Monday, October 6, 2008

Rituals and Remembering

Welcome back. Shortly after Jeff died (and maybe even before), the kids and I decided that we would create a new family ritual: every Sunday we would go to breakfast and tell our stories and memories of Daddy; we would go to mass, and then go visit him at the cemetery. This past Sunday was our first opportunity to implement our ritual. Let's just say it looked better on paper than it did in action.

First, Finn had been up since 7:00 a.m. and needed to be fed almost immediately (as usual). His little tummy is hungry when he wakes up and he is very impatient! So, Finn feasted on Eggo Waffles and, since he had already had breakfast, was likely going to be an unwilling participant in the second breakfast I was plotting for him. I waited until Jack and Regan were awake and I barely pacified them until 9:00 a.m. when I decided it was time to wake up Aubrey (she had been out late at a friend's house the night before). So, we got a late start and didn't leave the house until 9:30 a.m. My vision of all of us joyfully springing out of bed simultaneously, dressed and ready to go at 7:00 a.m. was beginning to seem a little ill-conceived.

Then I got another bad idea: I let the kids negotiate with me to determine the breakfast restaurant. So, due to the regulations of democracy, we ended up holding Jeff's first memorial breakfast at McDonald's. (Note to self: No more governing by consensus). I have nothing against McDonald's, by the way. In fact, I love the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit meal, but I had envisioned four very well-mannered and well-dressed children enjoying a manicured buffet and a view of Lake Michigan.

Instead, this is what I got: at McDonald's, Jack and Regan fought with each other, Aubrey couldn't choke down her breakfast burrito because it was laced with salsa, and Finn had a temper tantrum because he wanted Jack's pancakes (note that two whole hours had elapsed since he had been fed. He has the appetite of a Hobbit). Although, to clarify--Finn didn't really want the pancakes. He just wanted to practice eating them with a Big Boy Fork. So, when he wasn't making a total mess of himself, he was screaming in frustration at the uncooperative fork. He labored for approximately 20 minutes under the mistaken belief that throwing his head back, twisting backwards in the highchair, and covering his face in snot and tears was the secret combination that would unlock the mysteries of the fork.

Old ladies, (who were clearly regulars and who clearly make Sundays special at McDonald's) were looking at me with either exasperation or pity--I'm not sure which. I'm pretty sure it was exasperation, but I'm going to pretend it was pity. So, as soon as was reasonably possible, I announced breakfast was over--Regan finished her pancakes and sausage in the car on the way to the cemetery.

At the cemetery, the kids were only slightly disturbed by Jeff's grave. His grave is still very raw and fresh--just a pile of dirt littered with clods and sticks. They said, "it looks like he could reach up out of it." And I have to admit, they are right. So, I am going to transplant some grass/sod from our yard onto the grave. Jeff would love that and the kids will enjoy visiting more. So, after making their morbid observation, they (with the exception of Aubrey), chased each other around the cemetery. Then we loaded up and headed off to mass.

Mass brought it's own fun and excitement: First, I don't think I've enjoyed an entire mass start-to-finish since 1995, so I shouldn't be surprised, but Finn was as boisterous and obnoxious as he could be. So, after I settled the kids into our regular pew, I ushered Finn into the hallway. While we were out there, we met another parent with his one-year old daughter--she was also too energetic for church. We were chatting and loitering near a statue of Jesus when Finn looked at the statue and said, "Da da." He tried to climb up to it (it was on a ledge and the statue itself was 3 or 4 feet tall) and he started waving to it and blowing it kisses and calling it "Da da." It was truly adorable and completely heartbreaking. The man I was visiting with said, "well, he must sure like his father if Jesus reminds him of him." I said, "his father died last week and he just misses him and looks for him everywhere he goes." The man looked like he was going to throw up and said, "Oh, I'm sorry." Then, he scooped up his daughter and took her over to the opposite side of the vestibule and didn't talk to us anymore.

Now, I'm aware that I create a certain awkwardness for everyone I encounter--anyone who knows of my situation and meets me must grapple with whether or not to say something; whether to acknowledge "It" and, if so, what to say, etc. but I had never had anyone literally run away scared. The good news is that Finn was undeterred. He continues to search for Jeff and was delighted tonight to find him in a picture in our home office. He picked up the picture and pointed to Jeff's face and said "Da da." I clapped for him and told him how smart he was to find Daddy in the picture. He carried the picture around for a while before trying to take it out of the frame--proclaiming "Da da" intermittently and applauding himself. Again, it was both adorable and unbearably sad.

But, I am comforted to know that God is "father of the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5) and will be my co-parent going forward. On a side note, I am less comforted to hear that God is "judge of the widows" (Psalm 68:5), because if you read the "Rules for Widows" (1 Timothy 5:3-16) in the First Letter to Timothy, it sounds like young widows are not held in particularly high esteem. So, I shall endeavor every day to deserve Jeff's station in Heaven.

Well, it's late and I'm tired, so I must sign off for now. Thanks for reading! Until next time, take care.



Scott said...

Kelly...After reading this blog, I can tell that you are going to be just fine. You are one of the strongest people that I know. Just remember that you will never have to go it alone. There are many among you not to carry you, but walk beside you.

Love ya,

Peggy Wilkins said...

What a wonderfully normal family you have - Jeff must be very proud of all of you! Hang in there and keep moving forward with baby steps. Rely on the prayers of others and the blessings of Jeff.

Katie Clancy said...

"The best laid plans..." as they say. Your gift of humor and the ability to capture all of these emotions in a blog is precious, and as your friend Scott points out is just another testament to your strength. And as for the First letter to Timothy, those were the days before the advent of the Blog and its evidence to the contrary that THIS widow is a force to be reckoned with...

The planned Sunday tradition is a great tribute to your close family even without Jeff's physical presence.. and no doubt it will go better next week. Lots of love

Laura Gilbert said...

Proving that even in the midst of grief and death, there is humor...and McDonalds. Always McDonalds. Hang in there and thanks as always for the posts -- it's good to know how you guys are doing from day to day.

gardiner said...

Kelly, we look forward to your blogs and check often for them! By the way, (and to state the obvious that we all already know), you are an incredibly gifted writer! Thank you for sharing and letting us know how you and the kids are doing. We pray for you and think of you often. I admire your strength and have always admired yours and Jeff's parenting. I'm sure Jeff is near to you all, watching and guiding your days and helping you make decisions. Much love and many blessings to you and the children.
Love, Meaghen & Brendan.

Kerry (Hanigan) Benes said...

Kelly, I've heard fairy tales about people attending mass on Sunday with their children and actually being able to pray in church instead of tell their kids to be quiet. (I've never actually experienced it, but I hold on to the hope, that some day I will. If nothing else, eventually they move away for college.)

I remember one Sunday my children put on a particularly good "show" and I was telling a friend of mine, who is an older lady, how embarrassed I was by the kids because this other older lady, who was sitting in front of us during mass, kept turning around looking rather annoyed at my kids. She smiled and said, "don't you worry about her. I remember when her kids were little. They were just awful at church! She has no room to complain." Hang in there!

Terri said...

In the first letter to timothy it sounds like those rules apply if you stray from your faith due to your circumstances, which you have not. You still have your faith and take care of your children, which is what a young widow should do according to Timothy. So, since you are an exception to the rule (if you will) then you have nothing to worry about. Also, better luck next time at breakfast.

MikeT said...

Kelly...I followed Jeff's, and now your posts since last November. At that time my son was diagnosed with testicular cancer, at the age of 14, and I searched the internet for any and all information. During my searches I came across Jeff's blog and was immediately captivated by your family's story. I was often touched and awed by the manner in which you guys navigated through, and continue to, this most difficult life saga.
The story for us is a much happier story. Testicular cancer is one of the most treatable cancers. My son had surgery in Nov 07 to remove his left testes which indicated further surgery to remove lymph nodes in Dec 07. Fortunately, the lymph nodes were all found to be cancer free. We are almost 1 year out and he continues to test free of cancer. Another year and we will be pretty much in the clear. As an earlier poster noted, both Jeff and you are gifted writers who bring life events close to the reader. Your and Jeff's example and words dramatically eased the strain in dealing with my sons desease. Thank you and God Bless...

PJ said...

Thanks and God Bless You all.