Notes from a Cell with Flowers

by | Feb 29, 2012 | 2 comments

Your death really feels like a prison sentence.  The bars are the years and the crossing over- the barbed wire.  Upon the slamming of those doors for the first time, one fights and struggles and wrestles trying to get them back open- trying to get back to freedom and the world you knew.  Then, once resigned, you decorate.  You hang up a photo of something pretty, buy a plant, and drink a good cup of coffee.  You move in for good and get settled.  You’re still imprisoned so it all seems a little silly, but you do it anyway.

Then after a long while, there are those little flashes that echo the world you used to live in, and it breaks your heart.  Hate to mix analogies, but this I have a different one for.  It’s like when you’re riding in an airplane.  Once you’re up in the air, you don’t really have a sense of much of anything including these three things:  1)how high up you are – 25,000 feet.  2) How heavy the object you’re in is: 735,000 lbs  or 3) how fast you’re going- approximately 500 mph.  But hit just a little bit of turbulence, and at least for me, I am suddenly super aware of what I’m trying to block out the rest of the flight.  I feel the speed first…then the weight- and finally, the height.  But I can’t get off- there’s nothing that can be done on my part but wait until it stops- until that little light chimes and goes off and I’m “free to move about the cabin.”

Been having a lot of those moments lately- now that I am not constantly aware of the imprisonment.  And secondary losses are getting in there too…like running into those moms pushing infants, or picking up pajamas for the pajama charity collection at Audrey’s school and walking by all of those little baby clothes.  It was easier to push those secondary losses aside reasoning that they had never been anyway and because the primary one was too overwhelming to leave any room.  But there they are.  And at first I held onto this hope that Audrey had supernatural memory power and would remember you- then when I realized you were just bits of memory but that she has no real memory of you living with us anymore- I tried to rationalize this as well thinking it was a relief from the burden of trying to help her remember- imagining this meant she wouldn’t be in pain.  But then after we visit the cemetery on Sunday she asks me to put on some videos of her as a baby with appa’s voice.  I am so drained I can’t bear it, but she’s insistent so we watch some.  Then she picks up the bear where I have recorded his last voicemail message to me and squeezes it.  “We’re kinda having an appa day,” she says…”and it’s kinda sad.”  And one day I hear her telling a friend she slept over someone’s house all by herself and her “mommy and daddy didn’t come…I mean, my mommy didn’t come.”  Yesterday she tells me she asked to hug the class dad cooping and told him he was the best class dad ever.  And today she is at her art table when I hear her saying “Appa appa…” but when I stop what I’m doing in the kitchen and come over she says she said something bad and she can’t tell me.  When I ask if that’s what she said, she says yes and gives a shy smile.  I just hug her and tell her I love her.  At dinner she says “I promise I’ll never ever say that again,” which confuses me so I tell her she can say it whenever she wants and there’s nothing wrong with it.

And lately I feel as though I’m throwing endless things into a vacuum or black hole- trying to fill the void in her life- activities, purchases, crafts for God’s sake, other families, outings, and on and on.  Because more and more I get how much she really is missing out on.  If you were here, you’d be watching sports, kicking a soccer ball around with her.  You’d be building the amazing Lego structures you bragged about for years to me.  You’d be playing the piano and sitting her next to you- teaching her scales and notes.  You could (not sure if you would on this one), be teaching her Korean.  So it’s hard not to feel our child could be athletic, a champion Lego builder, piano-playing Bilingual girl if only you were here. With just me- she is reading a lot, very artistic (also from you) and becoming OCD like I am- her imaginary friend Kendra asked for a little dustpan for her imaginary birthday party because “Kendra loves cleaning and awganizing.”  She’s terribly afraid of the dark and monsters and every night is a battle lately- and I often wonder- “Would she feel as terrified if her father 1) hadn’t suddenly died and 2) was still here, putting her to bed along with me?  Questions that aren’t really worth asking; there are no answers.

I agree with another widow who posts in her blog about time being so hard to get now- about her old life with him seeming like a complete dream if it were not for her two twin daughters.   Losing your spouse at this age is the closest thing to dying yourself and getting a second chance.  It’s like you hold your previous life, not inside of yourself, but outside of yourself…it’s like you’re this towering giant holding the earth as you knew it then like a small ball in the palm of your hand.  I’ve had a little case of the widow crazies the past few days too…I imagine time: past, present, and future happening simultaneously- I think because this feels so wrong- I imagine the past is still going on and see all of the clues there that knew the future because this too was already going on- already there.  It’s comforting and draining to view reality this way.  I also imagine sometimes that a stranger is actually you…stepping in for a moment to watch over us.  If I see a penny, I pick it up just to look at the year and see if it’s symbolic at all- if it’s not, I throw it back down.

Lately, I realize I’ve gone back to doing a lot of the things I couldn’t- like regular cleaning of our apartment- and taking better care of my teeth.  But every time I’m doing one of these things- like wiping down the bathroom floor on my hands and knees while Audrey’s in the bath- I imagine you finding out you died and saying, “Jul, you’re still cleaning the bathroom floor like this after I died?”  “You’re still flossing every night even though I died?”

The most heartbreaking moment of my day today was seeing some woman’s list of favorites on her blog- including a spray that gets the wrinkles out of your clothes so you don’t have to iron.  It brings back a memory- so particular to you and I that it crushes.  When we were first married, living in Park Slope, for some reason, I think because you thought it was a good deal, you ordered a case of those bottles- probably from a page you used to frequent back then.  You were really excited when it arrived- I wasn’t.  Where would I store these twelve or more big bottles of stuff?  And it was chemicals, not good for us to breath in or put on our clothes.  I would happily iron your clothes, I told you- even though my post-ironing ended up more wrinkled than the before.  Eventually, I threw all of those out, or gave them away or something- when we moved.  I can picture your disappointed face as you ask if you can keep one or two.  The chemicals wouldn’t have killed you.

I tell a friend that I’m really tired of this level of pain and she tells me to take a break.  That sounds good to me.  At some point, the further away it gets, it takes more energy to live in the past than in the painful present without him.  If you’re gonna make it, you know you’ve got to let go- get back to taping up pictures (mine are the smiling stick figure fairies Audrey is drawing constantly now), try to make the clear tape stick on the rough cinderblock walls.


February 29, 2012


  1. Brooke Simmons

    "Losing your spouse at this age is the closest thing to dying yourself and getting a second chance. It's like you hold your previous life, not inside of yourself, but outside of yourself"
    EXACTLY!!! You articulated my feelings so well…it is completely starting over and feeling like the old life was never really a part of you.

  2. Christy

    Yes…maybe take a break, but don't ever sell yourself short, Julia. You are an amazing mother. Amazing!


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