Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I Need to Make a List ......


...... to keep track of all of the lists around here.

Not my lists.

The man was a notorious list-maker.
He made a list for every occasion, every trip, every goal.

I would often tease him about his lists.
He probably kept a list of every time I did that.

Yesterday I spent most of the day looking through the house for a notebook I needed (I found it today in the most obvious place I could've placed it.  What IS with that?!).
While I was searching the study, I came across a bundle of papers that I had placed/hidden in the bottom of a file drawer.
It was a bundle of lists.
Jim's lists.
His personal lists.

I hadn't read through them at the time I put them away.
I just knew that these were papers I did not want to throw away, purposefully or by mistake.
And so I kind of ...... hid them from myself.
To be found ...... and dealt with at some other time.

I guess that time was today.
(Yes, I found them yesterday, but I knew then that I couldn't deal with them at the time.  I had a meeting to attend and a notebook to find.  I knew that dealing with that bundle would not only set me off course, but it would most likely bring on a gravity-sucking wave that I wasn't prepared to deal with. So I set them on my desk, in plain sight, to be dealt with sooner, rather than later.)

When I got home this afternoon and finished doing all of the tasks that I had in my head to keep me from doing the one task I loathed/longed to do, I went into the study.  I looked at the stack of papers on my desk, sitting where I had left it.  I wanted to turn around and shut the door behind me, without touching the stack.
I wanted to pick up the stack and hungrily devour every word that Jim had written.  
I hadn't even read anything and I already had a love/hate relationship with those papers.

That seems to be par for the course, at least for me.
I have a love/hate relationship with so many things that have to do with Jim now.
Important days ...... well, important to me.  His birthday.  Our anniversary.  The kids' birthdays.
His clothes that we've kept.  Some pictures of us.
His orange extension cord.
(That was just to see if you're paying attention.  :)

His lists.

This stack was made up of his prayer list, his professional goals list, his marriage goals list, his parenting goal list, his physical goal list, and a few others.
(I wasn't kidding when I said he was notorious for these.)

I managed to get through most of the lists without having an emotional meltdown.  I surprised myself.
In fact, I was able to smile at more than one item.
But then ...... then came the item that transported me instantly back into my ocean of grief.  
This item caused me to feel like the sand under my feet was being sucked back into the ocean,  and the shallow water I was standing in was being pulled back along with it.
If you've stood in the shore of an ocean, you know that physical feeling.
You know that the sand and the water gets sucked back from the beach right before a wave comes charging in.

If you're reading this blog, you probably know that emotional feeling as well.
You know that the air and calm get sucked out of your body right before that wave of grief slams into it.

This wave came over the top of me and pulled hard at me, after I read this:

"3.  Write the kids a letter about what is really important"

That was it.
That's all it took.
And that wave has left smaller waves in its path all evening, which have had the ability to leave tears in their wake.

He didn't have that item checked off of his list.
He never wrote those letters.
And my heart broke all over again for all that my children lost that day that changed our lives forever.
And for what they continue to miss.

Children shouldn't lose their father before they're even out on their own.
Daughters shouldn't lose their father before they've started seriously dating someone.
Sons should not lose their fathers before they start/finish high school.

But they do.
And most probably do without receiving letters telling them what their father thought was really important. 

Yes, I experienced a wave today.
And while it was a large wave, it didn't knock me down.
It shook me and rattled me, but I kept my balance.
I didn't fall beneath the weight of that wave because I also know what's really important and it's this:
My children will always know what was important to their father.  Always.
Even if they didn't have their own memories, they'd have mine.  And they'd have the memories of our families and our friends.

Yes, a letter would've been something special for each of them.  But the memories that they have, that we all have, are priceless.

If they need something more tangible than that ...... they can always read the lists.


  1. I hope that you wont find it offensive that I am sitting here being really envious that you were married to a guy who actually wrote a "Marriage goal list" or a "Parenting goal list". My husband only wrote work lists and he was a devoted worker/business would have never occurred to him to actually write our goals for marriage.

    By the end of his life, I was a higher priority to him than I had been previously, but he told me twice in the months before he died that he planned to move away for a job and it didnt occur to him that him leaving would upset me. I coudlnt tell if he meant it or if it was just talk from a person frustrated with his career - he did once move 3000 miles away for a job, so I knew he was capable of convincing himself that it was a reasonable thing to do.

    I loved him so much and I miss him so much but its weird to also have to process things like his openly discussing leaving again just before he died. I try to have compassion for whatever was making him feel so desperate that he was willing to move away for a prestigious job when doing so would take him away from people who loved him. (I do the bills and we were fine financially, he didnt have to do it to feed us.)

    I misspoke, its not weird to have to process this, it is sucky and awful and it hurts me.

    1. Anon, I don't find your comments, or your thoughts, offensive at all. I understand why you would feel that way, and it's ok. We all have different experiences, different relationships and different timing. But we all have one huge, horrible thing in common: we lost our love too soon, at whatever point in life that was. It was still too soon. We all have grief and pain and a path to walk.
      I'm glad that your husband grew to appreciate you more as he grew older. I'm sorry for the pain you experienced. No relationship is perfect. We all have said things to our spouses that we regretted later. That doesn't mean we loved them any less.
      You're right. This is sucky and awful and it hurts. I hate it. I hate that I have a reason to be here and I hate that you have a reason to be here. But I hope that your presence will bring you some small comfort, and the knowledge that you are not alone.
      Hugs to you from Texas ......

  2. I asked my husband to write a letter to my children when he was sick, but I think he did not because he felt it meant he was giving up. As you say, they still know much of what he thought. But, now with technology, I tell everyone who is sick, get it on Video. My husband could tell a story like no other! We can repeat them, but can not reproduce them in the way he told them. I have only one video with him playing/ laughing with a friends son. It is so him, his laugh was like no other.

    1. Dear Anon,
      What a wonderful thing you're doing by encouraging people to get things on video. It's something you think would occur to everyone, but people seldom take the time to do it ..... and then it's too late.
      I'm glad that you have that video. Hopefully you'll be able to transfer it to a dvd, too, just to give you another way to keep that memory safe.
      For a very long time.

  3. Beautiful Janine,
    My jim was a listmaker too.
    He kept a book with exactly the kinds of things your jim wrote about.
    Business goals, personal goals, financial goals, dreams for more travel, our relationship things that he wanted to improve upon, things he wanted to do with our family.
    It is such a deeply personal thing to read someones words. It is like hearing their voice. I have a calendar that he wrote in the year he was diagnosed. On the last page the 31st of December - he wrote dedicate this year to my love (and my name)
    He was sick and dying but he wrote that down.

    I too keep these words like the precious things they are. More than anything they helped me realize the power of words of love. After he died I sat down and wrote each of my children a letter - that very letter you are talking about. A letter to be read when I die. I put a copy for each of them in the niche where my husbands ashes are. One day, it will be opened again for my ashes to be interred and they will remove those letters.
    I wanted to make certain that I told them how desperately I loved their father and that living without him was the greatest challenge of my life but it was our love, family and children that helped me to continue. I wanted to remind them that had each other - they would be the family when I was gone.

    What I would encourage anyone to do is sit down (helps to have kleenex and a glass of wine) and write those letters now. Tell them where they are or put them with your will. The legacy of the lists, the letters, the words - can give more than you will ever know.

    Thanks Janine - you always say something beautiful and reveal something meaningful.

    1. Dear Anon,
      How funny that both of our Jim's seemed to have the same kind of emotional and goal oriented lists (and the list-making mania!). Maybe it's the name??
      What an amazing thing you've done by writing those letters and placing them in the best place possible. Your children will love reading the thoughts that you took the time to write down for them. That says a lot of you as a mom. I'd say you're all pretty blessed to have each other. And hopefully you'll have each other for a very long time.
      Thank you for your kind and encouraging comments.

  4. I'm so overwhelmed by what you've written - on so many levels. I'm the list maker in this household. I too have lists of the lists I need to make. I never realized that they could matter to anyone else. And then I read about the letter. I am so conflicted about that. Some years ago when I was seriously ill and it was not at all clear I would survive, I wrote a letter "Just in case" - which he found and read one night when no one thought I would last much longer. My dear Bob was so very upset that I had written such a thing - that I would entertain the thought of not surviving - he was really traumatized by the experience. I found the letter in his files after his death and I still think it was a gift of love about all that he and those around us had meant to me - about all that he had done to give me happiness and joy. I was deeply touched that he had saved it along with a few of the cards I had given over the years and some notes, etc.

    But, when he got sick, Bob told me not to bother looking for a letter - that I should have no doubts about how he felt about me, that he had left nothing unsaid and wanted to be sure that I knew in my soul how deeply he loved me. Well, I still spent months looking for a letter, a note, a sign - nothing except the realization that he too had prepared not to come home not by writing a letter, but by ordering everything in his/our personal and financial files and writing notes - not of love per se, but of passwords and who to call and how to handle things. And, left a file of special things I had written to him. His gift of love to me.

    I guess to each his own. I'm going to need to think about this one more. Thank you for offering me a different perspective on this. I guess no matter how well or how long we're loved there is always something more to learn about our partners.

    ps you can write that letter to your children. Let them know that he wanted to do it and share what you know that he would have wanted to include. It's not ever too late to know that your dad was thinking about you and planning ways to better parent you and prepare you for the future.

    1. Thank you, Anon, for sharing your experience and perspective. You never really do know how someone is gong to react to something, which can be so difficult when you meant it for good. I never thought about someone having a negative reaction to such a letter. That's something to think about .... if only to consider what you'd put in such a letter, and how it might affect your loved one.
      And thank you for the suggestion to write the letters myself. I've thought of that. When each of my children were born I bought a journal and wrote in it every year on her/his birthday ..... until they were 18 or so. When they each left home I gave them their journal. We haven't spoken about them much, especially since most of them received their journals after Jim died, which made it sadder than I wanted it to be. But I think they've enjoyed reading them, learning what they did each year, what we did as a family every year, and how I felt about them. I wrote about struggles we had as well as the wonderful times. And I wrote about the important things. I think all 6 of them have a pretty clear idea of what both Jim and I thought/think is important, even if they don't happen to agree at this moment in life. :)
      I have one more journal left, and one more entry to make in it. And then hopefully I can encourage each of them to write in journals for their children.

  5. I save every scrap of paper that he wrote on. Some are songs he wanted to download, some are places he wanted to go, some are mathematical equations that no way can I decipher, some relate to wind direction and speed and optimal sailing angles, some to hints on the computer (which I have used many times). I have many hand written recipes from my Mom, too, they take me back to baking in the kitchen with her. Hand written notes will be a thing of the past, but they bring me closer to the person who wrote them.

    Just like your orange cord, I put Dougs' ski gloves on recently, and had to stop and wait out the wave. Silly to some, but I will probably never be able to pass those on to someone. When he was near the end of his days with us, my daughter wrote him a letter, and sat and read it to him. My son was half way around the world, but he did the same. I think our kids know more than others about what is really important already, they have seen what an influential person their Dad was in their lives, and they will carry that forward with them. I know mine have grown in more ways than I ever wanted them to, having experienced the loss of their Dad. As you said, he should be here for their significant days, but memories will have to do.

    1. Thank you, Anon, for sharing what you've kept and what has touched your heart to have. I hope you keep (and use?) those ski gloves for a very long time. And what a wonderful thing your children did for him in writing and reading those letters to him.
      I'm sure he knew exactly how they felt about him, but what a blessing to hear it. And you're right, they WILL carry their father and the memory of his example to them, with them forever. And they'll pass that on to their children.
      Yes, he should be here physically, but he'll continue to be here for them as long as they share his love and what he cared about with others.