Thursday, November 25, 2021

Last First Thanksgiving

I'm not moping, I'm thankful. Still, the holidays are just hard because best of all memories happen this time of year and it hurts to think of the old ones with her and the new ones without her. 

I cannot sidestep that particular pain. This, like all other stages of this mess, is another part the people left behind are required to face.  

I went to group counseling for the last time a month ago and at the end of the session they asked what it was that I learned.  I said, "I learned that you either heal and move forward or you move forward without healing, but either way you move forward."  The one way is just far superior to the other.  

(It’s not a concept I came up with. I was just repeating back what other people had taught me in my own simplified form.) 

I kind of hate it because what I really want is for things to never change.  I want it to stay as frozen in 2021 as possible so I can hold on to what was.  Why is that not an option? 

But it’s not and that’s one of life’s great mercies. Time never gets stuck. It’s just us. 

Thank God my kids’ school didn’t stop on January 24th. And that work projects still came in with brand new deadlines that carried me into the spring. Summer came with all the activities and energy that our family loves. And here we are in fall. 

Today is the last first Thanksgiving without her. I can never redo this day, but look at it another way: I never have to redo this day.  If the last 10 months have taught me anything, it’s that the pain will come. And our family's goal has never been to hurt as little as possible, but to heal as well as possible. 

I think we’re getting there and I’m thankful. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Peg Solitaire and Single Parenting

You guys know the game. You're at a hole-in-the-wall diner before smartphones existed. Breakfast has been ordered (even though it's noon) and you know you have a solid 30 minutes to kill because there's a half dozen orders in front of you that want that same chicken fried steak you asked for.

The cook can only move so fast, so you wait at your table with a glass of ice water, salt and pepper shakers, a sugar holder with white, blue and pink packets and--if you're lucky--a plastic Smucker's caddy that still has some Seedless Blackberry in it. And peg solitaire.

Peg solitaire doesn't have the sophistication of card solitaire games like Spider or FreeCell. No. Peg solitaire is multiple rounds (about 30 minutes worth) of hilarious futility. This is the game where you end up laughing at yourself because you can't seem to quite get what appears to be a simple concept.

Oooh, I know. I'll jump here. Wait. No.

Here, then here, then here and...

OK. Three pegs left.  I almost win!

Steve Fishman (CC by 2.0)

Let's start over with the empty hole at the corner.  

From here to here to here. 

No. No, that's not right. Right here. NO. Seriously?


This is what single parenting is like every day. It doesn't seem like such a complicated thing. The end goal is right there in front of me. Somehow I keep running out of moves but I never run out of pegs.

Days happen, the clock spins and somehow stuff just gets past me. Come on. I'm better than that! Let's go again cuz we got this! 

(by 11 PM the next day) REALLY? It's like that!?!

Next day: Nope.

The next day: What?

The day after that: Two pegs to go and I almost win!!!

Yet another day: Is my chicken fried steak here yet?

I'm outnumbered. I'm tired. There's small details and intricacies of life that are no longer even considerations. Every seam is strained with necessity. Options are no longer optional. Out of moves, but the pegs are still in their places and they're laughing at me.

Can I tell you that I enjoy it? For some reason in this short season of life, I'm here playing the near-unwinnable game that was never meant to be a solo endeavor, but God has placed me at this table for a little while. And He's given me something to do. Something seemingly futile, but somehow there's laughter and love and understanding.

I cannot tell you the newly-gained respect I have for the single parents that I know. Especially, considering that so many of them I know are doing it well. In all of these amazing stories, I just think a lot of times the joy gets lost between the order and the steak.


A few months ago I was talking with a fellow single parent trying to understand what it is I could do better. During the conversation, I told them how amazing their kids were and how much I admired them as a family. My friend replied with two words:

I've tried.

Same, my friend. Same.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

20 (I Wanted This)

Today would have been our 20th anniversary.  Why do I feel selfish for saying that I wanted this?

What's strange is that if we went back nine months ago to Christmas Day--a month before I lost her--I would have told you that we would make it to today.  How could I have been so na├»ve?  All the signs were there, but I just knew we could go one more round.  It couldn't be over.  She was too strong and I was too determined to not let that happen.

And we were stuck on 19. No one wants to be stuck on 19.  You don't party because it's your junior year.  They don't throw you a parade when you win the primary election but lose the general.  The date can't end on appetizers.

I wanted this.  If only so she could prove one last time that this spiteful, heartless, family-destroying disease couldn't determine our destiny.  To prove (for maybe egotistical reasons) that we kept that commitment to each other for two decades.  There's more we needed to prove.

And I wanted that one more trip.  That one more stroll down the Riverwalk.  One more memory.  To be able to say "We did it."  We hit that milestone of that number with that zero on the end.  There's more we needed to do.

Maybe we could have renewed our vows.  Or taken that second honeymoon we'd talked about so much.  Made a little photo album of each year with one of those internet services.  It's all so pointless and punishing to think about now.  There's more we needed to share.

19 years, 4 months, 16 days.  

We were close, but not that close and it hurts.


Last weekend, I took the kids, some friends and my mom back to Astoria to stay on the Columbia River, practically next door to where Anne-Marie and I stayed a year ago.  The city was full of Labor Day vacationers but to me it was a collection of snapshots of only one person.  Anne-Marie told me that the best memories of her entire life were found on those streets.

I was surprised that I couldn't feel angry or cheated.  What I had was 19 years of happy memories.  All of them happy.  One year less than I wanted, but 19 more than so many are given.  While the whole thing had an essence of wrongness to it, there was a sense of wonder in knowing that this urban scrapbook told the story of a (half?) life well-lived.

Like the fireworks show you wanted to last forever or the novel you couldn't put down.  You were mad when they ended but only because it was all so great.  Could you blame it for being wonderful?  And if it went by too fast, why?  Were you caught up in it?  I hope you were.

I love you forever, Anne-Marie.

Us throwing 20 roses for 20 years into the Columbia River

Saturday, July 24, 2021

I Would; I Wouldn't

I would have pushed her around in that wheelchair for another 19 years; I wouldn’t have her in pain for one more day. 

I would have been fine with a boring life that didn’t include all this pain; I wouldn’t change the life we shared together. 

I would pray that God would ask this of somebody else; I wouldn’t wish this on anybody else. 

I would love to tell her so many things that happened these last six months; I wouldn’t think I’d care once I saw her face. 

I would try to move beyond all of this; I wouldn’t say I’m not afraid of what’s beyond. 

I would hope that when I told her that “we’d figure it out somehow” that I was telling the truth; I wouldn’t look at today as a very good example of that. 

I would have learned how to cook if I knew how this was all gonna play out; I wouldn’t eat that meatloaf if I was you. 

I would think that we could have had it happen some other way; I wouldn’t accuse God of being unwise. 

I would have said all the things that I needed to say; I wouldn’t be so easy on myself to admit that I really did. 

I would give everything I have for one more day with her; I wouldn’t take her away from the peace she enjoys now. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Celebrate You Once More

Today is not your 42nd birthday because the time for those is through. I’m pretty sure today is a celebration where you are. Tomorrow will be, too.

I saw you, yesterday, for a moment on the corner of Broadway and Alder, but the truth is that 18 months has passed since your feet last walked there, so full of life and happiness. I could see you smiling as you roamed the city streets with the kids. Christmas lights in the square reflected off your eyes and nothing could ever change. 

But our town feels vacant with your shadow no longer cast on its bricks and the streets so in need of revival. The ring of children’s laughter was carried away on a stiff December breeze, yet the late spring calls for a reunion. Will it ever come? How could it ever be the same?

It’s still raining on Southwest Morrison. The even drizzle sticks to everything and makes it hard for the few passing strangers to see my tears. I know that in the land of endless sun, you probably don’t need rain. At least, not nearly as much as I need it today.

All the complete incompletions of our young lives float in puddles here on these streets and I keep hoping to catch a glimpse.  It’s as if you’re there, outside of time and space, in an ever-fading flow of memory, but still I search.

Won’t you come find me?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Free: 15 Years After Diagnosis

Friday, May 12, 2006, was Diagnosis Day.  

I remember the time of day.  

I remember how the room looked.  

I remember what the doctor was wearing.  

I remember the tone of his voice when he told us.

I remember that we went to Biscuits Cafe in Oregon City afterward to talk it over.  

I remember getting sick on the meal.

I can still see us driving to Sunriver for the weekend to try to figure it all out.

15 years might have been too much to ask.  Or too little.  Or just enough.

I truly do not know anymore.

5 years later, we returned to Sunriver when 2012's recurrence happened during the same week in May.

That was 10 years ago this week.  You told me the five reasons you didn't want to die:

  1. You were too young
  2. You didn't want the kids to have their mother taken again
  3. You wanted more time with me
  4. You had more things you wanted to do for God in ministry
  5. You hated cancer and wanted to show it that it wouldn't win
Well, you were too young, Anne-Marie, and the kids' mother was taken.

You got 10 more years with me, but wanted more.

You didn't get to finish all the stuff you wanted to do for God through your ministry to others.

But #5?  Cancer didn't win.  I'm calling that a unanimous decision for you.

So enjoy your 2021, Anne-Marie (if there's any time to be had where you are).  

You're cancer free.