Hey there, Jeff —
I know you know this already, but every night, Jake asks for a story about you. I’ve gone through most of my go-to Jeff stories — the one of how we met; the one of when your car caught on fire (he LOVED that one); the one of when Jake was born and Kate was born — so I’m looking for deep cuts now. But instead of a story the other night, I told Jake all the reasons I loved you; and reasons why I still love you now.
When I started talking, I couldn’t pinpoint it. One of my first reasons was that I loved how you loved me. But that, while true, sounded really self-serving. So I thought more.
I thought about how I loved when your voice softened when you said, “You’re a cute girl.” You often said that when I least expected it, and when I felt the least cute. But you were nothing if not honest, and I knew that you meant it. I wanted to say, “Seriously — c’mon,” but I didn’t want to undermine your compliment. So, I’d take your word for it. Because I knew that you meant it.
I thought about how I loved your exactitude: whether in picking out just the right outfit for work; or how we would budget our money; or how we would raise our children. Yes, I sometimes wanted to roll my eyes at best, or scream at you, at worst. When you were training for triathlons, you were insufferable. I mean, watching YouTube videos on transitions almost drove me over the edge. I don’t know if you could tell how much I wanted to seriously slap you; I hope I hid it well. Because I also have my own things, and I’m sure you wanted to slap me sometimes, too. But there was something attractive about how seriously you took things. You were all in, or all out. I knew what that looked like. So, when it came to our family, I knew what it would look like for you to be ‘all in’. And you were. You were an awesome husband and father.
I told Jake that I loved how you went to church every week, and how I didn’t always make good choices, and just by being yourself, you made me want to make better choices. It was less about you going to church, and more about what that represented — you had a hard-to-shake moral compass. It sometimes intimidated me, and I wondered why mine seemed flimsy compared to yours. I’d say that we were always in a little bit of competition with each other, and maybe that’s true. I’ll never really know. But I do know that I was definitely in competition with you in the best way… I wasn’t going to let you be the only one who thought about God and faith; the only one who exercised; the only one who made an effort with their friends. You set a high bar… and I wanted to meet it. You made me want to meet it.
I told Jake how I loved how athletic you were: how you could put your mind on something, and basically will your body and mind to do it. Remember when Jake was 5 months old, and you ran a half marathon in the middle of January? Remember that you didn’t train, and you ran it in 1 hour and 51 minutes?! I don’t just keep those stats in my head: I was looking through Jake’s baby book with him today. I had written that down as an ‘event’ in January of 2015. I’m sure we were barely sleeping by then. But you just went and did it: you ran a half marathon on Lake Shore Drive in the middle of winter with no training. Unbelievable. (And also, I will never be able to run a half marathon in under 2 hours, and I hate that you just did it. If you weren’t my husband, I’d be annoyed by you.)
I told Jake that I loved the shape of your nose. I loved that you used the same hair pomade for the entire time I knew you. I loved how you constantly cracked your fingers, and how you creepily swirled your entire styrofoam cup of Cherry Limeade from Sonic, creating the familiar sound of the pebble ice cubes being moved around. I loved how – when you ate Sour Patch Kids – you sucked off the outer layer before eating the gummy part. I loved how your eyebrows started to get bushy after you turned 30, and I’d offer to trim them (because you didn’t like how your stylist did it), and one time, I got a little carried away, and you were so mad at me. I was equal parts totally put out and completely entertained by your reaction. I’m laughing now, just thinking about it.
I loved being your small spoon, and the way your right arm would drape over mine. I think about all the places we woke up that way — everywhere from Muscatine, Iowa to Florence, Italy; from New York to St. Lucia; from Wisconsin to Florida; from Oahu to Vermont. We were lucky — we went a lot of places in 16 years. But of all the places we woke up with your right arm draped over mine… home was the best.
Of all those things… of all the reasons I loved you… I think the thing I may have loved most about you was this: you saw the word differently than I do. I loved how smart you were: you could see things and know things differently than me. We are both analytical people, but where you saw right angles, I see textures. Where you saw formulas, I see stories.
And I realize now: that’s love. Love is seeing the world from someone else’s eyes. Love happens – falling in love happens – when you love the view… when the other person’s eyes help you see the world, and yourself, in ways you never would have on your own. And you realize that you’re better for it. And maybe, the world is better for it too.
Thanks for teaching me that.
I miss your eyes. Of course, I can’t look into your hazel-ish eyes… which were a kinda-green, kinda-brown, interesting mix of colors that’s hard to pin down. I can’t look there searching for empathy or love or understanding. That’s one level of loss. But the other level is what you saw with your eyes: I miss your eyes.
I miss the right angles. I miss the formulas. I still see the textures and stories, but my picture is incomplete. I’ve lost my peripheral vision.
I continue to peel off the layers of loss. I know that every new life event will be like picking a scab off a wound — everything is still so fresh. Sometimes, I think things may feel normal in three years? Maybe five years? And then I realize… losing a spouse is unlike any other kind of loss. Especially because we have kids. Little kids. And I am learning to accept — with kindness rather than disdain — that I may be destined to always have that scab. It will always be fresh. Because when I picture Jake’s high school graduation; Kate’s college graduation; either of their weddings… when I picture their smaller monumental events, like driving a car or a first date; like their first time reading a book or singing in a school play… I cannot imagine a future when your absence isn’t palpable. So I’ll wear that scab, knowing that it’s a sign of having loved deeply. Totally worth it.
But with every layer of loss, something else strange happens that I hadn’t anticipated. It’s like every layer has some sort of lesson. My grief is like a poem: it meets me where I am. It doesn’t always make sense, but I know I have to experience it before making any sort of analytical sense out it. Sometimes, I stop at the experience — it’s just too painful. But if I can get beyond it, then I realize my grief, like a poem, is also kind. It can be deceptively simple to figure out… if I release the grip of perfection and take it for what it is.
Tonight, at bedtime, Jake asked me out of the clear blue, “Did you and Daddy fall in love?”
I have no idea where he learned that phrase, or why he asked it. But I said, “Yes, we did. We fell in love, and we stayed in love.”
“Are you in love with me?” he asked.
“I love you very much, but falling in love is a romantic kind of love. It’s different than how a mother loves her son,” I said.
“How is it different?”
“Well, sometimes you sleep in the same bed. Sometimes you get married; sometimes you have kids. Sometimes people fall in love, and they don’t stay in love. And maybe someday, you will fall in love with someone. And if you do, I hope you decide to keep falling in love with them like Daddy and I chose to keep falling in love with each other. It’s really fun when that happens.”
We had a lot of fun. Tons of fun.
Jeff, you may not be here anymore. But the lessons we learned together, and the gifts you gave me… I think they’re going to be gifts for our kids too. I’m still counting on you – you on that side, me on this side – to help me meet them where they are, so they are humble enough people to know that the world through only their eyes is only one view. I hope they know how to fall in love, and that they are strong enough people to keep falling in love, if they choose to do that.
I still think you’re pretty awesome. And I’ll always be in love with all of the things I love about you. We had 16 years of knowing each other — nine of being married. But I’m proud to sound cliche when I say that our relationship will last me a lifetime.