Ahhh yes...the holidays. It is a constant ride of ups and downs, like the world’s most depressing roller coaster. Kicking off with Thanksgiving. Spending time with friends and family, circled around a hearty dinner and laughter, I get to remember that Megan died just a week before that day. I don’t get to remember the 33 prior enjoyable Thanksgiving dinners. It doesn’t work. All I can recall is sitting in my parents’ dining room, crying, and having to leave the room in the middle of dinner.
Then, following that Thursday comes the epitome of consumerism...Black Friday. I avoid anyplace that may sell something like the plague that day. “You’re not going to con me into buying your baubles, Mr. Scrooge!” as I shake my fist in the air. But it’s fruitless. Inevitably, I'll need to fuel up my car, and Christmas music will be playing everywhere, even at the gas station. Sure enough, “Blue Christmas”, or “I’ll be home for Christmas” will softly emanate from a tinny speaker somewhere. Done. You’ve succeeded, Ebeneezer, in depressing me.
“You bathe in these spirit-beams, turning round and round, as if warming at a camp-fire. Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature.” -John Muir
It is no secret that John Muir inspires me to no end. While my love of nature and being in the wild places has done more to heal and calm my soul than any other aspect of my life, Mister Muir made it his religion. Every time I step into the woods, I lose connectivity with not only my cell service provider, but with the likes of the modern world. What wild refuge would John Muir have found in today’s endless series of hashtags, shopping centers, gluten-free water, and email? What would his sermons be in this year’s existence?
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” - John Muir
I’m on the other side of the three year mark at this point. I can watch a movie where an actor is hospitalized, and not have to turn it off. I can hear a song that reminds me of Megan, and get a little choked up, then laugh it off. I can even pull all of our holiday decorations out from storage, observe the ornaments with Megan and I’s names on them, or pictures, or items we purchased together, curl my lip a bit, and remember the happy times we had at Christmas.
I can remember dates. Anniversaries, birthdays, transplant dates, and so on, and know that they’re coming. I can even find a private writing of Megan’s, written long before her passing, cry my eyes out reading it, and go about my day afterwards. A persistent cough that Shelby or Sarah may be experiencing only pales in comparison to the decades of it that Megan experienced, but it still makes me remember just the same.
These are called “triggers”. I know it. We all know it. It’s the songs, sights, events, smells, sounds and memories that don’t really “haunt” us, so much as they are just part of our day to day lives. Time does not make these go away, but rather, softens their outward impact. When that godforsaken “Let Her Go” song, by Passenger, gets randomly played, it has become somewhat humorous (that particular piece of music has followed me around since the day she died), albeit still thought provoking, to say the least.
November 19th. It’s “the” date. A week before Thanksgiving, and the start of the holiday season. The weather has turned cold, the leaves are off the trees, halloween is over, My work begins to slow down, as does the seemingly endless string of summer and early fall weekends where we have plans with family and friends.
For all intents and purposes, November was always a “quiet” time of year, when I could sit back and take a breather. I could focus on preparing the house for winter, lazily erect a Christmas tree, and read the newspaper as the first snowfalls and blustery winds crisply blew in. Full blown winter hadn’t arrived yet, and you would not catch me anywhere near a shopping area this time of year. The lawn and any gardens or flowerbeds are dormant, leaves are cleaned up, and there isn’t any real snow to shovel yet.
November was “easy”. Three years ago, that all changed.
It is very rare that one particular emotion takes the forefront of my mind for any longer than a few days. In general, there is a veritable melting pot of thoughts occurring at any given moment, ranging from sadness to joy and everything in between. Fear and confusion are tempered by confidence and determination.
Of course, there are periods where certain emotions boil over and persist. Obviously, the first few months after Megan’s death were filled with overwhelming grief. The “busy” times of year at my work are always stressful, and it shows, even when I’m at home. There are times when my “give-a-damn” appears to be busted, and times when worry about the future pervades. Excitement and joy one week can easily give way to doubt and malaise the next.
Approaching three years since Megan took her last breath, I can truthfully say that I’m openly wandering.
And that’s a good thing.
As I write this, Sarah is cruising at 30,000 feet over Indiana. She’s en-route to Chicago, then Phoenix to spend 6 days with Drew’s mother at a conference. We woke up early this morning to get her to the airport, then for me to get Shelby to school and myself on to work.
For the next week, I’m back to basics. I’m effectively a “single father” in the sense that it’s my sole responsibility to make sure Shelby is taken care of, the clothes are washed, the lawn is mowed, and the bills are paid. Sarah has been here for almost 2 years now, and as time has progressed, her and I have become more and more of a team.
I won’t lie, having Sarah making sure that I knew when Shelby’s after-school activities were, or making sure that we had some food pulled out of the freezer for the next few days is nice in more ways than one. It’s funny, really. We have become so “in-tune” that she doesn’t trust me to be able to take care of myself and Shelby for a few days on my own.
I am 36 years old. Soon to be 37. Although I’ve held the titles of Marine (6 years), Lifeguard (3 years), Father (10 years), Widower (3 years), Husband (9 years), Boyfriend (9 years, cumulatively), and Student (13 years...I never went to college), the title that has been with me the longest, up to this day, is “Employee” (21 years).
I have been employed since I was 15 years old. I started as a lifeguard in high school, then on to the Marine Corps. After that, I worked retail for a few months, and as an iron pourer in a foundry for the better part of a year before finally landing a job in IT...my “career” field.
The longest stretch of time I’ve had “off” since I was 15 years old was 10 days.
In about 36 hours, Shelby, Sarah and I are hitting the road. We’re not going to Texas, or the beach, or New York, or to visit my parents. We’re not planning this trip amongst anyone other than ourselves. I neither desired or solicited anyone else’s input with regards to our plans, other than Sarah and Shelby. We’re headed to the mountains in North Carolina, because of course we’re headed to the mountains.
In years past, our “family vacations” were, in general, a week-long trip to Myrtle Beach with Megan’s parents and siblings. Sure, Megan and I’s honeymoon was in Gatlinburg, and just the two of us. We also spent a week in Yosemite National Park and San Francisco together. Neither of those trip included Shelby though.
In 12 years as a couple, 7 of which included Shelby, we took only one trip where we planned and executed everything for ourselves...a trip to Maine. Shelby still talks about that trip, 5 years later. She remembers some things from our 4 or 5 trips to the beach, certainly, but it’s Maine that she wants to go back to.
This past Sunday, August 6th, would have been Megan and I’s 12th anniversary. Sarah, Shelby and I were camping, with Sarah’s sister, and as the morning light (and two dogs) woke me up, I immediately noted the significance of the date.
Then I crawled out of the tent, took care of the dogs, and made some coffee.
As I sat down for that first, glorious sip of coffee in the morning, I remembered that it was our anniversary.
Then I rekindled the campfire.
As Shelby woke up, crawling out of the nylon dome, I couldn’t help but think of the fact that she was emerging in the New York woods as the biggest reminder of Megan and I’s marriage.
I got her a pop tart to munch on as she sat by the campfire.
I’m going to (try to) keep this short, simple, and to-the-point. Megan’s birthday was yesterday...the third since her death. She would have been 36, which, for someone born in the early 80’s with Cystic Fibrosis, is twice the normal life expectancy.
The first thing I thought of when I opened my eyes in the morning yesterday was Megan’s birthday. It was the last thing that went through my head as I closed them in the evening. Her birthday cycled through my head off-and-on all day, just as it had been doing for the past few weeks.
It is what it is. It’s white noise.