No celebrating? No problem.

Nick and I stopped “doing” Valentine’s Day years ago. Actually, I’m not sure that we ever “did” it (although I do give him Valentine’s Day-themed boxers every year; I’m romantic like that) because Nick has always maintained that it’s a silly holiday drummed up to make money and “you should show someone you love them all the other days of the year, not just Valentine’s Day.”

Okay. I get his point. I mean, I was all girl-silent angry over it for a few years (“No, really, it’s FINE… Yes, I’m sure… Wait, you didn’t get me anything? WTF?”) but I’ve gotten over it. Really. For one thing, it’s been twenty years (OMG), so I’m either holding the world’s most fabulous grudge, or I’ve moved beyond. Also, once we had children, I had other ways to channel my Valentine’s Day energies.

(And, to be fair, Nick really does do a pretty good job of holding up to his end of the bargain. The girls get little tokens from every business trip he takes, and flowers will magically show up at the door if I’m having a bad day. He routinely buys stuff for us “just because” [occasionally to my chagrin – *cough* $40 Swatch watches five days after Christmas *cough*] and takes each of the girls out regularly for special Daddy-daughter dates. Our own dates are pretty good, too. So, he really does walk the walk.)

It’s not Valentine’s Day itself that is such a big deal; it’s any excuse to celebrate. I am all about taking anything and turning it into something more than just ordinary, not for any greater purpose (and certainly not to achieve some sort of goal or be Super Mom; if you’ve seen the coating of dust on all of the furniture, the Karo syrup that spilled in the cupboard at least two months ago but I was too lazy to clean so now it’s hardened into a half-inch layer of shellac, the boots my daughter wore to school this week that were DUCT TAPED together, or the rug in our living room that is literally threadbare, you know that I’m not Super at all that much). No, I simply do it because it’s fun. FUN!!

First day of school? Par-tay! Last day of school? Fiesta! St. Patrick’s Day? Let’s do a leprechaun-themed treasure hunt! Mardi Gras? Time to make beignets! April Fool’s Day? Better watch your step. Cinco de Mayo? Bring on the Mexican food! If I could think of a way to make Arbor Day more fun, you can damn well believe I would.

Life is just too freakin’ short not to find moments to celebrate, to break up the everyday activities, to be silly and make something special.

So I’m not at all upset that Nick and I don’t “do” Valentine’s Day… because I get to do these instead:

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The hearts are hung up after the girls have gone to sleep on the 13th, so it’s all VALENTINE’S WORLD when they wake up.

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Nick gets tired of bumping into these pretty much the moment that I hang them, but I think they’re fun. I don’t mind not getting chocolates so long as I can hang shit from the door frames – fair compromise, no?

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Lunch. With hearts. And lots of red food.

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No, the photo isn’t discolored; the pancakes are pink.
And I made them last night and then nuked them this morning. I don’t have that kind of time before work, people. 

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But I do have time for this, because it took maaaaybe three minutes. 
Such is life when you spent two years addicted to hair blogs.

What I did not have to do this year were the girls’ valentines. (Grammar tidbit of the day: it only has an apostrophe when it’s Valentine’s Day, as in the day belonging to St. Valentine. And it’s only capitalized when it’s a proper noun; the cards the kids bring home from school in droves are simply valentines. Just learned that last night myself; you’re welcome.) For the past several years, Ella and Annie have elected to send their classmates photo cards, meaning that I take photos of them, design the cards in Photoshop, print ’em out, and get ’em ready for the girls to sign.

2013
annie valentine card1
A mini Snickers was taped to her hands…

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 She gave these along with Pop Rocks…

2012
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Yup. Taped a Hershey’s Kiss to her hand.

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Ella wrote her classmate’s names on the hearts.
Never mind that she looks naked.

2011
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Looks like I’ve had a thing for those decorative hearts fonts for a loooong time…

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I had to literally throw them into the center of the heart in order not to trample it, but whatever. It was done in the name of the art, man.

But this year? They wanted to do it ALL. And so, despite practically having to tie my hands down to keep from interfering, I let them… from Photoshopping their cards to cutting them out to attaching (and, in Ella’s case, making) the various accoutrements to stuffing them in their classmates’ bags.
Are they just how I’d have designed them? Nope.

They’re better.

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Her Photoshopped card…

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The final product that made its way into her friends’ valentine bags.

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That’s still only some of the Rainbow Loom stuff she has lying around…

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 The actual finished cards, front and back.

Tonight, we’ll have a dinner that we *love* (get it? SO CLEVER) and either watch the Olympics or Despicable Me 2 (the only real gift I’m giving to the girls) and even though it won’t be romantic, it will be filled with fun and joy and love.

And chocolate. We have chocolate cupcakes. Don’t worry.

Flashback Friday: I can’t resist including this photo taken for Annie’s first Valentine’s Day, where I didn’t realize until after I’d uploaded it that Ella’s pigtail makes it look like Annie’s wearing a bodacious wig.
SO. AWESOME.

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p.s. You can bet your butt I’m putting this on my Pinterest page. I can’t begin to come up with any of these ideas on my own, so if this helps anyone else not to have to reinvent the wheel, let’s do it. I’m a giver.

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I guess I just miss my friend

After we visited Minnesota in June to celebrate Bill’s 70th birthday, but before I wrote a post about how it had gone so uproariously wrong, I emailed Bill to ask if he would be comfortable with my mentioning his cancer. See, we knew that time was limited. A couple of months prior to the trip, we’d been told that nothing more could be done, and it was quite likely that this was the last time we’d all be together. And so, when illness struck and planes were delayed and the power failed and the car keys went missing and the painstakingly-created plans slowly but steadily began to crumble, we absolutely did our best to pull ourselves together and enjoy it, damn it! But somewhere, in the back of everyone’s minds, was the thought that this really, really wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. This was our last time together. It was supposed to be different.

Bill phoned me back, thanked me for considering his feelings, and then very politely asked me to not mention the cancer. First, he’d like to think that we would have gotten together to celebrate his 70th, anyway (we would). Second, he didn’t want people feeling they needed to fawn over him after they read the post (fair enough). Bill did want me to write about him, about cancer; in fact, he specifically asked me to do so. “I hope that you’ll talk about this later; I would be honored if you wrote about me.” He simply wanted me to wait until after he was gone, and then he was sure that I would do him justice.

Awesome. No pressure, Bill. Thanks.

It’s been four weeks since we lost him, and I’ve been thinking about what I want to say, how to possibly talk about someone who meant so much more to me than I can ever hope to illustrate. I could go on forever telling stories about him, trying to illuminate who he was as a person (as Nick did so very perfectly at the memorial). But I realize that I’ll never truly capture him the way I want to. Moreover, Nick – along with Bill’s other friends who spoke at the memorial – has already captured him so wholly that I don’t want to just repeat what they’ve said. And so, instead, I am simply going to talk the tiniest bit* about who Bill was to me… because he sure as hell wasn’t “just” my father-in-law.

* I realize that this is relative, given that this is probably my longest post ever. Work with me.

bill and me

Nick and I met over twenty years ago (omg!), when we were freshmen at Connecticut College. We formally began dating the following spring, and I met Bill around that time – whether it was when he came to visit Nick at Conn, or whether it was when I visited Nick in Minnesota that summer, I don’t recall, but I do know that we’ve known one another for over nineteen years – more than half my life. Despite Nick’s and my gag-inducing No One Has Ever Experienced A Love Like Ours behavior, Bill welcomed me cordially and openly; I did not have to “earn” my spot but was, instead, immediately one of the gang.

Bill is well-known for his sense of humor. He found something laughable in almost every situation, could tell enormously funny and clever jokes and stories, and was a terrific teaser. I knew early on that I’d fully been accepted into his world when he began to tease me, mercilously, about almost everything. Since forever, I’ve slept with a white noise machine, while Bill preferred to sleep in silence – or, better yet, with the windows open (something I cannot do, because my ADHD brain causes me to jump at every hint of sound… “Ooooh, some crickets!” “Is that a woodpecker?” “I didn’t know there was a train near here!” “People still listen to Kenny G?”). We each found the other’s sleep/noise preferences to be utterly baffling, and we discussed it – with mock seriousness – not infrequently.

One day – well before Nick and I were married, before I’d “officially” become family – this cartoon arrived in the mail: (click to see original size)
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If you only tease the ones you love, Bill clearly thought I was the bees’ knees.

As nineteen years passed, Bill and I communicated regularly, sometimes over the phone or through texting, but mostly via email. Because Ella and Annie’s birthdays are in December, I try to get the rest of our Christmas shopping done early, so I’m not rushing around like a crazy person (well, no more than usual). One year, I’d already asked Bill what he’d like for Christmas, but had yet to receive an answer. In the meantime, Ella had lost a tooth, but the Tooth Fairy accidentally forgot to show that night. Bill, being perfectly him, touched upon both with his reply…

From me to Bill
Subject: Me, bugging you again

Hi!

Okay, I know I’m being a pain…
But I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to think of anything that might be on your Christmas wish list.

If so, I’d love to hear it.  🙂

Hope all’s well…
Thanks!
xoxo  🙂

Reply, from Bill to me
Subject: Re: Me, bugging you again

This is me bugging you. You gave me Twins tickets covering birthday, Christmas, father’s Day, fourth of July and Guy Fawkes Day.  No Christmas present for me other than that, thank you very much.
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Is it true that the Tooth Fairy reported you to county social services?
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Love you

Although not a doctor himself, Bill had a lifetime of experience in the medical field, advising many medical boards and being — to me, anyway — somewhat all-knowing when it came to medicine and medical care. A year ago, when Ella broke her foot, Nick and I were faced with an extremely formidable decision: to allow her foot to heal as it was (without surgery), knowing that, if it healed improperly, she would need a much more complicated surgery down the road… or try to avoid potential problems and go ahead with surgery right then, even though her foot seemed to be healing just fine. Nick and I were absolutely stumped. While the doctor left the room to get his assistants and remove Ella’s cast, I excused myself… and called Bill.

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Last summer, when my aunt was dying of cancer and I wanted to speak with her but was uncomfortable picking up the phone, I called Bill to ask him how to talk to someone in a situation like this. His advice gave me the courage to phone her; we had a lovely conversation. She died less than a week later, and I am forever grateful that we had the chance to talk. Likewise, it was Bill who helped me when Ella first developed her allergy to the cold. Not only was her condition scary and baffling, but we couldn’t even educate ourselves on it because of the scarcity of information. Unprompted, Bill emailed me links to scholarly articles on the subject, so that we could be better prepared.

Come to think of it, Bill often sent me links to things I might find interesting, be it an article about storm chasers (because he knew I have a strange desire to see a tornado up close and personal; or, at least I did, until they went all Twister crazy these past few years), or a link to a children’s choir singing at the Queen’s jubilee celebration. But perhaps more than anything else, Bill and I emailed about cooking. We shared a love of all things epicurian, from restaurants to recipes to actually preparing food ourselves, and we bonded over our mutual appreciation of food time and time again. We exchanged recipes, gave one another cookbooks and culinary magazine subscriptions, and sent countless delicious goodies one another’s way, from bread-of-the-month clubs (omg, the chocolate sourdough) to unique oils and vinegars (the peach balsamic is still my favorite).

While I certainly turned to him for advice, he did the same to me; and every single time, I was honored and touched that he’d considered my opinion worthy of the asking. When taking photographs, he would inquire about lighting and angles. A few years ago, as he began teaching a new class at the U of M, he toyed with doing part of the course online, and asked what I thought of it, as an educator. Bill sought my assessment of music and musicians, and listened to me in earnest when I presented my point of view on a political topic. That my thoughts merited deliberation, when he himself was so intelligent and well-educated and witty, never ceased to please and humble me.

to annie from bill
Typical Grandpa Bill humor…

Bill was an extremely eloquent speaker and writer, always able to get his point across quite succinctly (even if his handwriting was atrocious). He also had a gift for reaching out and letting me know when he was proud of me, that he was thinking of me, or simply that he loved me. For the past five years, I’ve made separate photo books of Nick and me with the girls — one photo for each week — and have sent them to our respective parents. Always, Bill would reach out to let me know just how much they meant to him, while also managing to compliment me and make me feel like I was on top of the world.

I’m sure you know how much more than “just pictures” these gifts are.  Please know that we appreciate the effort, skill, caring and consideration involved in their preparation.

And that, really, was one of the things I loved most about Bill: his ability to make me feel fantastic. He did this with everyone he cared for – sharing stories, freely giving compliments, letting those he loved know that they mattered to him – so I know that I wasn’t unique… but I felt unique. I felt special. That’s probably because I was special to Bill. Yes, part of this was because we were related to one another. That he respected and appreciated me as his son’s wife, his granddaughters’ mother, and his own daughter-in-law, was never in doubt.

The following was sent four years ago as a prelude to a poem he’d found and wanted to share with me, entitled “To My Son’s Girlfriend” by Michael Milburn

It was at that point that I was struck by the realization that Nick has been with you for nearly as long as he was at home with me — to the extent that anyone can claim to be the “woodworker” here, the resulting table is as much of your hand as anyone’s.  That thought then led to a brief reverie on how happy it makes me to see Nick in such a wonderful family and how proud I am of you, him, Ella and Annie.  It is one thing to watch one’s offspring take their first steps, do well in school, head off to college.  It is quite another to watch their lives unfold and enfold in the context of the family of their own making.  It’s a wonderful thing, this family stuff.
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Our family ties meant a lot to me, too. I was honored and gladdened to have him as my father-in-law, as the father of my husband, and as the grandfather of my children. He and Nick shared an uncommonly strong partnership, and seeing them interact together filled me with awe and deep, unbridled happiness. I reveled in being with the whole clan, watching him as a father to Nelle and Em, and seeing him blossom whenever he was with Mary, our girls’ GranMary. Alongside her, Bill was a superb grandfather, delighting in the girls’ accomplishments and interests and constantly looking for new and inventive ways to connect with them. I relished every one of these familial bonds.

Talking with the tooth fairy via video chat
Posing as the Tooth Fairy for a video chat, after Eleanor lost a tooth.
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There can be no doubt that the roles Bill and I played strengthened our relationship. With that said, Bill was not just my father-in-law, nor my husband’s father, nor my children’s grandfather – nor was I, to him, just a daughter-in-law, nor his son’s wife, nor his granddaughters’ mother. What is perhaps most remarkable about Bill’s and my relationship – and what, I think, I will miss the most – is that we loved each another just because, regardless of the roles we played in one another’s lives.
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This is not to discredit the relationships where role does play a central, if not the most important, factor. When Ella and Annie were born, I felt an immediate and irrefutable connection to them; they were my children, they were part of Nick and me. I loved them with every fiber of my being and would have thrown myself in front of a car for them or – God help me – braved the line for Justin Beiber tickets, had they asked me to, before their personalities had even emerged – simply because they were mine. As they have grown into the human beings they are today, it so happens that I genuinely like the people they are becoming, and the love I have for them has deepened as a result; but, at its core, I adore them because they are my daughters, and I am their mom.
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Likewise, there is a particularly warm and terrific feeling in being my own parents’ daughter, and to having them as my mom and dad. I know that I am loved at the simplest and most profound level, and that is comforting and incredible. On the other hand, it is also incredible to know that Bill loved me, no matter what our roles may have been. I am firmly convinced, if Nick and Ella and Annie had somehow disappeared, and we had nothing left to tie us together, no assigned parts to play in each other’s worlds, that Bill would still have continued to think I was fantastic, just because I am me.
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We did not have to love one another; surely, we could have gotten by with pleasantries and some form tolerance or perhaps even mutual admiration, as so many in-laws do. Instead, we chose to love one another, and that kind of love is, indeed, elusive and special. He was Bill, and I was Emily, and I miss him oh so very much.
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little family
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I miss playing Words With Friends with him. He was an intimidating and daunting opponent (although, not to brag, but I totally beat him a lot), and our games were some of the ones I looked forward to the most. I haven’t played WWF with anyone in at least six weeks (sorry, peeps), because, as he got sicker, Bill had stopped playing, and I was terrified of being informed that our game was over. I still am.
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I miss his hugs, the way his long arms circled all the way around me and pulled me in tight; I can’t believe that I’ll never hug him again. It is simply not possible that he won’t be the Tooth Fairy when Annie loses her next pearly white. Bill’s sideline cheering is the stuff of legend, and I cannot wrap my head around the idea that he’ll never attend Annie’s soccer games or see one of Ella’s swim meets or congratulate Nick when he earns his MBA. That he won’t walk through my door again with a stack of photocopied (and annotated) recipes for me to try makes my stomach hurt, quite literally.
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I can no longer phone him when a medical crisis strikes, nor ask his opinion on how to comfort a friend in need, nor tell him about my subbing assignments and how ecstatic I am to be back in the classroom. There will be no more games of Hand and Foot with him and Mary and Nick after the girls go to bed, wherein he scribbles “Them” and “Us” or “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys” to keep score. There is no one with whom to discuss the finer points of extra virgin versus flavored olive oil. When we visit his house, I can turn on the sound machine in my bedroom, and know that he won’t be there to shake his head and laugh. God, how I miss his laugh.
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And, quite frankly, that’s just shit. It’s not okay. It just isn’t.
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A few days ago, I was trying to describe Bill, and my relationship with him, to my therapist. The emails, the articles, the jokes, the recipes. Card games, meals, phone calls, laughs. Oh, how he laughed! He laughed at so many things, but he also laughed at me – not like that, but rather because he thought I was funny – really, truly funny. I made Bill laugh, often; little has given me more joyful pride.
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As I rambled on, I began to falter, because I couldn’t put my thoughts into words. He was my father-in-law, yes, he was my family, but he was so very much more. We talked; we shared; we consulted; we hoped. He was Bill, and he meant the world to me.
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My therapist listened, thought for a moment, then looked at me and said, simply, “He was your friend; your dear friend.”
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My friend.
Perhaps this is odd, but I’d never thought of Bill as my friend. To be sure, Bill was a tremendous friend himself, and had a great many of them, but I’d never included myself among them. I knew, certainly, that he was a phenomenal friend to Nick. In fact, not too long ago, when Nick was at a loss for how to express his sadness, I attempted to help give voice to his feelings by (mis)quoting Red from The Shawshank Redemption: “I guess you just miss your friend.”
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But, somehow, I’d never considered that Bill was my friend, too.
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kiss
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After his memorial two weeks ago, a group of us gathered at a nearby bar to more raucously celebrate his life. Although Nick and his sisters were surrounded by marvelous friends and family, and although I knew many of them, I felt out of place. I’d been battling bronchitis and felt like crap, and when sadness threatened to overtake me, I decided that, instead of being the morose, coughing, teetotaler in the corner, I’d take myself away for a bit. Not knowing where to go, I found myself in our rental car, curled up on the passenger seat, tears flowing freely.
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To make the maudlin scene complete (because I do so like a good drama), I determined that now was a good time to re-read some of Bill’s old emails to me, including one titled “Brown”.
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Hi — on the off chance that you have not seen the TED talks by Brene Brown, I encourage you to watch these two.
I’m using these to teach leadership, but I think her message is widely applicable.  Moreover, she’s a great speaker and reminds me a bit of you, except you’re a better story teller. Love you.
Bill
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I remembered receiving the emails way back in February, but – to my dismay – realized that I had never watched either video. (Cue lots more tears.) And so, hunched up in the car in my brand new eggplant-colored memorial dress, I resolved that now was as good a time as any to click on those links.
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I listened to every word, all forty-one minutes of them. Brené is, without a doubt, a great speaker (and certainly a better story teller than I, despite Bill’s generous assertion); I found myself utterly drawn in. Moreover, I found myself hearing – really hearing – what she had to say; it was a watershed moment.
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If I had listened to these talks back in February, they wouldn’t have resonated with me. These last few months have been so nutty, so sad, so unbelievable, I truly don’t think I could have processed Brené’s message – or, if I could, I would have lost focus along the way. Today, although I’m hardly in excellent shape emotionally, I feel much more open, much more receptive… much more vulnerable. Which, by her definition, means that I’m standing at the birthplace of joy and love (holla!). And, man, could I use some joy and love right about now.

Practicing gratitude? That, I can do. Looking for the good and the funny and the beautiful? I think I’ve got that part down. The rest is not going to be smooth sailing, this being accepting of myself, of my imperfections. Breathing through this time is incredibly difficult. And believing that I’m enough? Far easier said than done.

But Bill believed it. For him, I was enough, just as I am. Bill loved with his whole heart and told me – told all of us, for whom this was true – that he loved us, constantly. He was also imperfect, having made a great many mistakes, as we all do; but he embraced his imperfections and moved forward.

As much as I wished I’d seen these talks six months ago so that I could have thanked Bill for sharing them, I think that I was meant to see them now, when I need them most. That I saved them and then magically found them again, when I am actually ready, is surely not a coincidence (right, Bill, wherever you are?). Brené’s words resonated with me to my core – so much so that, upon completing the second video, my very first thought was, “I’ve got to tell Bill!”

Oh. Right.

Fuck.

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“Father-in-law” is such a generic term, and Bill was anything but generic. He was bold. He was thoughtful. He was thought-provoking. He was funny. He was highly intelligent. He was kind. He was empathetic. He was curious. He was impish. He was loving. He was a gifted storyteller. He was devoted. He was good.

He was my husband’s father. He was my daughters’ grandfather. He was my father-in-law. He was my family. 
He was my friend; my dear friend.

My life is forever changed for having lost him, and forever better for having known and loved him. Every day, I am moving forward – partly because I want to, and partly because there is no choice. Yes, there is genuine joy and so very much gratitude. I am trying consciously to live whole-heartedly, to accept myself, to breathe through these days. But Bill is never far from my thoughts and my heart, which still hurts more than I thought possible.

I guess I just miss my friend.

Forgotten, but remembered..

Since school began last week, I have spent some time each day looking through old photographs to find pictures of my father-in-law. Part of this is because his memorial is coming up, and part of it is simply because it helps me to feel closer to him. I’ve always loved photos, wasting roll after roll of film to take “artsy” pictures in the days before digital photography was invented, creating my own scrapbooks before I’d even heard of Creative Memories, and saving nearly every photo I’ve ever taken or been given.

Which means that locating photos of anything specific is a daunting task, indeed. There are boxes of actual prints, boxes with film negatives, scrapbooks and photobooks, dozens of floppy disks bearing helpfully descriptive labels like “Snow” (which can only be viewed on a laptop that is at least fifteen years old, is missing three of its keys, and whose “A” button no longer functions), folder after folder of digital photos on external hard drives, and troves of photos I’ve uploaded to a minimum of six sites online. I recognize that this sounds absurd, but going through old pictures is exhausting, man.

The discoveries, however, have made the search process worthwhile. Nick with his permed hair (I’m not even kidding); the rodeo we attended in Colorado; the cross-country trip my brother and I made when I graduated from college; the one of me with Harry Connick Jr. (I believe I sent it out to friends and relatives that year for Thanksgiving, with the caption “I’m thankful for this…”) – and, of course, many photos of Bill.

I remembered a lot of them, but some were true gifts – ones that I didn’t even know I’d taken, that were likely glossed over because they weren’t “good” pictures. While I’ve forever loved taking photos, it’s only now, finding these, that I’m coming to truly be grateful for the bazillions of pictures I’ve stored up, because each one – even the ones where no one’s smiling at the camera, where something’s blurry, which might even have been taken by accident – perfectly captures him just as he was, and gives me a brief glimpse into a long-forgotten memory, and that makes my heart so very happy.

It was while going through these tomes of photos that I came across another collection of pictures that I didn’t remember taking, this time of a visit Nick and I had made to the Statue of Liberty in March of 2000. Except they weren’t just of Lady Liberty, but of the vista surrounding her… including this:

towers

It took my breath away, quite literally.

At the time, Nick was completing several months of training in NYC, and I visited him once or twice from our apartment in Denver; we must have made the journey to Liberty Island during one of those trips, although I don’t remember doing so.

I do remember where we were a year-and-a-half later, on the day that life changed. Our new apartment was less than thirty miles outside of Manhattan, and I remember the blue of the sky; the silence of the trains; the roars of the fighter jets; the whirls of the helicopter blades; the “All Circuits Are Busy” recording as we frantically called our many friends and relatives both in the city (to see if they were okay; miraculously, they were) and across the country (to let them know that we were okay).

I remember, in the days and weeks that followed, walking through the dust and ash that covered so much of Manhattan, extending a great deal farther from Ground Zero than I had thought possible. I remember the smells, though I wish I could forget them. I remember the posters of the missing, hung from every available telephone pole or fence post. I remember the view from one of our best friend’s Battery Park-facing windows, and how horrifically empty it now was.

I remember reading the New York Times’s “Portraits of Grief” – every single one – feeling, somehow, that the very least I could do was learn a little bit about the lives of those 2500 (plus) who were killed, wanting to get to know them individually, rather than just lumping them together as so many, anonymous victims.

And I was struck by how often the biography mentioned something along the lines of, “The last words s/he said to me that morning were ‘I love you.’” Or, heartbreakingly, “I forgot to say ‘I love you’ that morning.” It seems like such a little thing, but since that time, I have made a point of (trying to) never – ever – leaving Nick, the girls, or my family and friends without telling them that I love them. No matter how brief the conversation, even if it’s just an “xo” at the end of an email, no matter how angry or frustrated I am, I tell them that I love them. Because, well, you just never know. Plus, a little extra love is always a good thing.

(Ironically, the only other trip I remember taking to the Statue of Liberty was with Bill [and his wife, Mary] in the winter of 2002 or 2003. To my dismay, I don’t have photos of that visit, but I remember that it was bitterly cold… and that we were happy.)

So much changed on that Tuesday morning twelve years ago, far beyond the new rules for air travel and the ever-present “If you see something, say something!” signs that are all around Manhattan. Yes, of course, I will never forget. But I will also remember – the sights, the sounds, the smells – but more than that, how we all, however briefly, came together, supported one another, and held fast to hope.

And how very much we loved.
More than anything, I am still remembering that love today, and always.

xo