Day One – Nervous Breakdowns and Simulated Grief

So we dropped my wife off at the Atlanta airport about 12 hours ago. What a day we’ve had since then.

I think the thing I’ve been most unprepared for is my daughter’s dismay at her mother’s absence. Ella hasn’t been a basket case per se, but she has been more emotional than I’ve ever known her to be. Perhaps she gets this way when I’m gone as well, but I somehow doubt it. Not that she doesn’t love her daddy – she clearly does – but she loves her mother in a way that is totally different.

I think the best way I can describe it is that Ella has been grieving the loss of her mother all day. I know that sounds extreme (especially since I know several families who have truly lost loved ones over the past few days) but for Ella, this is the first real loss of her little life, and I don’t think my trips in the past have counted. Ella identifies so much with her mother that Rachel’s absence is, in effect, like a death – Ella can’t comprehend where Rachel is, how long she’ll be gone, when she’ll be back.

I mean, just five minutes ago, Ella looked at me and said, “Will mama just be able to slip into my room and kiss my cheek, then go back to Texas?”

What’s been hardest is when she gets quiet and then just suddenly bursts into tears, overwhelmed by the sudden reminder that her mother, her role model, her best friend, is gone. Not coming back for the foreseeable future. Missing. She’s moaned out “Mommy! Mommy!” like a child who’s mother has been violently taken from her, and it’s been enough to reduce Jon to tears while he calls for mama and reaches out for her hands.

It’s been hell on me, to be honest. I’ve lost a daughter. Now, I’m living a simulation of losing my wife. My heart, knowing that Rachel is fine, knowing that Rachel will be back, knowing that Rachel will kill me for even writing hyper-emotional stuff like this, still feels a bit pained. It’s tough to watch your kids mope through the house looking for someone who isn’t there, and isn’t going to be there for a while. I’ve watched them both do well for stretches and then get that distant look in their eyes, the look that they shake off the second they notice I’m watching them. They shake that look off, smile, and try to convince me that I’m doing a good enough job as both mom and dad.

But I don’t believe them. I suck at being a mom. I don’t have the same softness, for one thing, that women have. I’m silly and goofy and fun as heck to wrestle with, but I’m also angular and hard and not the least bit comforting. Ella was crying for her mother this afternoon on the way back from the doctor’s office, and I tried rubbing her leg to console her. In the middle of her tears she says, “Nice try, daddy. But it’s not working.”

I find myself wondering just how in the heck I would be able to handle losing Rachel. I mean, the personal loss would be devastating, but trying to explain it to my kids? Trying to convey to them that the absence they feel isn’t just time and distance, but eternity? My God, I’d rather be eaten alive by snakes and spiders and rabid alligators. To know that the pain that is only temporary now could somehow become a permanent part of our lives?

No thank you. It was hard enough when we lost Ruthanne. At least Rachel and I were adults capable (though not by much) of handling the complexities and hardship. Ella and Jon lack those coping mechanisms. They lack the rationalization skills, the psychological capacity to look at death and see beyond it.

And even worse, Jon wouldn’t remember Rachel if she were truly gone. She’d be a memory I would have to fight to keep in his little mind. But at some point wouldn’t that be unfair to him? Would that not, at some point, become a form of abuse?

It’s not even 10:00 PM on Day One, and this is where my mind has gone. It has made me crazy. But it’s also made me thankful. I have a marvelous wife. An amazing, fantastic woman who is the best mother in the world to our children, who love her like she is the sun around which they revolve. And I suppose in some way she is – for them, and for me.

“It’s not good for man to be alone. Let’s make a help meet for him.” Truer words were never spoken.

I’m off to bed. That’s the gist of the day – let’s see what tomorrow brings when we launch back into our regular routine…

Flying Solo With The Kids

A full week of playing Mr. Mom. I'm going to die.

My wife has gone to Texas to visit with her sister at M.D. Anderson. This morning, the kids and I packed her up and escorted her to the airport for her flight. We walked her to curbside check-in, helped her to the security gate, and then watched her melt into the teaming mass of people.

The second she’s gone from eyesight, my daughter turns to me and asks, “Daddy, do you know what you’re doing?”

I’m assuming she was concerned about getting home, but that’s probably me just flattering myself. I think both of my kids know, deep in their hearts, that I have about an 86% chance of really screwing up the extended single-parent gig. Once we got back to the house, my son walked in and vacantly stared at Rachel’s side of the bed, as if he wished she were there.

I did the same thing.

It wasn’t three seconds later that the chaos kicked in. “What’s for lunch?” “Can I have ice cream?” “Do you have any money, daddy?” “What’s that smell?”

The only question I could satisfactorily answer was the last one: my son had indeed detonated a five-megaton bomb in his Huggies.

This should be an interesting week.