Archive for the ‘Grieving’ Category

God Gave Us a Chance
May 2, 2013

Audrey (8) came downstairs crying tonight and told me she misses Mommy. She said she just wanted to hold her hand and hug her and for her to be here and well again. It surprises me how infrequently this has happened since So Young died. The kids really don’t sit and cry a lot about So Young being gone.

Later Audrey said, “I remember I held her hand. God gave us a chance. I had no idea.”

Audrey was talking about the night So Young died. We were pretty sure that she was going to go very, very soon, maybe in a couple of days or a week, so that night we made a special effort to have the girls say “good night” to their mother while she slept — unresponsive — on the bed. Shannon sat next to Audrey on the bed while Audrey wordlessly held her mom’s beautiful left hand, which So Young hadn’t moved in several days. I didn’t tell Audrey that her mom was going to die. I had told the older two, but I just couldn’t bring myself to crush an 8-year-old like that, only to crush her again by telling her after her mom had passed. So like she said, she had no idea. That was Audrey’s last moment with her mom.

Audrey brought home a graded writing assignment the other day. She got an S+ on it, which is the best grade you can get. The teacher had filled in a title for her: “An Interesting Story.”

“Would you like to hear an interesting story? On day my mom had a bran tomer and I held her hand. When I woke up I was waiting for someone to wake me up. Then my dad came in. Mom went to heven last night. He said as a tear droped down his eye. I have lots of memorys about mommy!”

That pretty well summarizes what it was like to tell her. Audrey was the last I told and the one I least wanted to tell. But God gave her that one last chance.

An Interesting Story

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Two Months After She’s Gone, and Sure Enough I’m Still Thinking about Her
April 29, 2013

I feel like I am commemorating little anniversaries, like So Young and I did when we were college kids and first dating. “Wow, it’s been two weeks! Happy anniversary! I made you a card and wrote a poem…”

April 28 marks two months after So Young died. I have this strong feeling these days that I want to leave it behind me. By “it,” I’m not sure what I mean, but I think I mean this blog, ruminating about the fact that she has died, I’m alone, my kids have no mom, the whole mourning thing (good luck with that), etc., etc. The problem is that it’s like getting your right arm cut off and somebody telling you to stop thinking about your right arm.

I’ve met a few fellow young widow(er)s recently, and it has been refreshing. Before, I felt like nobody understood. Now I know that (besides God) there are people on earth who understand and are going through the same thing. We have similar frustrations, similar preoccupations.

Kenji reminded me in another one of those life-altering meetings  that occurs when I’m going in the wrong direction (we have too many of those) that I need to not primarily identify as a widower but as a disciple of Christ. He really pressed me on this over and over again while we sat there at Chipotle for an hour and I laughed uncomfortably, because I was clearly preoccupied with certain things (not just being a widower, but about certain things that are sort of ancillary to my condition) to the extent that he was wondering if I wasn’t idolizing those things. Anyway, long story short he’s right, and I’m struggling to reorient myself toward God rather than all these distractions and my grief. It ain’t easy. I talk to other widow(er)s, and they’re in the same boat. Still thinking about that dumb right arm.

I have a lot of new goals now, in addition to my primary life mission of being a disciple and follower of Christ. For one thing, I want to commemorate So Young properly, especially for the girls. She left a lot of journals from all stages of her life. I want to type those up for the girls, and maybe our letters, and maybe my (sanitized) journals, too. I want them to hear their mom’s voice as they grow up. New goals or not, I realize that the day-to-day running of my little family is time-consuming enough, such that as much as I want to achieve humanistic perfection in addition to becoming this really devout individual, I might have to settle for fumbling attempts at both.

I have one more eulogy to post on this blog. I reorganized the blog already to reflect the fact that she is dead. I’m not sure how many more posts I want to do. So Young is gone. I wake up in the morning and hesitate, as if I am about to put my wedding ring on. It’s a habit and I sort of pause there. I don’t put it on anymore. I’m not married to her.

Today I ran and thought about how I don’t really run for her, because she doesn’t see me. She isn’t here. I should run for Jesus. I said to myself there would be a sign at that moment if she was here. Sure enough, there was this strong breeze and a lot of petals from a cherry blossom or some such tree came blowing in front of me, across my path. It was like the snow at the funeral. It just came drifting down, right at the moment it should have, just like the snow. Winter has turned to spring. They said she wouldn’t make it to the spring.

BI5k0tNCMAA_keG

The coolest picture I have seen in a while: So Young’s friend Sara ran the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville yesterday in So Young’s honor and tweeted me this picture of the shoes she wore. It was a really tough run through a heavy downpour. So Young would have loved that on several levels.

Visitation and Funeral
April 18, 2013

This entry recounts So Young’s visitation (March 1, 2013) and funeral (March 2, 2013), from James’s perspective.

We didn’t want to get out of the car.

I remember that we had listened to Justin Bieber on the drive over, and just before we parked at the funeral home, we listened to Sufjan Stevens’s beautiful rendition of “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

“Holy, holy, holy. Though the darkness hide thee…”

I turned off the car. The music stopped. Lindsay said she was scared. Nobody wanted to go in. I didn’t even want to go in. I had never heard of a “visitation” and had no idea what to expect. I said, “Let’s pray,” and we prayed that God would calm us down and help us say goodbye to Mommy. We were there to honor her. Let’s do it for her.

I dreaded the visitation and funeral, but they were much more meaningful and beautiful than I could have imagined.

We gathered as a family first — the four of us, Mom and Dad, So Young’s dad, her siblings, etc. One of my best friends (and my pastor) Kenji was there to minister to us. Many objects that were meaningful to So Young or that spoke to the person So Young was were on display around the room, including photographs, artwork she had made, and the old green Bible that So Young had given me the year we fell in love. In the dedication, she wrote that I should read it “cover to cover until the ink rubs off.”

Bible Inscription

Inscription from the Bible “So Young Park” gave me on July 18, 1993

We walked through the double doors to the room that held So Young’s casket. The casket was closed and surrounded and covered with flowers. I had never seen it before. Dad had selected and ordered it on my behalf weeks before. It was so perfect — beautiful and feminine. It was closed because I didn’t need to see her dead again to say goodbye, and the kids didn’t need to see their mother dead to know she was gone.

We stood in front of the casket. Some of us prayed. Some of us said words to So Young. Even I did this throughout the evening, as if she could hear us better there than somewhere else.

Soon guests began to arrive, and it was then that I saw the beauty of the visitation. I came to realize that I did not mourn alone. Many mourned So Young’s passing. Many were touched by her life as well. I felt so happy to see so many familiar faces, some that I had not seen in many years, that I had to subdue my enthusiasm. I was absolutely delighted to see all of you. You have no idea how much your presence meant to me.

Shannon had created a slide show with music in honor of her mom. I was surprised that people didn’t just mingle while it played. They really stood and watched it, many crying, even the throng of teens and preteens who had come to support Shannon and Lindsay.

I became a mobile receiving line as people approached me, wherever I was in the room. My brother arrived from California. I was beside myself with happiness at seeing him. It was so strange. He is the only person that created for me the same kind of comfort I felt when So Young was by my side. I kept trying to talk to him and stand beside the casket with him, but for the longest time I could never get a chance.

Kim arrived with her family. She brought the most amazing banner, which she had created at late notice in the hours since So Young’s death. I think she didn’t sleep either since So Young went to heaven. The banner hangs in my bedroom today. It is the most beautiful tribute to So Young I have ever seen: photos, scripture, hymns, quotes from So Young’s writings. Just amazing. She also brought gorgeous copies of So Young’s testimony and a large, blown up picture of her to place by the casket. Kim ministered to my girls the whole time she was there, comforting them with her words and praying with them. She stayed with us until nobody was there anymore.

I remember putting on my suit for the funeral the next morning.

I am dressing for my wife’s funeral. How do I look?

Dad let me borrow his overcoat, because the day was bitterly cold. I remember her doctor saying she would not live until the spring. It was if God was driving home the point: It is still winter. Well, I guess the doctor was right.

By some miracle, the funeral perfectly reflected what So Young asked for and would have wanted. She had given some pretty explicit instructions to about how she wanted it to be. We sat in our car two years before she died and discussed it all, waiting for another appointment with a brain surgeon. I took good notes.

It was to be a celebration, a happy event. Yeah right. So Young, don’t you realize how sad we would be? She wanted certain hymns sung. She wanted her testimony shared, funny stories about her told. Most importantly, she wanted the Gospel proclaimed at her funeral. She literally suggested an altar call. Kenji and I planned the service at my dining room table on Friday.

So many people came to the funeral. Almost 300. Again, I was delighted. I wanted to hug and high five people. I wanted to call to them across the room, I was so happy. But I tried not to act too happy or look around the room too much. How would it look if the grieving husband stood at the front of the church, grinning and pointing at people? “Hey! Wow! You’re here! Wassup?!”

All of So Young’s closest friends participated in the funeral, women who literally sat by her bedside and ministered to her while she died: Laurie, Linda, So Me, Jin, Kim, Sungjin, Grace. Each eulogy was personal and funny and proclaimed the Gospel in one way or another. We sang a lot of hymns. Kenji ended the service with a direct proclamation of the Gospel: “This is the message So Young wants you to hear…”

Her brothers carried her casket to the hearse. For some reason, her dad almost didn’t make it to the burial service on time.

It was bitterly, bitterly cold. I was shivering. It’s winter, right God?

God gave us the most beautiful snowfall while we buried my wife. Amanda and Ashton sang “Amazing Grace” by the graveside.

“The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine
You are forever mine”

I will never forget that day. We mourned together with joy and hope.

How to Stop a Freight Train with Your Bare Hands
April 14, 2013

You didn’t ask for it. You don’t want it. But it’s here. And there’s no stopping it, try as you might. You can either stand in front of it, your arms extended, only to have it destroy you along with everything around you, or you can step aside. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty. But I believe there is some redemption in the midst of what is lost.

In this blog entry, I’m going to attempt to describe what it is like to be a young widower — for me at least. I can’t speak for everyone, but as C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, despite my desire to be a lone, tragic figure, I am in fact a part of an army of widowed people now, many millions in the world today whose marriage has ended in one of the two ways they always end: divorce or death. It sounds morbid, but it is true. We lovers are all headed toward one or the other.

I’ve had a really hard time writing about this so far, not because it is some big emotional issue for me, but because there is just too much swirling around in my head. Every day I am thinking or feeling something that I haven’t thought or felt before. There is just too much. I’m going to try to capture some of the major aspects of my experience here anyway, even if they are just a small fraction of the real thing.

This is a long one. If you make it through the whole thing, God bless you. For the short version, read the headings.

Me and Linz

Linz and Me — Currently One of My Favorite Photos, Taken Last Night

Loneliness

Here’s a question for you: Why did God create Adam alone, knowing that “it is not good for man to be alone?” Did He want Adam to feel alone before He gave him a wife?

Well, God, I’m feeling it.

I’m usually OK when the girls are home with me. It tends to be loud and busy. There’s a lot going on. Fights. Homework. Questions. Piano. Chores. I realize that the kids are God’s gift from So Young to me in many ways, not the least of which is that they are a pretty good antidote to loneliness when they are around.

It can become difficult when I am alone at home for a few hours or days. (Please understand that this is not to say I never want them out of the house without me.) When I was alone for a week while they were in North Carolina, it was pretty hard. I just really longed for that human connection that I had when So Young was around. Nighttime is also difficult, pretty much every night.

It’s a strange thing to experience. You want her, but she’s not there. There are wonderful but inadequate substitutes. A lot of people say, “Talk to your guy friends.” Well, I have really good male friends that I can talk to and do, but it isn’t the same. I read one book saying something about widowers wanting “the feminine perspective” occasionally. That’s not it at all. You think I want to talk to a woman because I lack affinity with her? I don’t see things the way she does, so I want to talk? I don’t think so. I have always found more commonality in perspective than difference.

I can’t describe it well, but I have this feeling that talking to some dude isn’t enough. Talking to one of So Young’s friends, her sister, or my mom also isn’t enough. Even talking to God isn’t the same. I don’t have eros for God, after all. I need Him, but not in the same way. I’m pretty sure he “gets” that. (Again, see C.S. Lewis, this time The Four Loves.) It’s not a replacement. Does that sound terrible? It isn’t just about talking to a woman. I think it is about wanting So Young, and more specifically, not wanting to “be alone” in the way that God said it was not good for man to be alone. Sorry if that’s too personal, but that’s kind of the way it is. You probably won’t understand until you go through it.

I sometimes also have this sense of outrage at the unfairness of the way things are for widows and widowers in general. God took her, and there are rules about finding someone else that seem unfair to me. Husbands can talk to their wives. Single men can talk to their girlfriends or single women. Widowers, for a certain period of time that is different in everybody’s head, can’t talk to single women period. You have lost your only female companion. Too bad for you. There can be nobody else until we say so. I’m just telling you how I see it. Hopefully that isn’t too upsetting for people to hear.

A lot of it is just longing for the presence of this one person and realizing you can’t have it and never will again. There’s a song by the band The Welcome Wagon that captures this perfectly for me called “Would You Come and See Me in New York.” I’ve cried each of the dozen or so times I’ve heard it. It’s about a guy who wants his dad, who has died, to visit him in New York to see him now that he has gotten older and things have changed. There’s something about just having that person there and they aren’t and you can’t have them back but you want to. It’s really a visceral thing that is hard to articulate in words.

Fear

Lewis talks about a generalized sense of fear in his book A Grief Observed. I don’t feel that. I have a sense of fear about something Lewis embraced: the notion of my wife visiting me as a ghost after she has died.

You have to understand that I sleep in the room she died in, right next to the bed she died in. I have some pretty powerful visual images of her in that bed after she passed. And of course there are her hallucinations of children, corpses, etc. in the room, which weren’t pleasant and seemed almost demonic to me at times.

People have told me that she might visit me, I might see her, she might touch me, etc. I am horrified at the thought. This is not something I look forward to or that comforts me. I want her in heaven, which is where I believe she is, or “paradise” as Jesus described it to the thief next to him as they both died. I don’t know how it really is on the other side, but I hope for her sake she is not wandering around on earth, lost and perhaps tormented, still wanting to reach those she’s left behind. I don’t believe it, and the thought is no comfort to me. Those thoughts also make the night difficult.

There is also a general sense of fear that I too, like So Young, will die, and soon. The stress of the situation in itself seems to be enough. (And no, the stress of raising the girls isn’t it. Don’t assume I can’t handle it. It’s more complicated than that.)

Single dad-hood

Which brings me to still another point: Did I mention that I can handle this?

I’m going to step onto my soap box for a second. I get this feeling — and I could be wrong — but I get this feeling that there is a perception out there that I can’t raise my kids because, well, because I am a man. WRONG! I am just as capable of taking care of my girls as a single mom is, thank you very much.

I don’t need to be rescued. I repeat: Don’t try to save me!

I don’t need pity.

I am not overwhelmed.

Don’t read into my face too much when you see me. It is not the look of a man cowering in fear because he is surrounded by terrible little girls stomping all over him. On the contrary, my wife just died, and I may be a bit saddened by it. I may be having “a moment.” Also, I’m not a very smiley person in general. We are doing very well under the circumstances. I’m not perfect by any stretch, and neither is anybody else… OK, stepping down from my soap box now.

Regret

So much went wrong while So Young and I were together that I can’t help but feel regret. We had 20 years. That was half of her life. I would characterize five of those years as miserable for both of us, as my friends and hers can attest. When you die at 40, that’s a pretty good percentage of your earthly existence.

I always laugh to myself when I hear people vowing to live life with “no regrets.” Really? No regrets? You won’t make any mistakes? You’ve already learned everything before you lived it? I wish I could do that. I don’t know anyone who has.

There is this desire as I look toward the future with an understanding of the past that I want to do it better next time. If I marry again, and Lord willing I will, I want to do it right, or at least better, and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Waves of realization

Almost every day since So Young died, I keep remembering things she went through during the months she was declining and dying, and it pains me greatly. There’s not much to say about this one other than that it happens. I don’t intend to try to stop it from happening. I think I didn’t feel it while it was going on, so I need to feel it now.

Just plain sadness without any reason other than that So Young has died

Not much else to say about that one. Sometimes you just feel sad and cry.

A great sense of accomplishment

Almost since the day So Young died, I have had this irreverent thought that is absolutely true. It fills me with great satisfaction to think it, as strange as it is: We made it! ‘Til death do us part, as we vowed to one another on our wedding day. There were times we could have given up and very nearly did. Still, by God’s grace, we made it. This is one of the bright spots of this situation, although as I told Shanny the other day, too bad Mommy had to die for that to happen.