Angel Eyes

I’m listening to a John Hiatt album and “Angel Eyes” comes on.

I don’t really notice.

At least, I don’t think I do.

But my thoughts flick back to a concert Kim and I went to a couple of years ago in Akron.

It was one of those married-people date nights.

A night where you remember those early days of hanging out together while you were falling in love.

A night where you sneak a look at each other and it takes your breath away.

You don’t notice the extra lines in each other’s faces – the extra weight – the extra years.

It’s the “Angel Eyes” that Hiatt talks about that allows you to look at this person you love and see everything in them.

And then you do notice the extra lines, weight, and years and it makes you smile all the more. You remember what those changes represent in the twenty-some years you’ve been together.

It’s been twenty-six years today since I went on a date with anyone other than Kim.

I know this because I’d been trying to push our relationship into an exclusive relationship. I wasn’t interested in seeing other people. She’d stopped seeing other people but she didn’t want to make it official.

So I told her I really didn’t want to date other people but if she couldn’t commit, I was going to go out the following week.

She said she thought that was a good idea.

And so on July 25, 1992 I went to a radio-station sponsored event with another woman.

Not much of a date, but we planned to see each other again.

And then I got back to my apartment and Kim was waiting for me.

And that was the last time I dated anyone else.

Suddenly Hiatt’s song pushes into my consciousness with the line…

“Well, I’m the guy who never learned to dance.”

And again I’m traveling through time back to concerts I’ve been sent out to introduce.

Kim and I are standing watching some act along the Cuyahoga.

She’s got one hand on my shoulder and the other holds a drink. She dancing – not exactly with me – I’m the guy who never learned to dance – but near me.

I can’t get enough of her.

Hiatt sings,

“Don’t anybody wake me if this is a dream,”

“’cause she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

After Kim died I worried that I just wasn’t fun enough for her.

She’d embraced life. She’d been so fun. I’m just not.

She’d listen to new music all the time. Her phone sat in a cradle connected to speakers so she could start her day with music.

I’d walk in the kitchen and she’d smile and ask me if I wanted coffee.

In the early years I’d been the one to offer her coffee – but she preferred the way she made it.

Each morning she’d look at me and, as Hiatt sings,

“Must be something only you can see.”

“But girl I feel it when you look at me.”

I can’t say it any better than that.

You should listen to the song – the lyrics alone don’t do it justice.

The last two lines of the song haunt me now that she’s gone.

It’s the question that all boys like me wonder about someone special like Kim.

“What did I do, what did I say?”

“To turn your angel eyes my way.”


Published in: on July 25, 2018 at 9:16 am  Comments (1)  


Kim was pro-choice and her choice was “no”.

That seems to confuse some people. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion, it means you believe in a woman’s right to choose. Kim’s choice was “no”.

I know this because we talked about it when she was pregnant with Elena.

Not explicitly.

We were considering which pre-natal tests to take and I asked her what she wanted to do if the test came out positive for one of these conditions.

Kim said she would come to term anyway so we decided not to have one of the tests because there were risks associated with that particular test.

But Kim was strongly pro-choice. She believed in her right to a choice and she believed in and respected other women having a choice and coming to a different conclusion.

She’d had friends who had had abortions.

It was not something they had done lightly and it had stayed with them forever.

They believed it was the right choice and they believe today that it was the right choice – but it was not an easy one.

Friends asked me how I felt about Kim’s decision. After all, they reasoned, you would now be responsible for a child with this condition for the rest of your life. This is a decision that has a great impact on your life. Don’t you get a say?

A say?


I am pro-choice. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. The choice was Kim’s to make.

If I felt strongly, I might have suggested things she might want to consider.

But this is Kim we’re talking about.

There’s nothing I could suggest that she hadn’t already considered.

So the decision is Kim’s and my job is to support her in that decision. My job is to hear her decision and say, “then that’s what we’ll do.”

We reduce the stance to “pro-choice” and sometimes forget to widen our view a little to the positioning statement, “a woman’s right to choose.”

Even though Kim’s choice was “no”, she’d be outraged that we are currently facing the prospect that we may soon live in a country where the choice wouldn’t have been hers to make.

Published in: on July 15, 2018 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Catch 22


After Kim died, a friend brought over a plant. It reminded her of how she had first met and become friends with Kim.

She placed it on the mantle and told me it was easy to take care of.

I said, “I don’t know.”

She assured me that I could do it. It didn’t need to be watered that often. It didn’t need much sun.

She was sure I could do it.

The plant was dead before the end of the year.

A year after that I thought I might be ready to start dating.

I was wrong.

Thank goodness nothing came of it.


I think that maybe now I am.

Or maybe not.

Even if I actually am ready to date, I don’t think it’s going to go very well.

I haven’t been out with anyone other than Kim on a date in over twenty-six years.

I didn’t like dating in my twenties and early thirties.

I loved being married.

I loved being past all the stuff you need to get past when you date.

I loved being past all the stuff you need to get past when you’re first married.

Kim and I continued to refine the way we were together throughout our marriage.

Combine the years of being together as best friends, raising kids, surviving the death of a child, cooking, eating, and traveling together, sitting across from each other talking, and sitting next to each other happily saying nothing – we’d pretty much gotten this relationship thing down.

I don’t know that I have the energy in me to start again.

But there’s a part of me that thinks I might be ready.

Friends have suggested online dating. Although I may end up there, it sounds awful.

People lie in their profiles.

They leave things out.

They paint pictures of themselves as the people they want to be.

And they lie about what they want.

It feels to me like someone who says family values and morality are the most important things to them in a politician and then they vote for and ardently support someone who embodies the opposite of all they profess to support.

In online dating, that’s the person who says they need someone intelligent with a good sense of humor while they ignore all descriptions and just look through the pictures in the profiles until they find someone they find attractive.

Of course it’s a catch 22.

If I don’t lie in my profile I’d have to say something like,

“Crabby, old, over-weight man might be looking for a left-leaning, bright woman who doesn’t annoy him too much.”

“I say ‘might’ because I might not be ready to go out with anyone yet – and even if I am, it likely won’t work out.”

That should do it, right?

Actually, I was hoping not to have to enter the online dating world.

I was hoping that one of my friends or neighbors would say, “hey, I know you don’t know if you’re ready and even if you are it probably won’t work out, but would you mind if I gave your number to a friend of mine?”


I keep the dead plant on my mantle.

That’s actually not accurate.

I’d like to tell you I keep the dead plant on my mantle as a reminder not to do things I’m not ready to do yet. But the truth is I haven’t gotten around to throwing it away.

There’s a side of me that thinks if I can’t be trusted with a plant then I can’t be trusted with a person.

Then again, another person can get her own water and find her way to the sun.

So – am I ready to date or not?

I don’t know.

I am, however, pretty certain it won’t go well the first few times.

And that’s the catch.

Doesn’t seem fair to invite someone into that situation.

Even if she can get her own water and find her way to the sun.

Published in: on June 23, 2018 at 4:03 pm  Comments (1)  

No Bagel

I didn’t put my finger on it until I was texting with my friend Mark.

He texted that he’d enjoyed bacon with his Fathers’ Day breakfast and I realized that this is the first time in twenty-one years that my morning didn’t begin with an everything bagel from Bialy’s, cream cheese, onion, tomato, and lox.

It’s a small thing.

It’s not the most important thing about today.

But it was a tradition for twenty years.

I became a father on September 15, 1997 when Maggie’s caregiver placed her in my arms in a hotel in Hefei, China.

We had just missed her first birthday and Kim and me, and the other families of Maggie’s “Shen sisters” became parents together that morning.

Nine months later we celebrated our first Fathers’ Day.

Kim had wanted to make something fancy but decided (after seeing the recipe) to instead pick up bagels. She got up early to make coffee and slice the onions and tomatoes and lay everything out.

Thus a tradition was born.

For us Mothers’ and Fathers’ day was about celebrating our spouse as parent. Sure, later it was about our kids doing something for their mom or dad, but, for me, Mothers’ Day was about me looking at Kim and remembering who she was before we had kids and who she’d become after.

On our second Fathers’ Day, I had bagels again.

I also had two daughters.

Elena had been born in March. The girls were almost exactly two and a half years apart but my second Fathers’ Day was Elena’s first.

As soon as she could talk, Elena loved celebrations like birthdays and Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days.

For the next several years Kim still picked up bagels but Elena would wake Maggie up so they would bring me a card or a gift.

My ninth Fathers’ Day was different.

Elena had died a few months earlier.

I began a new tradition.

Kim and I would have bagels and coffee together as always.

I’d wait for Maggie to wake up and come down with a Fathers’ Day card. I’d sit while she had a bagel.

Then I’d head to the cemetery to spend time with Elena.

So odd.

Most of the other people there were spending time with their fathers on Fathers’ Day.

I was spending time with my daughter.

Not with her. I never thought she was there. But it was a way of spending time with her memory.

That first year, Elena’s grave didn’t yet have a stone. Every year since it has and I’ve taken a picture of it on Fathers’ Day.

Again our tradition has changed.

Kim was killed almost two years ago.

Last year was my first Fathers’ Day without her.

It was difficult.

Fathers’ Day was always a day that was special to Kim and me. It was a time where we – this is going to sound sappy and stupid – but it was a day where we paused to share a love of something greater than the two of us. This family we’d built.

Maggie was home last year on Fathers’ Day.

She got up early – an amazing gift in and of itself – and went to Bialy’s as they opened. She picked up fresh bagels, cream cheese, and lox and brought it home.

I went to the cemetery and visited Kim and Elena’s grave.

Kim’s grave didn’t yet have a stone.

I used to sit on a bench next to their graves. The bench fell apart and the cemetery won’t replace it even though I’ve offered to pay for it.

So I stand a while. Some years I bring a chair.

This year it’s my twenty-first Fathers’ Day.

Maggie is away at a summer program studying ancient greek.

I consider that my Fathers’ Day gift. I’m very proud of her.

This year it’s just me and the puppy on my twenty-first Fathers’ Day.

It’s my thirteenth without Elena.

It’s my thirteenth of visiting the cemetery on Fathers’ Day.

It’s my second without Kim.

It’s my first without a bagel.

Published in: on June 17, 2018 at 10:34 am  Comments (1)  

Toots at 85

This is the toast I made to my mother on her 85th birthday at a special dinner at Kendal at Oberlin.

When Kim’s grandfather was in his 90’s, he told me that when you get old, people talk to you like they did when you were a small child.

They ask –

  • “How old are you?”
  • “Isn’t this fun?”
  • “Did you clean your plate?”

When you get really old, he said, no one asks you about anything of substance. And it they do, they don’t give you enough time to answer. They cut you off with another question – usually one they would ask a child.

It’s one of the many things I value about the Kendal community. It’s one of the many reasons I’m glad that my parents are part of it.

People here at Kendal – young or old – value the experiences of others.

They ask questions.

They wait for answers.

They listen.

And then, if it’s appropriate, they share their own experiences.

They know time is short.

Every birthday is to be celebrated.

By your age, every day is the birthday of someone you know or someone that someone you know – knows. So you celebrate.

Every day.

Today it’s my mom’s 85th birthday.

Happy birthday mom.

  • “How old are you?”
  • “Isn’t this fun”
  • “Did you clean your plate?”

When you were my age, I was in grad school. I had just met Kim.

I brought her over to meet you and you were full of questions, advice, and opinions. (I won’t repeat them here) So now that I’m that same age, here’s mine.

I’m lucky enough to still have both of my parents with me, but I’ve lost a wife an a daughter.

I know time is short.

It’s important that we live accordingly.

Not irresponsibly, but with joy and purpose and love of those around us.

Not everything matters…

And, of those things that matter, not everything matters equally.

Focus on those things that matter most.

In that list of things that matter most, there are those things you can affect and those you can’t.

I can’t make LeBron come back to Cleveland next year. I may as well take it off my list.

On the other hand, calls, donations, and my vote may change the midterm election. These things stay on the list.

What stays on the list?

Important things you can affect.

Like walking every day so you can continue to walk for many years to come.

Like meeting friends every day – for a meal, for coffee, or just for conversation.

Important things you can affect…

  • These items keep you from getting old.
  • These items keep things fun.
  • These items – and cleaning your plate.
Published in: on June 10, 2018 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Expected and not

There are moments I can prepare for and those I can’t.

I spent this past weekend at my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah in Santa Monica.

I know that the mourner’s kaddish is coming. It’s a moment we think about and pray for those who have died.

I don’t go to services that often and I’m not religious. And yet that prayer just rips me in half every time.

I know that before the service begins.

I feel it coming.

There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m going to feel my losses sharply and deeply.

It kind of surprises me. I’m not religious and yet that part of the service seems to speak right to me.

I’ve learned to embrace the prayer and sink into it and be comforted by others thinking about lost loved ones. Some are thinking of Kim and Elena too.

Some aren’t thinking of anyone or anything at all.

I remember being one of them.

I remember seeing someone near me truly grieving and feeling the moment through their eyes.

Friday night I sniffled through it.

Saturday morning Maggie had passed me a tissue by that point.

It was the second time that morning that she’d helped me through a tough moment.

The family gathered before the service to take pictures.

The photographer arranged us for our family’s group picture.

She waved towards me to ask who I was.

“I’m his uncle,” I said.

She waved me in closer.

“Are you married?” she asked.

I looked at her blankly.

“Where’s your wife?” she asked.

I just couldn’t find the words.

She wasn’t wrong to ask. I just lost all ability to respond.

Maggie said, “we’re together,” and walked over and quietly stood next to me.

We moved on.

Some days Maggie just astounds me. Saturday was one of those days.

Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 3:03 pm  Comments (2)  


The first Mother’s Day that Peggy lived with us, she came downstairs with a gift for Kim and told her that Kim was her american mother.

It meant so much to Kim.

Peggy was one of the Chinese teachers in Shaker. She’d been living with us for six months.

A week later while I was out of town, Peggy asked Kim if she could live with us the following year as well.

What could Kim say?

She was Peggy’s american mother.

Peggy and Kim spent time together talking – mainly when I travelled. Peggy’s own parents are about our age so we always felt parental and protective of her.

Peggy lived with us the following year and moved into her own apartment during the school year after that.

She was only a couple of blocks away but we didn’t see her very much.

Kim missed her.

Peggy would visit now and then and we’d sit and talk but it wasn’t the same.

We remembered her zooming by in the morning on her way to school. No time for breakfast – just a cup of coffee.

We remembered her coming back to take a nap before zooming to graduate school.

We remembered her cooking in the kitchen.

We remembered her in her room talking to her mother in China every day.

Peggy lived in Elena’s room – although the whole time Peggy lived there we called it Peggy’s room. Once Peggy moved to her own apartment we referred to it as Elena’s room again.

Peggy got married and she and her husband bought a house on the corner of our block.

Her parents and her grandmother would come from China for long visits. Although we didn’t see them often, we loved getting together with Peggy’s family. Just the nicest people.

A year and a half ago they sat with us in the hospital as Kim lay dying.

They were there for us like family.

Kim’s chinese daughter, her husband, and her parents.

After Elena died twelve years ago today, Kim would sometimes muse about the moments Elena never lived to see.

I think about last June when Elena’s class graduated from High School.  Elena never lived to graduate from high school. Then again, she didn’t live to finish first grade.

And if she had lived? Kim wouldn’t have lived to see her daughter graduate from high school. Kim wouldn’t have lived to see Elena start the twelfth grade.

A little over a week ago I had the privilege of holding Benjamin in my arms.

Peggy and Eugene’s beautiful baby boy was born a week and a half ago.

They let me visit them in the hospital.

Peggy’s mother smiled and placed Benjamin in my arms.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I walked and rocked back and forth.

It was the same hospital where Kim had Elena almost nineteen years ago.

I brought Peggy the same flowers I had brought Kim almost nineteen years ago.

I held our chinese daughter’s son.

There aren’t many “Kim would have” moments that I can truly be sure of, but Kim would have loved meeting Benjamin. She would have been proud to have been his american grandmother.

I could just be projecting.

I handed Benjamin back to Peggy’s mother, sad that I wasn’t handing the baby to Peggy’s american mother, but just so, so happy.

There is just something so perfect about holding a baby.

It focuses me on this moment.

On this child.

On Benjamin.


Published in: on February 22, 2018 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

She Said “Yes”

Twenty-five years ago today I asked Kim to marry me.

She said, “yes”.

We never made a big fuss about Valentine’s Day. I didn’t choose today because it was supposed to be a romantic holiday – I chose it because Kim was so bad with dates that I figured she could remember this one.

January 25, 1992 was the first time we went out together.

July 25, 1992 was when we decided we would start dating.

Kim would later say that she avoided dating me because she knew if she dated me we would get married – and she wanted to marry someone with whom she shared her religion.

September, 1992 we went on a trip together to San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Lake Tahoe.

On Valentines Day, 1993 we were engaged.

Six months later, on August 8, 1993 we were married.

It’s not that we didn’t ever argue and it’s not that we weren’t ever moody or mean to each other, but our marriage was as perfect as a real marriage can be in real life.

We never fought about big things – it was always stupid things.

Towards the end, we were learning that if these were little things, why did we bother to fight about them. We weren’t quite there yet – but we were close.

We never really celebrated Valentine’s Day.

I got Kim flowers when if felt right – not just on a day when you were supposed to.

Valentine’s Day in our real marriage was affectionate but it was also about us standing in the kitchen in the morning, drinking coffee and eating some of the candy we had bought for the kids.

I loved touching Kim – just putting a hand on her.

The look she gave me depended on where I put my hand.

She’d roll her eyes and I’d tell her, “you’ll be sad the day I don’t reach out to touch you.”

She’d smile.

The Valentine’s Day before she died, Kim said, “I got us something.”

It was just a little something but it said that as we aged together there was still a spark that we would continue to enjoy.

There was all the promise of the rest of our lives together.

Our health was good enough to travel the world together. We had the time and means to enjoy the things we wanted. We loved to talk to each other or just be together quietly. We still reached for each other – just because.

Someone asked me this week if I was angry at Kim for dying.


It wouldn’t have been her choice and it certainly wasn’t her fault.

The man asked if I’m angry at her for being in a convertible on that day in that place?


I’m angry at the person who killed her. I’m not angry at Kim in any way.

I feel cheated.

The man nodded and said, “you were.”

It was the second time I said that to someone this week and the second time I heard that answer.

Twenty-five years ago today I asked Kim if she would spend the rest of her life with me.

She said, “yes.”

And she did.

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 7:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Two Candles

After Elena died –


How many sentences and stories have I started with that phrase over the past nearly twelve years?

Any way.

After Elena died, whenever Kim and I would visit a church on our travels, she would light a candle for Elena.

We’d be walking around the interior of the church and come to the shrine for the Virgin Mary. Kim would look at it and lean over an whisper, “do you have a Euro?” or whatever it was. It got to be that I would already have the coins in my hand and put it into her palm before she even asked.

I’d stand and watch as Kim put the coins in the box and lit a candle for Elena.

And then Kim died.

Last year, before we visited Paris, I asked Maggie if she would mind lighting candles for Elena and her mother.

I know that’s a lot to ask.

It seemed that a Catholic should light the candles. Kim always said a prayer when she did it. It may be a stretch to call Maggie a Catholic – but she was raised to know the religion and, whether she believes or not, I think they count her as one since she was baptized and confirmed.

Maggie agreed and when we got to Sacre Coeur I went off to get change for the candles and returned and put the money in the box.

I watched as Maggie lit the candles for her mother and her sister.

It meant so much to me to see her light the candles with so much respect and love.

This year Maggie is back in college.

I was in Italy during her fall break so she joined me.

In Venice as we entered a church she asked me if we would light candles for Kim and Elena.

I nodded.

It meant so much to me that she asked.

Over winter break I was preparing for my upcoming trip to Paris. Kim always lit candles in Sacre Coeur and Maggie had lit them the year before. I asked Maggie if it would be disrespectful if a non-Catholic lit the candles.

She said, no, she didn’t think so.

I told her I wouldn’t be saying any prayers.

She thought it was enough if I thought of Kim and Elena as I lit the candles.

So I did.

After nearly twelve years I lit a candle myself for my dead daughter.

It felt completely different. It was a combination of honoring Elena and of not having Kim there to light it.

I cried as I’d cried as I watched Kim light the candle for her daughter.

I cried as I’d cried as I watched Maggie light the candle for her sister.

It was different.

If I had to explain it, I think this time I was crying for my loss whereas before I was crying for theirs.

Then I lit a candle for Kim.

It was as intimate a gesture as the first time I reached out and held her hand.

I felt her there for a moment.

I don’t mean in a creepy way that she was really there. But I felt the way I felt when she stood next to me.

I stood and watched the candles flicker for a while.

And then I felt her gone.

I stood a moment longer. And then I moved on.


Published in: on January 28, 2018 at 4:38 am  Comments (2)  


I’ve told you that when Kim and I were getting ready to get married we met with a priest and a rabbi. The rabbi asked us each what happens when we die.

I bring that up again because at the funeral service for Kim’s aunt, the priest finished by making some very directed statements.

He mentioned that she had been a good Catholic and now that she was dead she would meet again with people who had gone before her. The priest then read a list of some of the family members had pre-deceased her.

This is not uncommon.

It is comforting to sit at a funeral and think that you will someday see that person again.

But then the priest clarified.

She would see those people if they had been good Catholics.

He then invited people who had come to the funeral to reconnect to the church if they hadn’t stayed active.

He repeated the bit about reuniting once you die if you’d been a good Catholic and re-uniting with others who had been good Catholics.

He then repeated the part about the pamphlets the church had to help you return to the church if you needed to.

This isn’t uncommon either.

It’s good to reach out to people who haven’t been in church for a while and who have returned for a funeral and remind them of the comfort and advantages that the church provides.

I’ve asked some members of Kim’s family about that part of the service and none remember it. They are all church going Catholics. It didn’t apply to them.

As an outsider, I heard it clearly and I heard it differently than most.

It took me back to the meeting Kim and I had with the rabbi.

“What happens when you die?” he asked.

Kim said she hoped, if she’d been good, that she’d go to heaven.

The rabbi gestured at me and asked her, “and what happens when he dies?”

Kim said, the same.

But, the rabbi objected, Catholics believe that you only go to heaven if you accept Christ.

Kim waved him away, “I don’t believe that. I think you just need to be a good person.”

This isn’t just a Catholics and Jews thing. I knew an orthodox Jewish woman who told me that she loved my relationship with other people but couldn’t accept my lack of a relationship with God.

There are so many beautiful and rich teachings in religion.

And then it is used to divide us.

Kim may not have noticed when the priest said you had to be a good Catholic because in her head she may have just substituted “a good person”.

To her that was enough.

She tried to be a good Catholic too – but that was her choice. She respected those who chose to be something else or nothing at all.

She thought we could all be special.

Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (1)