I was watching the news last night, listening to a politician who was speaking about current events in the United States. I was only half listening because I was trying to work on my blog (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it occurred to me that so much has changed since your death almost three years ago. If you arrived in our living room this morning, you might be really surprised at what has transpired over the years since you left.
So here’s my update to you, just in case you can somehow access it.
Let me start with the most surprising things happening in our country. Yes, Donald Trump is still our president (and before you ask, I’ll answer your next question: he was impeached by the House, but acquitted by the Senate earlier this year) and there’s a chance he might be our president for four more years. We’re waiting and watching, but unlike in 2016, we can’t go knocking on the doors of undecided voters. Why? Because we’re living through a global pandemic.
For real. Over 225,000 Americans have died and the kids and I can’t leave the house without wearing masks (it’s the law here in DC.) Claire, Austin and Tommy haven’t been inside a grocery store or an airplane or a school building since March – and there’s no end in sight. And since I’m on the topic of 2020, let me say this: it’s been a year unlike any other. A terrible murder by a police office led America to start confronting racism in a very real way. Fires on the West coast became so intense that my dad couldn’t go outside for weeks because of the air quality. The pandemic seemed to ease for a bit this spring, but now we know that we’re likely to be locked down for the rest of the year and maybe even next year. And if you’d like just a few more details about this year, there was a very real fear that murder hornets could destroy the bee populations by decapitating them, so everyone went nuts trying to eradicate them, and also Kobe Bryant died (though maybe you know that, up there in heaven?) I can’t even remember the rest because it’s just too overwhelming to do so. But suffice to say that this year has been…intense.
So, yes, a lot has happened in the world since you left us on that freezing cold day in January of 2018. But maybe the most surprising part isn’t who our president is or what it feels like to go to the bank wearing a mask over my face. I think you’d be interested in all of those facts, but I know they would matter a whole lot less than hearing about the lives of the four people you loved most in the world.
Claire is in middle school, and though she retains her sunny outlook on life, she has a bit of worldliness in her now, as she knows more about unfairness in her own life and the world. But she sings in the kitchen at lunch and helps me with dinner most nights and sometimes she still lets me braid her hair. Austin is the same level-headed kid he was at two years old, but he’s grown into a thoughtful fourth grader who shows a genuine care towards his younger brother. His hair is long now, and you can’t see those beautiful eyes as well, but he’s always watching the people around him. And Tommy – well, in so many ways, he’s the same ball of fun that he always was. I can still pick him up and ease his pain with a kiss, but he’s not a baby anymore. None of them are.
They are happy, Shawn. They lived through the terrible year of 2018, even with a mother who barely held it together. And then they lived through 2019, as we stitched ourselves back together as a family. When 2020 arrived, I thought things might be easier, but now we live a life that is mostly confined to the house, with school taking place through a video screen. And yet – they are happy. As I type this, the boys are swinging on the hammock together, laughing about something. Claire is singing upstairs with the choir she joined virtually.
There is joy in this house.
And the joy is not just from them. I have also found happiness – first, on my own, as I realized how I was going to face the world without you. I started this blog about being a widow and now I’m writing for other outlets and helping other widows, too. And remember how I stopped cooking when the kids were young, because it was just too much of a pain? Well, I started to do it again. In fact I just pulled a fresh loaf of bread out of the oven, and we’re having roast chicken tonight. I found these new passions after you were gone, which seems a bit strange. How I wish I could have shared them with you, too.
And there is one more thing I have left out. This spring, I let someone new into my life – a for-real new love – and we are truly happy together. He is not exactly like you, which I suppose is the way it should be. But you would like him, that I know for sure.
Is it strange to hear that life continues without you in it? Is it strange to hear that the kids are happy, and that I am happy, without you around? Is it strange that in less than three years, there is so much that is unrecognizable in the world that you once knew?
Sometimes, it’s strange for me, too.
I can’t tell you what is coming next, not in the political world or with the virus that keeps killing people. I can’t tell you when things will go back to normal for our family, and we don’t know how much longer we’ll all be stuck here in this house. I can’t tell you what the future holds for our country or our family. But I can tell you this: we are still here. And we have done what you asked of us:
We have made a happy life without you.
That doesn’t change the fact that we miss you so much. Today and always.
PS – I have always loved this photo of you that I took one day in Germany, on our first trip without the kids. You were so happy in that moment, and it is one I remember vividly, even 5 years later.