Shelby is nearing the end of her 5th grade year. In just a few more months, she will be off to middle school. All I have known of her for most of her life is that she is an elementary school student. Through the sickness, health, additional sickness, and death of her mother, she has never skipped a beat, still bringing home 3.0 or higher averages on every single report card. Her thirst for learning is ever-present, and instead of telling her to put the video games down and do her chores, we have to rip her away from books. She is a very “easy” kid to parent, really.
But there are moments that occur in Shelby and I’s relationship that I know she does not fully grasp the levity of yet. Moments that we share completely, yet that mean much more to me, as her young, inquisitive mind hasn’t asked the questions yet. She is still innocent. Even with the loss of Megan, she hasn’t become skeptical or fallen into the sometimes detrimental mindfulness that causes many of we adults to “spiral”.
So with that, Shelby and I’s last dance at the last father-daughter dance in her last year of elementary school was nothing more than a fun 3 minutes with her old man before moving on to her friends. To me, it was a huge milestone.Read more
`Yesterday, the 26th, was Sarah’s mother’s birthday. Part of a tradition that she has done over the years is to have a small cake, and a bouquet of flowers, as a way of celebrating her, though she’s no longer here. It’s a simple gesture that means so much. She lost her mother when she was only nine years old. While her siblings were much older, and had much more time with her, Sarah had to “make do” with memories she only had as a little girl, and recollections of her older siblings.
Shelby, too, lost her mother at a young age. She was only seven when Megan died. She remembers quite a bit, but again, she was nowhere near adulthood when any memories she could form ceased. She relies heavily on myself, grandparents, and her uncle for the stories that she may have been a part of, but still too young to realize they were something to remember.
As we sat down to partake in the yearly birthday cake, I (somewhat in jest) asked Shelby if she remembered Megan’s birthday. She did not, other than she knew it was in summer (her guess was a month off). I wasn’t disappointed, for she’s still just a little girl. It is not like she has a date planner or had any part in actually NEEDING to remember the exact date of her mother’s birth.
After some good natured ribbing, and finishing our cake, Shelby asked a question to Sarah.
“Did you ever forget your mom’s birthday?”Read more
Four years have come and gone since the last time Megan was present for Shelby’s birthday. By February 17, 2014, Megan had already been diagnosed with rejection, although she hadn’t been admitted to the hospital as of yet. Shelby was turning seven, and four days prior, Megan and I received the results from her bronchoscopy.
We rented out one of those “inflatable gym” spaces for Shelby, and invited all of her friends to join. It was a madhouse, to say the least...screaming, jumping, running around, laughing, and smiles from ear to ear. I distinctly remember the both of us having nervous thoughts in the back of our minds about Megan’s health, but suppressing all of them in order to give Shelby the birthday she wanted. She would have no clue, no inkling of something amiss on this day.
Going through some old texts and emails last week, I came across a conversation that Megan and I had just a day or two before the party…
Megan: Should we talk to Shelby about it?
Mike: Yeah, but let’s do it together. I don’t know how to start the convo with her, but we need to anyway.
Megan: Yeah. I don’t like this.
Mike: Me either.Read more
In my 37 years, I’ve seen my share of loss. I’ve lost all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, fellow Marines, a brother-in-law, cats, dogs and other pets, co-workers, and obviously, my wife. There has been illness, accidents, age, war, heart-attacks, and a sprinkle of stupidity involved. It happens. Death happens. I know of no one my age that hasn’t experienced some sort of loss to death at some point in their lives. The first loss can symbolize a loss of innocence. A loss of the childlike optimism that nothing bad ever befalls us. It’s reality surfacing for the first time in our lives.
For some, that could happen at a very early age. Others may be adults before it happens. Regardless, death is something that we humans are aware of. We are conscious of our mortality very early on, and the first loss of someone or something close to us brings with it clarity.
However, there is a secondary loss currently beginning to clarify in my life. Something I was aware that I would lose one day, but that I will never be prepared for. You would think, after so many years with Megan’s Cystic Fibrosis, that I would be better suited to be mentally cope with something long-term and inevitable…
...Shelby growing up.Read more
I don’t know how to raise a girl in any other way than I’m doing. I’ve never done it before, I don’t have a sister, and last I checked, I’d never been a girl myself. I’m pretty clueless when it comes to makeup or clothes, and the only reason I know how to braid hair is because it’s the same technique you would use to make rope in the backcountry. I’m not “in tune” with girls, and in a few years, I’m sure I’ll be far too “in tune” with boys for Shelby’s liking.
Shelby makes it easy though. She went through her “princess” phase back when Megan was still alive, so I never had to learn the intricacies of which princess was from which movie, and which prince or knight or whatever they were in love with that was turned into a frog...or something. She grew out of that well before Megan died, moving on to something called “monster high” (which I still don’t get), and has since moved on from those weird green and heavily cosmeticized dolls (is “cozmeticized” a word? Hell if I know). Prior to age 7, she had dress after dress after dress, and at least 6 pairs of heels or "fashion boots" as she called them.
Father’s Day 2017. For once, we had a weekend day where there was nothing to do. We had visited with both mine and Megan’s dads on Saturday, specifically planning to have an open day wedged into the seemingly constant stream of other events that have been taking time on our weekends together.
Sarah was awake and moving well before i was (a fairly rare occurrence), and Shelby slept until 10:30 in the morning (smashing her previous record of 9:45). We sat out on the deck, listened to music, and did nothing….glorious, breathtaking nothing.
Then Shelby presented me with a letter she wrote.
Just last week, I wrote about how, for the most part, random triggers are few and far between for me. Even trying to actively trigger myself has become difficult. Wouldn’t you know it? A day after writing that, an event occurred that randomly brought tears to my eyes for missing Megan.
As silly as it may sound, it was a video game that gave me that moment of pause and reflection.
When Shelby was born, Megan and I thought that it might be a good idea to buy an XBox and a few games. We would be spending much more time at home, with Shelby being a newborn, and Megan not being in the best of health at the time. Prior to her arrival, we were consistently away from home, attending car shows, hiking, travelling, going out with friends, and generally being 24 -year-olds. That would be changing with a daughter, at least in the short term.Read more
I have to remind myself, as many of us do, I expect, that this widowhood is, as I learned in AA, a matter of progress, not perfection. Because I, for one, consistently seem to expect more of myself than is realistic. By which I mean, I continually scan my body and mind and heart to see where I am in this grief and why I’m not further along, even as my mind tells me to stop such nonsense and lays out all the reasons why I need to stop such nonsense.
Still it continues. But I’m getting better at just letting it be and not gauging my grief by anyone else’s grief.
So...progress, not perfection.Read more
There was once a time when I assumed that Shelby would grow up more quickly than her peers. Since she was born, she’s dealt with her mother being sick, going through major surgeries, and ultimately, dying. That a sobering thought when you’re the parent of a little girl, who really just wants to go to school, play with her toys, and do fun things. She would have to grow up fast.
She barely had the chance to be a “normal” girl. Megan was only in a truly healthy state for about two years; the rest of the time was spent between hospitalizations and recovery from her transplant. I cannot begin to describe how terrifying it must have been for Megan, knowing that she was going to be leaving Shelby to grow up without the only normal she had known.
I was ill-equipped to raise her alone...Megan knew it, and I knew it. I haven’t the slightest idea which Disney princess is currently popular, or what the newest trend is in 8 year old fashion. While I’m the one that can help her with her school work and take her hiking, I don’t have her friends parents’ names, let alone contact information. I barely know her shoe size, and I’m still constantly trying to figure out what foods she likes today versus yesterday.
Megan’s priority in life was Shelby. The fact that it is so unlikely that a Cystic Fibrosis sufferer can even have a child naturally made Shelby that much more valuable to both of us. Her “peanut”, as we call her, completed Megan.
During her hospitalization, Megan and I had to have “the talk”. We knew the odds of her coming home, and we were smart enough to talk over her wishes should she not be around. Sure enough, her most important wish was for Shelby to be happy, healthy, and smart. We had also talked of me moving forward, and that she wouldn’t want me to be alone. Putting two and two together, I read this as her wishing me to be with someone that was good for Shelby.
Little did I know (and surely wasn’t looking for) that a few months after her passing, a few women would sit down beside me at Camp Widow. One of those women would move her life 1400 miles to be with me. It’s been a year since Sarah sat down at that table in the hotel bar and grille. There hasn’t been a single day we have not talked in some form since then.