Pears

Without thinking of why, I bought some pears this week.

I love pears but I never buy them.

I don’t know why.

I tend to buy apples.

Without thinking of why, I bought pears early in the week before Mother’s Day.

I always have.

I let them get soft and sweet and then early Sunday morning I slice them and sauté them in butter.

While they slowly cook, I mix the batter for the crepes that will surround them.

I whip the cream that will go on top and – my favorite part – I cook sugar and cream into the perfect caramel sauce to drizzle on top.

I put the coffee on and I listen for Kim to come downstairs.

I heat a pan and swirl the batter for the first crepe.

This one isn’t for Kim and it’s not for me. The first one is always for the dog. It never comes out quite right – but once it cools, she’s happy to have it.

The second, third, and fourth ones – those are for Kim. The next three are for me.

Not last year. Not the year before. Not this year.

This year I’ll eat the pears like apples.

I won’t peel and core them.

I won’t sauté them in butter.

I won’t blanket them in a crepe topped with whip cream with caramel sauce drizzled on top.

I’ll just eat them.

I guess that’s a good enough reason to buy pears.

Published in: on May 9, 2019 at 10:55 am  Leave a Comment  

The Nice One

Kim and I used to joke that our little secret was that really I was the nicer one of the two of us. It’s one of those things that started with a side-comment and somehow became established fact between the two of us.

I think all she was trying to say was that from the outside she came across as nicer where really I was the more optimistic of the two of us. That I thought better of others than she.

It turned out there was a quiet side of Kim that was nicer than I ever knew.

Since her death, every once in a while someone will share something that Kim did quietly without anyone knowing to support someone, share a smile, and to make them feel better.

Every once in a while I’ll get a note from someone with a story.

One woman shared aa note that Kim had written her when she was down both personally and professionally and Kim just wanted her to know that Kim had confidence that this woman’s awesomeness would shine through. Kim offered her strength and support at a time she needed it – and it made a difference.

Another woman wrote that she was in the process of moving and was cleaning out a drawer when she found notes that Kim had written her – little acts of kindness to say she was thinking of her.

Last week, I was in Edinburgh visiting friends.

It was the end of a two week trip that had started in Amsterdam and continued to London. I saw the cities partly through fresh eyes and partly through eyes that relived the Amsterdam, London, and Edinburgh that Kim and I had loved together.

In Amsterdam, I’d visited the Van Gogh museum. Kim had loved that museum and every few visits I return there to look at the paintings she loved and feel her there with me.

In London, I went to see a play – Arthur Miller’s “The Price”, with David Suchet as the furniture dealer. I hadn’t seen a play in London since Kim and I went to see Hamlet. The next day, St. Patrick’s Day, I stopped, as I always do, for tea at the crypt of St. Martins in the Field. Is their tea and scones better than anyone else’s in London? I don’t know. But Kim and I always stopped their once on our visits and so I often still do.

In Edinburgh I stayed in an apartment above the one where Kim and I had often stayed just off the Royal mile. I stopped by several times to see Christine at Forsyth’s tea but they were always closed. Christine didn’t always open her tea shop – when she did, Kim would spend hours there talking to her. When I would join them after my class or conference, Kim would have me work chores that she’d promised Christine we’d help with.

I was torn.

I wanted to see her and I didn’t. I wanted to tell her about Kim. And I didn’t.

The canals of Amsterdam – the streets of Edinburgh that Kim and I had walked and gotten lost in and walked in circles in. They all now made sense to me. I had a mental image of how they came together.

I woke up my last morning in Edinburgh to a text from one of Kim’s cousins.

Her cousin had found a note that Kim had written to her on her mom’s birthday a few years after her mom – Kim’s aunt – had died.

It was a simple note that celebrated the life, not the death, of her aunt.

A simple note that reached out and hugged her cousins.

“It was fitting that the first day of spring fell on your mom’s birthday. It was such a beautiful day. Love, Kim”

I smiled.

I was the lucky one.

The one lucky enough to have married the nice one.

Published in: on March 28, 2019 at 8:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Happy Birthday Elena

Elena would have turned 20 today.

This is the back cover copy from the paperback I published of the first four months of posts from this blog as the book “Dear Elena: Hope and Sadness” (Available at Amazon). The ebook has also been updated (available from Apple’s iBooks, Gumroad, or Amazon).

“This is a book about a happy and healthy six year old. 

The book begins the day after she died.

That morning, the morning after his youngest daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly, Daniel Steinberg created a blog to help him through this painful time. 

For years, people all over the world have written to say that the stories have made them better friends, partners, and parents. They write that they value the time they have with others because, after reading the essays,  they understand that nothing is guaranteed,

This book covers the time between Elena’s death and the day, four months later, that she would have finished first grade. There are stories about Elena, her family, and friends. But mostly, it is the journey of a grieving father trying to find his way.”

 

Published in: on March 3, 2019 at 12:09 pm  Comments (1)  

Preface

 

When Kim and I were preparing to get married we met separately with a priest and a rabbi.

The rabbi asked how we would handle the difficulties in our life.

Kim said she would talk to friends and maybe go for therapy.

I said, I would talk to friends, read books, and probably write.

We thought he was talking about ordinary difficulties.

You know, the problems that married couples go through.

Money. Time. Arguments. The waning and waxing of love and affection. Kids acting up or not doing well in school.

We had no idea.

Thirteen years ago today, our youngest daughter died suddenly.

I don’t know how we survived that.

I know I couldn’t have survived it without Kim.

Also, I wrote.

It helped me.

It turned out it helped others as well.

Two years later I thought I would publish some of the blog posts that I’d posted in that time and I wrote the introduction that you’ll find next.

I wasn’t ready to share it yet, though. Not in a book.

I know that’s odd as I’d already shared it as a blog – but a book felt different.

Two years may feel like a long time after a death.

Most everyone else has moved on.

I can tell you today, thirteen years after Elena died, that two years isn’t as long as you’d think.

Two and a half years ago tomorrow, Kim died.

I don’t know how I’ve survived that.

I don’t know how I possibly survived that without Kim.

A lot of it is the support I’ve gotten from friends, family, colleagues, and strangers.

Also, I wrote.

It helped me.

I’d stopped writing about Elena because it was unfair to Maggie to not be able to live her life without me writing about it.

When Kim died I wrote a little bit more,

I can truthfully say that with the exception of those two days, I’ve been lucky and life has been pretty great.

Anyway.

Seven years after Elena died, I published these first blog posts in an eBook but didn’t really tell anyone.

This time I’m cleaning things up a bit and publishing it both digitally and as a paperback.

Why now?

I don’t know that it matters, but on March 3, 2019, Elena would have turned twenty.

Twenty.

She never even turned seven.

I’m releasing the book on her twentieth birthday.

I can’t give her a gift.

I thought I’d give her as a gift to you.

Published in: on February 22, 2019 at 8:15 am  Comments (5)  

And also

I met a friend for coffee Monday.

She and her husband were like my aunt and uncle growing up.

Even later, my second teaching job was thanks to him recruiting me into the school where he taught.

He’s the one who told me that the ideas that I had as a young man would be better received when I was older.

Same ideas. Same audience. Same messenger. I just needed to be older for them to listen.

I thought of that recently when I connected Maggie to one of our colleagues at that school. Maggie is the same age I was when I started teaching at Laurel School for Girls.

Anyway, Monday I was having coffee with his wife.

His widow.

A couple years ago I gave a keynote at a bunch of conferences where I talked about him and his memorial service.

At one point during our meeting over coffee I mentioned that I felt cheated.

She nodded.

She knew exactly what I meant.

“We both had good marriages,” she said, “with good people.”

I nodded.

She then told a story of being out with friends soon after her husband died. Everywhere she looked there seemed to be older couples walking together – enjoying the day together.

She felt cheated.

That’s the future she and her husband should have had.

I nodded.

I knew exactly what she meant.

But this isn’t a story about that.

Not exactly.

I proposed to Kim twenty-six years ago today.

I almost chose another day because Valentine’s Day is such a cheesy day to choose. But Kim is so bad with dates, I wanted to choose a date she’d remember.

Spoiler alert.

She said “yes”.

We never really celebrated Valentine’s Day after that.

You’d think we would.

It’s the anniversary of the date we got engaged.

But Kim had known long before I proposed that we would get married and I’d known for a while.

Also, there are so many days during the year that you can celebrate. You don’t have to wait for the day you’re supposed to.

We’d exchange cards and sometimes exchange gifts – but we didn’t want to restrict it to just Valentine’s Day.

There are so many days to celebrate.

Our first date.

The first time we cooked a meal together.

Our first late night conversation that neither of us wanted to end.

The first time we walked over during our lunch break to walk around Wade Oval and visit the art museum.

Our first real kiss.

The first time we were intimate. And the last time.

The day we met Maggie. The day we met Elena.

As the first anniversary of Elena’s death approached how February became our month of eating cookies.

Some time around Valentine’s Day, Kim came home and asked, “did you see it?”

“What?”

“The tree in Jan and Elena’s garden,” she said.

I shook my head.

“It’s full of valentine hearts,” she said.

We walked down to see it.

One of Elena’s classmates and his mother had made hearts and hung them on the trees.

I had also bought Kim yellow roses with a touch of orange. The same roses I’d bought her when she had just given birth to Elena.

It didn’t mean that we were now celebrating Valentine’s Day.

But sometimes you need a nudge from a tradition to start celebrating again even when you’re not much in the mood to celebrate.

Kim and I still bought each other things on non-official days, but we took a break halfway through our month of eating cookies for Valentine’s Day.

A couple of days away from cookies.

A couple of days for chalky, stale, candy hearts.

Sometimes we’d get each other a gift.

Sometimes not.

Mostly, she’d look forward to a trip we were going to take together and suggest that that be our gift to each other.

But our last Valentine’s Day she bought us something special.

She bought us something to say she still loved our time together and valued the physical part of our relationship as well.

When you’re married more than twenty years, it’s really nice to know that.

First thing each day I would reach out to touch her when I would pass her in the kitchen in the morning.

She’d roll her eyes at me.

I’d do it throughout the day. A hand on her shoulder as she read the paper. A palm on her hip as I moved around her to put a pot on the stove. A hand that might slip to where it didn’t belong while we stood in the kitchen talking about the day.

She’d roll her eyes at me.

But she’d smile.

I told her she’d be upset if I ever stopped reaching for her.

“Try me,” she said. But she didn’t mean it.

As we aged, added wrinkles, and pounds, some of my favorite memories were of her hand on my back as she came up behind me as I cooked dinner.

And as we aged our bodies changed.

She hated the way her skin was beginning to change.

She thought it was beginning to look and feel like old lady skin.

It didn’t matter. It was Kimmy’s skin. I would reach over and put my fingers on her cheek as we lay in bed facing each other. She’d smile and then she’d turn back to her book and I’d roll over and go to sleep.

That last Valentine’s Day. That was her gift for us. Something that would help us enjoy moments of intimacy as our bodies changed and aged.

I cried when she gave it to me.

I knew what it must have taken for someone as private as she was to go into the store and buy it.

I knew what it said about how she wanted to live out her days with me.

Who knew we’d have just six months and a week left.

Cheated?

Yes cheated.

We would never be one of those old couples walking together – enjoying the day together.

And also…

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 5:43 pm  Comments (1)  

And so we change

I went to a funeral today.

A young man died way before his time.

One of the man’s brothers delivered the eulogy. At one point he looked at his sister-in-law, his brother’s widow, and said that he and his family would be there for her.

I glanced at the man next to me.

My brother-in-law.

It’s true. The day that his sister, my wife, died was not the end of our relationship.

He continues to be there for me.

We spent New Year’s Day at my sister-in-law’s house and Christmas at Kim’s parents’ house.

The support of my in-laws continues after the woman that linked us together is no more.

After the funeral, Tommy and I went to the church basement for the reception.

We sat at a table with two sisters who had known the dead man’s father.

”How do you know him?” one of the sisters asked.

”We lived three doors away,” Tommy said. “My sisters were friends with his wife and her sister.”

”Are your sisters here?”

”No,” Tommy explained. He told them one sister had come to the wake the day before and the other sister died in a car crash two years ago. He gestured at me and said, “this is her husband, Daniel.”

The sister who had asked the question turned to me and asked, “was today hard for you?”

Before I could answer, she told us that her partner had died and the service was difficult for her.

”Well,” I said, a bit uncomfortable with where I thought she was going.

”You know how weddings are different after you’re married?”

”It’s not that the wedding is about you – it’s that now you understand the import of the words being spoken and the promises being made.”

“The same thing is true after you’ve lost a loved one who is really close to you.”

”After that, the words at a funeral hit you differently. They hit you harder. It’s not that this funeral is about you and your loss – it’s that you understand the loss of the family and friends much more deeply than you did before.”

The sister pulled back from the table a bit.

She stopped and thought a minute.

Then she nodded and said, “exactly.” She nodded again and said, “that’s exactly how I felt.”

Published in: on January 3, 2019 at 11:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Love’s Holiday

It’s after dinner and I’m still wearing the same sweats I put on this morning when I got out of bed to feed the dog.

It’s just the two of us.

I’ve spent most of the day getting my books in order for my meeting with my accountant on Wednesday.

Every once in a while I stand up to let the dog out, feed her, feed me, get some coffee, or just stretch.

I’m almost done so I flip on Apple Music and Earth Wind & Fire’s “All in All” comes on.

I enter credit card statements to “Serpentine Fire”, “Fantasy”, and “Jupiter”.

And then.

And then I get smacked in the head by a song in a way I haven’t been hit in months.

The intro to “Love’s Holiday” starts and I smile remembering Venus Flytrap on the mighty WKRP stroking the chimes next to him and saying “Yes, my children, let’s sample the elements together… Earth, Wind, and Fire”. I actually don’t think he ever said that but it doesn’t matter.

The choir sings “Bah–bahhhhhh, ahhhhh, bah-bahhhh, oh” and I stop what I’m doing and listen to the words “Would you mind, if I touched, …” and while the lyrics roll by I  close my eyes and Kim steps into my arms and we’re dancing.

She pulls in close and my tears fall on the back of her head cause I know it’s not real but it just feels like she’s here again and “I never ever felt this way in my heart before.”

How do you know when love is real?

I don’t know. With Kim I knew right away.

I lean back to look at her. In real life my eyes are closed in the vision they’re open.

“Would you mind if I looked in your eyes till I’m hypnotized”

I’m leaning back  and I can feel her arms on mine. The spot where she leaned up against my chest is chilled now that she’s pulled back. She’s smiling up and me.

And I look at her and see her as all of the Kims I knew at once.

The lyrics are mostly “bah-bah-bah” and as we rock back and forth, the Kims age in my arms.

I see the Kim I first met.

I see the Kim I married.

I see the Kim I traveled to China with to meet our first child.

I see the Kim I watched as she delivered our second child.

I see the Kim I buried our youngest child with.

I see the Kim I traveled the world with

For a moment I see the dying Kim tied to a respirator, missing a good part of her skull as I sit by her bed and stroke her hand.

But mostly I see the Kim I was to grow old with.

She rests her head back on my shoulder.

“Love has found its way – In my heart tonight.”

The music fades.

The moment is gone.

I thank the receding vision for the dance and wipe my eyes.

Published in: on December 10, 2018 at 8:01 pm  Comments (4)  

Silver

I wanted to do something special for my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

I know it seems silly… futile… quixotic… self-indulgent… – I don’t know what the right word is for celebrating a wedding anniversary when death did you part.

I knew the day would be difficult and I just wanted to fill it with something.

I’ve planned so many anniversary celebrations – where to go? what to do? what to give as a gift?

My favorite anniversary might have been the year I surprised Kim with a picnic of her favorite food from her favorite restaurant.

I’d arranged with her boss to fill up her schedule that afternoon with fake appointments so that she’d be completely free.

I showed up late in the day and Kim, Tara, and I headed out to the Case farm for a picnic. Just the three of us. Kim, me, and our two year old black lab on an extra long leash.

Perfect.

Yesterday, I checked the Lake View website and they allow dogs so long as you clean up after them.

Perfect.

Just after noon, I packed a picnic lunch and Annabelle and I jumped in the car. Ten minutes later we parked next to section 32.

I pulled a canvas chair and the picnic lunch from the trunk and led Annabelle over the grass. She’d never been there before but she behaved pretty well as I set the chair up in front of Kim’s grave.

It went much better than I’d expected.

Annabelle and I ate a picnic lunch and hung out a bit for a perfect twenty-fifth anniversary meal.

As I ate the cole slaw I thought of seven year old Sophie sitting in our house eating mashed potatoes during her visit just after Elena had died.

Our picnic was a twin homage – to our anniversary celebration and to Sophie’s memorial.

That was the where to go and what to do.

What to give as a gift?

It didn’t need to cost much – it never did. But it had to be special.

I’ve thought a long time about this over the last couple of weeks.

Then a couple of days ago I was up on the third floor looking for something and I saw a little film canister on my desk.

I don’t know that that’s the right word for it. But when cameras used film we used to take the roll and put it in this plastic container to be developed.

This one didn’t contain film.

It contained something I got twenty-five years ago today during our wedding ceremony.

I’ve told the following story before.

Sue me.

I wrote our wedding ceremony to include components from each of our traditions. I included explanations and stage directions.

In the passage where I described Kim’s dad walking Kim down the aisle and leaving her with me I noted that it wouldn’t be inappropriate for some amount of cash to be exchanged at this point.

Sure enough, on the day of the wedding, Tom reached out and pressed two pennies in my palm and whispered in my ear, “she’s been giving me her two cents all her life, now it’s your turn.”

When I got a chance later I looked more carefully at the pennies.

One was from 1960.

One was from 1993.

One from the year Kim’s life began.

One from the year that our life began together.

I’ve kept those pennies on my desk in a film canister ever since.

Just two pennies.

He didn’t clutter the story up with a penny for the year she graduated from high school or college.

Just two.

I thought of adding one for the year Maggie was born. One for the year Elena was born. One for the year Elena died. So many significant events.

Instead, for our silver anniversary I decided to add just two more pennies to the canister.

Just two.

One for 1997.

One for 2016.

One for the year Kim became a mother.

One for the year that Kim died.

I didn’t spend much on the gift. Just two cents.

Just two.

But that last penny cost me everything.

Happy 25th anniversary Kimmy.

 

Published in: on August 8, 2018 at 2:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Hang up

I met my friend Craig for coffee at Juma then headed to Oberlin to have dinner with my family.

I tell you this so you understand how I ended up traveling west on I-480.

I got on the highway at Warrensville, just as Kim did on the last trip she took.

I wasn’t on the highway very long before I noticed a car next to me that didn’t look right.

I took another look.

The driver was bent over the passenger seat looking at his phone. Just like the guy who killed Kim.

He wasn’t watching the road and his car was drifting into my lane. Just like the semi driver who killed Kim.

I checked the rear view mirror. I had room to brake so I did. I hit the brakes and the horn. He drifted into my lane where I would have been. Thankfully I was now several car lengths behind.

I don’t think he ever saw or heard me. I just know that he didn’t stop.

If he’d been driving a semi, like the guy who killed Kim, I wouldn’t have had room to move out of his way.

Today I could have died in the same stretch of road as Kim in the same way.

Please stay off your phone when you’re driving. You have no idea how many people have saved your life by reacting when you weren’t able to because you were on your phone.

Before you drive – hang up.

Once you’re driving – please, pay attention.

Published in: on August 5, 2018 at 8:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Just Us

So where are we now that the criminal case and the civil case have concluded?

On the one hand, the man who killed Kim spent no time in jail and paid us nothing.

On the other hand, would that have made a difference?

I don’t know.

The prosecutor certainly mishandled the case, but a criminal case isn’t between the victim and the accused so there really wasn’t anything we could do.

I never met the driver. I didn’t see the point.

He was on the phone when his semi drove into Kim’s car.

I’ve been advised to let it go.

Say we get the case opened. Say he goes to jail. Would it make a difference?

I don’t know.

I was upset the first time the trial went forward to see he was charged with a misdemeanor not a felony.

So I suppose the answer is “no”.

We did get a settlement from his insurance company.

Kim’s cousin represented us and got the maximum that his minimal insurance allowed. He got all there was to get.

It certainly wasn’t enough.

Not enough. But as my friend Steve said, would any amount have been enough? Say it was something absurd like ten million dollars. Would that have been enough.

No.

But this felt like too little.

It felt like too little because of all that Kim was to me, to Maggie, to her parents and siblings, to my parents and siblings, to co-workers, to friends …

She did so much for so many.

This wasn’t enough.

But it’s all there is. I’m grateful to the many that helped me get this much, to get through these cases.

I don’t know what I expected from the legal system in either of these cases.

This wasn’t enough.

I went to dinner and an outdoor concert last night with Kim’s brother and his wife. At one point the band played a Bill Wither’s cover and my eyes teared up and I thought of Kim.

I don’t know what was special about that song, about that moment, but I felt her with me.

Not in a creepy “I believe in ghosts” or religious way. I just felt her there beside me swaying to the song, kicking the back of my knees to get me to loosen up.

I don’t want to become one of those bitter old men who complain about the justice system.

Should the man who killed Kim have gone to jail?

Yes.

Would it change my life in any way?

No.

So there – let’s not speak of it again.

It would have been nice if the civil suit resulted in more money.

But it didn’t.

I’ll say one more thing about it, then we won’t speak of it again.

There was the moment when I went to the lawyers office and the young lady at the front desk handed me an envelope with the settlement check inside.

It was a moment where it was done.

Here’s the check – we’re done.

It was a very final moment.

I took the check to the bank and deposited it.

That was it.

In the eyes of the legal system, Kim’s life had been accounted for.

The civil and criminal cases were done.

I hope not to speak of it again.

It’s not enough.

But, it’s all there is.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 5, 2018 at 12:39 pm  Comments (1)