No decision

A parent makes a hundred different decisions about their child every day.

You might not even realize you’re making them and most of them aren’t important.

Wake them up? Let them sleep a little longer.

This bowl and cereal? That plate and toast? How much cereal? What kind? Which kind of bread? How toasted? What to spread on it?

Most decisions are not that important.

Most the child never notices.

Some they do. Some they take a stand on even though they are seemingly dumb.

“I don’t want that cup, I like this one.”

“OK,” you think. What’s the big deal. And you either get the cup they want or you dig in and try to make them use the cup you selected.

“I don’t like whole wheat toast.”

“Since when?” you ask.

“Since always,” they say. “I never liked it. It makes me sick.”

Every confrontation can go so many ways.

And does.

But, you remember, most decisions are not that important.

But now some parents are having to decide whether or not to send their kids back to school and there is a chance that their child could get sick and there’s a small chance that their child could die.

But, you say, there’s always that chance. Kids die of the flu every year.

This is different. Whole communities are at risk. This isn’t the flu.

This spring, before all this happened, Maggie and I went to the funeral of a beautiful little girl. Following a service in a packed church and a burial at the same cemetery where Kim and Elena are buried, we headed back to a reception in the church’s school.

So many people felt the loss of this child and gathered to help hold up the family and each other.

And then the pandemic hit.

More than 150 thousand people have died in the US alone.

Many of them have died in hospitals without their family at their side.

We spent three days with Kim in the hospital after her accident. Her family and friends came to say goodbye. They supported us and each other.

But now it’s not safe to let families come in to say goodbye. The COVID patients die surrounded by strangers. Loving strangers. Hard-working strangers Hospital employees who see way too many people die that they just can’t help.

Those hundreds of decisions that we make each day for our children or for each other – most of them aren’t important.

There is no decision that that little girl’s parents could have made that would have saved her life. There’s no decision that Kim and I could have made that would have saved Elena. There’s no decision I could have made for Kim that would have saved her life.

Believe me, if there were, we would have.

And now parents have to decide whether or not to send their child back to school in the fall.

Somehow someone has decided that there is an acceptably small number of kids who will die as a result.

Their parents will have decided to send them back to school. Some won’t really have a choice because of their situation.

And now they live with that hole that their child felt and the pang that maybe they had had a hand on the shovel.

We shouldn’t force parents to make decisions like this.

I can’t imagine how painful it is.

Published in: on July 31, 2020 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wear a Mask

The man who killed Kim was on the phone while he was driving.

He was talking to someone in Romania. I can’t remember if he was just talking at the moment that he changed lanes and ran his semi into her car or if he was reaching to retrieve his phone.

It doesn’t matter.

The man who killed Kim was on the phone while he was driving.

It feels so avoidable.

There are things you are supposed to do when you are driving for your safety and the safety of those around you.

Fasten your seatbelts.

At one point that was a major issue and seen as an infringement of your freedom.

You also need to have a valid driver’s license. You are supposed to use your signal and check that you have a clear path before switching lanes. You are supposed to have your lights on. You are supposed to maintain proper distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. You shouldn’t be tired or impaired in any way. Your eyes should be on the road and your hands should be on the wheel. Your mirrors should be properly adjusted and your vehicle should be maintained properly. Your tires should be properly inflated and you shouldn’t be on the phone.

You should be driving.

You should be focused on the task at hand. You are piloting a multi-ton vehicle at a high speed with others around you. It takes no time at all to make a mistake that will end a life.

It takes little effort on your part to do the many things it takes to drive safely.

It requires that you understand the risks to yourself and that you care about the risks to others.

The man who killed Kim was on the phone while he was driving.

He ignored the risks to himself and cared little about the risks to others.

In this time of the Corona pandemic don’t be that person.

Don’t be the person who could do the least they could do but didn’t. And for what?

The driver didn’t want to wait to talk to his friend in Romania.

In this time of the Corona pandemic don’t be that person.

Wear  a mask.

 

Published in: on July 9, 2020 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  

21

Twenty-one years ago, this very moment, I was having breakfast at a Bob Evans on Mayfield Road.

“How could you possibly remember that,” you ask.

I remember everything about that day.

I remember dropping a two and a half year old Maggie off at my in-laws at about eleven the night before along with Tara, our black Lab.

I remember waiting to walk into Hillcrest hospital until after midnight as the doctor had advised so that the partial day didn’t count against our insurance.

I remember sitting in a chair next to Kim’s bed, holding her hand and smiling at each other for hours as we waited for our baby to come.

I remember the nurse waking us up with Kim’s breakfast saying it would be hours until the baby was born. That I should go get breakfast.

“Go,” said Kim.

The nurse told us it would be a long day and Kim could use the rest.

I went.

It was snowing hard the morning of March 3, 1999.

I drove to Bob Evans and sat by myself and had a breakfast that would carry me through most of the day.

I went across to Golden Gate and picked up some games for Kim and me to play to pass the time. I think that was the first time we played Mille Bornes.

Memories of other days with Kim in the hospital confuse that day.

Me sitting next to her after her appendix operation.

Me sitting next to her preparing to let her go.

But twenty-one years ago today we couldn’t have been happier.

We had a beautiful daughter sitting at her grandparents’ house in her Winnie-the-Pooh chair drinking a coke, eating chips, and watching television.

Those things we wouldn’t allow her to do at home.

Those things that we felt no responsible parents should allow.

Those things that grandparents were invented to allow.

And she’s turned out quite nicely, thank you.

We had a beautiful daughter and were awaiting the arrival of our second.

Except Kim didn’t know it would be a girl yet.

I did.

Twenty-one years ago tonight my beautiful baby girl was born.

Her mom held her just before midnight and the world was perfect.

I still see that moment of Kim holding Elena for the first time.

I hold on to that moment and try to remember everything I can from that day.

That day my world was perfect.

 

Published in: on March 3, 2020 at 9:03 am  Comments (1)  

Numbers

My mom used to always let us know when there were fun patterns with times or dates.

It’s stuck with me and so I often notice some significance to a date: a palindrome, an oddity, or a fun pattern.

For instance, two years from today it will be 2/22/22.

You won’t have to remind me.

I always remember February 22. That was the day, fourteen years ago, when Elena died suddenly.

2/22/06

And today we have reached a significant date.

Elena has been gone twice as long as she lived.

As lucky as I feel to have been her dad, I feel cheated for all the things she never saw.

All the things she never experienced.

The person she never got to be.

This year Kim and I would be preparing for Elena’s college graduation.

Except neither one of them is still with us.

2/22/2020

Published in: on February 22, 2020 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Kim’s Bed

I spent the night of Valentine’s Day on the couch.

I thought back 28 years to the day that Kim said she’d marry me.

Actually, she didn’t exactly say she would. She signed it to me. I met her after church in a diner for breakfast and she agreed to marry me.

I celebrated with corned beef hash. She ordered the pecan waffles.

She shook her head when the waitress offered me the coffee.

We would go and have better coffee somewhere else later.

Kim had a Shaker bed that she moved into our house at the end of May when she gave up her apartment and moved back in with her parents.

We were married in August and that was the bed the dog jumped onto to join us each night.

Our first Christmas I decorated the bed with lights while Kim was finishing decorating the tree.

It was big enough to hold me, nine-months pregnant Kim with a full body pillow, and the dog.

But somehow we decided to accept a Queen size bed when it was offered to us.

That was the bed we moved from the house on 128th street to our current house.

I’d forgotten that the frame wouldn’t fit up the stairs until Valentine’s Day.

That was the day I took it back apart.

I’d found someone who would take it. Someone who needed a bed.

So I took it apart and started to bring the pieces down.

Somehow I’d gotten the pick-up day wrong.

The frame wouldn’t fit down the stairs.

And that’s when I remembered we’d had to bring it up the porch from outside and through the porch door.

So that’s the way it went out. I lowered it from the porch and carried it around and brought it back in the house.

I went upstairs and swept up the dog hair that had been way way under the bed.

And then I had lifted and moved enough for one day.

I slept on the couch that night. Valentine’s Day night. I wasn’t sad to be giving away the bed. There were a lot of great memories associated with it – but it wasn’t that sort of bed.

“Tonight,” I thought, “I’ll sleep on the couch. Tomorrow I’ll be back in Kim’s bed.”

I smiled and went to sleep.

The puppy slept across the room on her favorite chair.

The next day I took Kim’s bed apart, cleaned it off, brought it downstairs, and set it back up again.

I found sheets that fit. Washed them and made the bed.

All this would have been easier with Kim here to help.

All this would have gone quicker as we told stories and exchanged memories.

The day ended and the dog sat at the top of the stairs impatiently waiting for me to come up and go to bed.

I did.

I flipped on the light in the bedroom and watched her struggle to jump on. The bed was smaller but a little taller.

She jumped off and the second time jumping on went easier for her.

She settled at the foot of the bed on Kim’s side.

I don’t remember even turning over. I fell asleep immediately. Smiling. Back in Kim’s bed.

Published in: on February 16, 2020 at 3:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Would have been

Today my father would have been 87 years old.

Too many “would have been”s in my life right now.

Kim. Elena. My dad.

A year ago Maggie and I went out to Oberlin and spent time with dad in his hospital room.

He looked up and focused on the top-left corner of the room during much of our visit.

I’m not sure that he knew we were there with him.

We said goodbye to him, wished him a happy birthday, and went to dinner with my sister, brother, and mother.

I’m glad we were there. He lived another three months.

For years, I would stop and have birthday dinner with him on my way to a conference in Sandusky.

This is his first birthday he’s not here to celebrate with.

So today I went to a baptism.

The party afterwards was in one of those places that Kim had frequented.

Every Friday afternoon she and her college friends drank and had a good time in the basement of what is now Pizzaz near John Carroll.

Every Friday afternoon me and my teaching friends would sit upstairs in that same restaurant drinking and talking about the week.

Today I opened the familiar door and headed downstairs.

Once a week, Kim and I were twenty feet away from each other ten years before we’d meet.

I sat at a table with Kim’s parents. Her aunt Mary Kay came over and talked about Elena.

I love that.

Sitting where Kim used to sit, three years after I’ll never see her again, fourteen years after I’ll never see Elena again and they’re both there.

I smile at my father.

He would have been eighty-seven today.

Published in: on January 12, 2020 at 9:01 pm  Comments (1)  

Written

I began writing a book on the third anniversary of Kim’s accident.

I don’t mean the book was about the third anniversary. The book is about a programming topic called SwiftUI.

I mean that the date on which I began was the third anniversary of the day that a truck driver on his phone ran Kim off the road and killed her.

I hadn’t written a book in years and I didn’t know if I could anymore.

In the first year I was focused on Maggie and me.

I built up habits. Maggie was great at getting me to the gym. I was great at making sure there was food in the house and we were doing the every day and every week things that needed to be done.

The dog was fed. The lawn was mowed. Meals were served. The dishes were washed and put away. The dog was often walked.

Slowly I built up to presenting at conferences and doing training again.

Those took a lot of effort but they were focused sprints.

I could run hard and prepare for a week to deliver a one hour conference talk. (Yes, a good talk takes at least that long.)

Slowly I was doing things I needed to do. Though some habits disappeared.

When Maggie went back to school I stopped going to the gym. Maybe the occasional Tai Chi but not often enough. The dog was never walked.

I’d lost a lot of weight without thinking because we were doing so many things right. And then I stopped. And it all came back.

Go figure.

Did I have the discipline to write?

I didn’t know.

And I have a list of four or five books I’d like to write right now.

I just didn’t know.

So I was looking for a way that marked the third anniversary of Kim’s accident. That day when everything stopped.

And so I decided to start.

I don’t think I told anyone why I was starting then.

I didn’t make a fuss about it.

I just quietly announced that I was starting a book on SwiftUI and if you’d like to be a tech reviewer, Direct Message me.

People did.

A week later I sent out the first two chapters to tech review.

A couple of weeks later I sent out the next two.

A couple of weeks later I sent out the last two.

And then on my sixtieth birthday, I published it.

Published in: on October 8, 2019 at 4:09 pm  Comments (1)  

Cars

A month or so ago I started thinking seriously about getting an electric car.

I don’t think I’ve owned a car newer than five years old so I started looking at used cars. Leafs. Bolts. i3s. eGolfs. Fiat 500s.

Actually, I started looking at one or two person cars. I see them in Europe and they’re all I need for getting around town. I figured I would keep a gas car for longer trips and head to the coffee shop in a Twizzy of something.

Maggie said, “no”. She’d lost a parent in a car accident and she was not supporting a small car that could be run over by an SUV that just didn’t see it.

Kim was run over by a truck driver on his phone three years ago today.

The driver never did any time for swerving his truck into her while reaching for his phone. It cost him no money and no time in jail.

But that isn’t the story I was telling.

I was telling you about looking for a car.

Once I started thinking more seriously about the electric car, I decided that if I got one with enough range I could make it my only car.

The farthest distance I travel regularly is to see my mother in Oberlin. That’s about eighty miles round trip so I need one that can comfortably do, say, one hundred twenty which means it should be rated at one hundred fifty or so.

Most of my travel farther than that is by airplane. Now that Maggie has graduated and moved in to her new apartment I won’t be driving to see her. I’ll probably fly. For those occasional long trips, I can rent a car.

So I started asking friends about electric cars and they said the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Bolt, and the Tesla Model 3.

The only new car we’ve ever owned was the Honda we bought for Kim when we first adopted Maggie. We wanted to have a safe car for our new baby. A car that was reliable.

We decided to get a new car for Kim and a reliable used car for me.

It was a tough decision. We each loved our cars but they were old and neither was reliable.

She had a white Chevy Cavalier. She looked cute in it – but she looked cute in everything.

She knew exactly how big that thing was and could maneuver it in and out of tight spots without paying much attention.

I was driving a well-used Volvo. I loved that car. It was comfortable and drove great. The wind whistled oddly when I drove on the highway because someone had broken into the car to steal my stereo and the replaced window didn’t seal quite right.

So Kim and I went to a car dealership to buy a new car for her and a used car for me.

We knew what we want. We told the salesman what we wanted and who they were for. I told the salesman that Kim was the car person. But he decided to concentrate on me. When we test drove the car for Kim he suggested I get in and drive it and gestured Kim to the passenger seat.

He lost two sales that day. We’d come in to buy and we left with nothing.

Someone at the radio station knew someone who sold cars near us so we went in to look at a Honda.

He listened.

He focused on Kim and answered her technical questions. We bought the car and drove it for nineteen years.

Kim and I had been talking about selling it, but after Kim died I couldn’t have Maggie driving in a car that wasn’t absolutely safe.

I bought a used white Nissan Maxima. My mechanic knew a couple that was downsizing. The wife had a car that she only drove to Cedar Center to shop and to the beauty parlor.

The car was in great shape. It wasn’t really my style. It felt too nice for me. But I loved that car. It was easy to drive and had an electric sun roof. I drove it until just after Elena died. Too many things needed fixing.

So I’m looking for an electric car.

Last week Maggie and I test drove a Bolt. I have several friends who have one and speak highly of it. It’s rated for two hundred forty miles. So we test drove a 2017 model.

I liked it a lot. It drove a little funny as I came off the highway but the salesman said that’s just how it is. It tightens up at low speeds. Also I wasn’t used to the feeling of a car as it regenerates power. The price was good but it had been a fleet car and had enough miles in a year to void the three year/36000 mile warranty.

My mother had a great suggestion. “Test drive a new one,” she said. That way I would know whether that model had driven stiffly at low speeds or if the salesman had been right that they all do.

So I did. After I dropped Maggie off at school I went to a local dealership and drove a new Bolt.

It was nice. But it was more money than the base Tesla so I decided to test drive one of those as well.

A friend said that he thought Tesla was off-brand for me. That he couldn’t see me in one.

Perhaps. My cars had been old and used. I started in 1981 with a ’72 Century, then an orange ’62 VW Beetle. There was a brown Rabbit, a VW GTO, the Volvo sedan, and then that Nissan Maxima. Since then it has been Subarus. An Impreza, a Forester, and an Outback.

The Bolt does feel more like my brand: an aging, overweight, former academic. It felt like a regular car.

The Tesla was fun to drive and leasing it is about the same cost as buying the used Bolt.

Maggie reminds me that there’s no rush.

I was rushing a bit. I told them I’d make a decision today.

That was before I remembered that Kim was run over by a truck driver on his phone three years ago today.

Maybe that was why I’d set an arbitrary deadline of today. I can wait.

Kim was driving a car she absolutely loved.

She bought my sister’s Mazda Miata and she loved driving it.

She looked cute in it.

So cute.

She’d text me that she was coming home and I’d open the garage door for her. The dog and I would be working in the back yard at the picnic table.

She’d pull into the driveway with the top down, the radio playing, and she’d look over and smile and wave at us.

So cute.

So happy. She loved that car.

She’d pull into the garage and put the top up for the night.

I had an electrician over to see about restoring power to our garage. I should do it anyway. The automatic garage door opener hasn’t worked since a friend of Kim’s cut through the power while installing our patio.

He had trouble moving around in the room with the power in the basement.

I’d forgotten that the hard top to Kim’s car is still there.

I’m not going to make a decision about a new car today.

Kim was run over by a truck driver on his phone three years ago today.

 

Published in: on August 19, 2019 at 7:08 am  Comments (2)  

What’s Next

August 15, 2019 I helped Maggie move into her new apartment.

We walked around the corner so she could show me the high school she’ll soon be teaching in.

We walked around the neighborhood. There’s a Trader Joes a block away. A Walgreen across the street from that. An urgent-care.

She’ll be fine.

We went to lunch.

She walked me back to the car and we said goodbye.

And with that, she begins her new life.

And with that, I begin mine.

I remember holding her for the first time exactly twenty-two years ago one month from today.

September 15, 1997 when the caregiver from the orphanage placed her in my arms.

Her Gotcha-Day.

And every day since then has been preparing for her independence.

The first day Kim and I left her at Kim’s parents’ house.

The first day we left her at my parents’ house.

The first day we left her to go out for the night – to a baseball game.

The first time we left her for more than one day while we went to Toronto.

The first day of pre-school. Of Kindergarten. Of Middle School. Of High School. Of College.

Letting her go to camp. To Europe. To visit her boyfriend.

This is different.

This isn’t, “we’ll see you when we pick you up” at the end of the night. After school. After your trip. At the end of the semester.

Kim, you should have seen her.

She has so much of you.

She is a strong, smart, accomplished woman who has so much ahead of her.

I can’t wait to see what she does and yet I say that without expectation or pressure.

She knows me better than anyone in the world now that you’re gone.

She calls me out on things I need to be called out on and she listens even when she pretends not to.

I saw so much more of the world through your eyes than I did through mine alone. I would love to have spent the time in the car talking to you about our daughter and all that she’s become.

I look at Maggie and see three people. I see the parts that are Kim. I see the parts that are me. I see the parts that are so much more than either of us. The parts that are Maggie.

I cross the George Washington Bridge and drive through a corner of New Jersey and most of the way across the top of Pennsylvania before stopping for the night.

I have to pick up Annabelle in the morning.

I eat at a truck stop diner that is supposed to have great fried chicken at their buffet. That’s what their sign says. It turns out to be true. And as I eat a second plate full I get a text.

It’s Maggie.

She’s already set up her internet.

She went to the store and got the box and hooked it up herself.

She sends a picture of her apartment. It’s beginning to come together.

And with that, I know she’ll be fine in her new life.

And with that, I know I’ll be fine in mine.

 

Published in: on August 15, 2019 at 8:51 pm  Comments (4)  

Still

Twenty-six years ago Kim and I put rings on each others’ fingers and made promises to each other that we intended to keep for our entire married life.

I don’t remember if they included a “til death do us part” clause, but if they did I’m sure we would have interpreted that as a promise to be with each other and only each other for the rest of our lives.

There’s nothing in those vows about “and then what”.

Rings.

That outward sign of marriage.

A couple of years after Kim died, I found myself looking at ring fingers of women I would encounter. But there were married women who didn’t wear rings and non-married women who did. It was beyond me.

I had hoped that a ring would be an easy outward sign of whether a woman was married or not.

It wasn’t.

Then again, after our first year of marriage Kim and I didn’t wear rings.

We always said it was because we had gained so much weight by then that the rings no longer comfortably fit. So we decided not to wear them.

Could have been.

We talked about resizing them but we thought it would be a matter of time before we lost the weight again.

We never lost the weight.

We never resized the rings.

But we had developed other outward signs. I carried Kim with me wherever I went.

I always told stories about her.

What about now? Now that death has parted us? What are the rules for “and then what?”

About ten months ago Maggie encouraged me to try online dating.

I didn’t like dating in my twenties and I’m not liking it much now. But I did it as part of trying to figure out “and then what”.

It’s been ok but I think I’ll wrap it up when I get to a year.

I don’t know what I expected.

When Kim died, she and I had trips booked to conferences in Spain, Italy, and the Swiss Alps.

I’ve been invited back to Spain and Italy – there was a problem with the Swiss Alps where my flight was cancelled and they never invited me back.

When I go to these places, I carry Kim with me.

Recently, I was in Barcelona.

I went to two of Gaudi’s famous buildings, the Picasso museum, several Tapas restaurants, the Cathedral, and then I booked a visit to La Sagrada Familia.

I almost didn’t go.

I’d seen Gaudi’s La Pedrera with its stunning roof and nature themes and the nearby Casa Battlo with its sea themes.

I asked my brother and he said “you have to go. It blew me away.”   So I booked a ticket to La Sagrada Familia.

From the outside it was impressive. Each face represented a different part in Christ’s life. The entrance is on the side of the nativity and the exit is on the side of the passion.

In between was stunning.

The inside of the church was so high and open with stain glass that transformed the towering columns into trees in a grove in a forest at dawn on the side of the nativity and at sunset on the side of the passion.

I walked around and around and took picture after picture that won’t do it justice.

Then I walked between the towering columns towards the alter and sat quietly and felt the peace.

After a while, Kim joined me.

I don’t mean she was there. I don’t mean anything ghostly or other worldly.

I just mean that the site was so moving that I sat and thought “Kim would have loved this.”

I sat with her memory and so she was there.

Had she really been there I would have apologized for being inappropriate two nights before.

She may have said it was ok. She may have said, “you really shouldn’t have.”

Whatever she would have said, I shouldn’t have said what I said.

I’d been at dinner with the speakers from the conference I was in town for.

The young man across from me had asked me a question and I said something like “my wife used to love to do that.”

“Your wife?” he asked.

“Kim,” I said.

“But you don’t wear a ring,” he said.

“I haven’t for years,” I answered.

He lectured me that it was wrong for married men not to wear rings.

He pointed to his own and explained that he would never go out without his. It was deceitful, it would mean that he was ready to cheat on his wife.

I could have interrupted him to let him know that in all of my years of not wearing a ring  neither Kim nor I had ever been anywhere near cheating on each other. I could have told him that this was an issue that is so black and white with me that it bothers me when characters in movies or television shows cheat.

But I didn’t.

But he wasn’t done. He had a bit more to say about the character of someone who leaves his wedding ring at home.

And then he looked at me and said, “and what about your wife? Does she mind that you are here without your ring?”

And that’s when I said what I shouldn’t have said.

I said, “I don’t know. She was killed in a car accident nearly three years ago.”

And then I felt really bad.

Two days later I sat with Kim in La Sagrada Familia.

I smiled and thought that had she really been here, she might have told me that he had it coming or she might have told me that I had been really mean and inappropriate.

If you knew her you know it could have gone either way.

I sat a while longer with Kim.

I sat until it was time for us to go.

I stood up and we walked around the church one more time looking at the stained glass, the columns, and the carvings.

I blinked as I walked back out of the church and looked at the statues on the passion side.

I haven’t worn a ring in twenty-five years.

My Facebook page lists me as a widow.

My Twitter bio lists me as a “Dad, husband, and storyteller.”

I wonder if something has changed in me that the young man across the table saw no outward signs. No one has ever asked me why I don’t wear a ring before. Not once in the years when I was married but didn’t.

Maybe I’m wrong, but twenty-six years ago, the rings were not the important part.

The promises were the important part.

We kept all of those promises and more during our marriage.

So, what about the “and then what”?

It turns out we keep some of those promises after death has forced us to part.

And we keep those parts of our loved one that death doesn’t take with it.

Happy Anniversary Kimmy.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 8, 2019 at 5:49 am  Comments (3)