t see past the moment of despair…these beautiful weathered weekends were supposed to be spent with my husband and children doing fun activities, not alone handling two busy toddlers all by myself for one more monotonous night of dinner/bath/bedtime routine. I was so lonely and alone and sad and angry and pitiful and pathetic. I could go on and on…basically I just couldn’t push past those feelings so I didn't. I did what any self-respecting widow would do: I wallowed in them and let myself feel it all, and wouldn’t ya know it- just like a toddler throwing a tantrum, once it was all out I was over it. Within minutes!

The good news is that my evening went on to get better and so did the weekend. Me and the girls had a fun evening spending time alone together. The very next day Addison took her first steps. It was such a joyful and exhilarating experience and I was so glad that I was home with her to see it happen. Of course it was bittersweet that Andie wasn’t there in person but I could feel his presence. On Sunday I got together with my close girl friends at the lake for the afternoon and had a nice time. We usually get together on the 18th of the month to commemorate the anniversary of Andie’s passing and help me through what is usually a rough day, but we did it a day early this month due to schedule conflicts. It was of course a beautiful day and I could almost visualize Andie standing on the dock at the lake house fishing! It was the kind of day he would have loved. The evening wrapped up with dinner at my house with Andie’s side of the family. All of the sudden, I wasn’t feeling so abandoned or alone- I was feeling loved and supported and embraced.

So life does go on despite the fact that I don’t want it to, or that the way that it’s going on is not really convenient for me, or what I had planned. Life goes on and your children walk for the first time, and you spend quality time with really good friends, you watch your children kiss their grandmother, and you continue to celebrate the little things you can find joy in.

Friday, October 15, 2010


"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."

- Henri Nouwen

Wow! Isn't that powerful and thought provoking- and SO true! It is hard to really just BE with someone who is in pain and not feel the need to talk through it or offer condolences. It has been interesting to see how people have reacted to me in my "time of mourning". The friends who I thought would be right there at my beck and call, now suddenly stand back in the shadows, rarely making contact, afraid to reach out (probably more so because of their own issues than mine) and the people who were periphery friends now step up to the plate and jump in full force ready to help and often checking in when I least expect it.

I have no judgment of either group, for I have been on both sides of the grief journey more than once. I understand the lack of understanding and the not knowing what to do or say in certain situations. I understand what it's like to have questions but be afraid to ask or pry. I know how uncomfortable it is to be with someone and bear witness to their pain and not be able to help.

I've heard it said that people come into our lives to teach us lessons, and they leave when the lesson has been learned. I guess there is no better time to learn some lessons than now. I am saddened to think that some people will slowly disappear from my life because they knew me through Andie and now there is not that connection anymore, yet I understand that it is also the natural course of things. In a way I welcome the reprieve from some people whose relationship feels like an obligation or something that must be maintained, to make way for new friends who bring fulfillment to my life. On the other hand, I don't want to lose any connection to what my life with Andie used to be.

I wonder what lessons I've learned from those who will now fade from my life, and what lessons I've imparted to them. I'm excited to think about what new things I will learn from those making more of an appearance in my life. While I am afraid of my future for the first time in my life, I am also curious and hopeful about what it will bring.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My everything...

"If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream."

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

My daughters: my inspiration, my hope, my courage, my dream.

Grief- the condensed version

The other night I awoke feeling unsettled, I don't remember waking from a dream or what exactly woke me up, but I was restless and felt like I needed to journal. Allie was in bed with me so I grabbed my journal and snuck to the bathroom where I could turn on the light and jotted down my thoughts. I went right back to bed, quickly fell back to sleep, and had totally forgotten about the incident until last night when I flipped back a few pages looking for another entry and saw's my version of my grief story condensed in a metaphorical context- yes, I really just said metaphorical context, I'm a nerd. I am choosing to share this so others can understand grief without having to ask someone who is grieving all the nitty gritty details that you're really too afraid to ask anyway.

"Losing Andie was like being caught in a rip tide- my feet were pulled out from under me and I went under- disoriented, not knowing which way was up. Instinctively I found the surface and burst thru gasping for air and for a second you think it's all gonna be okay, only to find yourself farther from shore- adrift at sea with no bearings or sense of direction. At first you want to fight the current but realize that to survive you must tread water and ride the waves hoping that someone will appear ready to help and throw you a life preserver.

Every now and then I still get the urge to fight the waves- I'm learning to ride them. I would not be surviving without Shannon and most importantly Mom. They are my saviors. "

Here's honoring the "life preservers" in my life- my best friend, my brain's other half, my confidant Shannon- and my ridiculously supportive, always ready to lend a hand, self-sacrificing mother. I love y'all!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Holding on to letting go...

There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.

- Aeschylus

I've been listening to my new Randy Rogers CD a lot lately and the song "Holding on to letting go" kinda speaks to me. The song doesn't so much pertain to my life but the title sure does.

I haven't "let go" of much because I don't want to move on without Andie. The stack of cards on my dresser just keeps getting bigger, the flags presented to me at his funeral are still in the same place I set them when I got home that day, his boots are still by his chair in the bedroom where he left them, and so on.

Yesterday I "let go"... but just a little. I needed to reorder checks from the bank and so I got online and hit "quick reorder". Up pops a picture of how my checks will look and the bank is asking me to verify that all the information is correct. There I stare, for what seemed like an eternity at "Andie or Brooke Simmons" on the top of the checks. I knew I needed to take his name off-he can't write checks now, afterall. "No," I told myself, "you can do it later". I almost hit confirm, then I stopped...."push" yourself, this is a small I hit edit and deleted his name, letter-by-stinkin’-letter. And then the tears started...AT WORK!!! This was the first time I've broken down at work. I actually had to leave my office and go to my car. I had to remind myself to breathe-how is something so mundane like ordering checks so traumatic?!?!?

In that moment it all became so definitive, permanent, finite, real...I was literally “deleting” him from a part of my life. I can still remember going to the bank after we got married and combining our bank accounts. I was giddy with excitement that we were merging our lives- two became one. And now, I’ve come full circle.

So, I’m “holding on to letting go” and digging in my heels. No surprise there for those of you who know how stubborn I can be! The universe will have to pry him from the grips of my love and I won’t let go until I’m damn good and ready (and even then, it will be little by little).

Monday, October 4, 2010


Today is our 7th wedding anniversary. Technically we only made it 6 years, 8 months, and 14 days but I'm still celebrating today. I went to visit Andie's grave early this morning before work- it was the perfect kind of morning that he would have loved. Clear skies, beautiful sunrise, and cool weather. I talked to him a bit and thanked him for choosing me as the one he wanted to spend forever with. I let him know that I was so complete and fulfilled with him and he will forever hold my heart. He was all I ever needed.
He gave me a gift that very few people get to experience in this world, the gift of complete, unwavering, true love. His dedication to me and our marriage was solid, and even when I look back at times in our marriage where I had doubts, he never did. I am so grateful for the time I had with him, though wistful that it could have been longer.

"Being loved deeply by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage." - Lao Tzu

People tell me I have been so "strong" through all of this- Andie is the reason I am strong, because I can draw strength knowing he loved me to the depths of his soul. Because I loved him so deeply I have courage to move forward knowing he is always with me and the girls.

He loved me with all that he had, and I him. In fact, we still do...