One Year Later

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Dear David,

I wonder at the necessity of writing a letter to you – I don’t know how these things work or where you are. Do you already know the things that are happening in our lives? Do you already know our hearts? Do you see the kids and know how much they miss you? Do you see they are happy and doing okay, despite having young lives peppered with sorrow most kids never know? I don’t have any answers, but somehow I suspect drawing things together and speaking your name matters. I do know there is power in a name, and in speaking that name- maybe this is why it’s important we say the names aloud in the temple? I do not know, but allow this small offering of faith on the alter of the unfamiliar and unknown.

It’s been a year since that awful morning, when your mom’s thin, pained voice woke me in the early, grey dawn. A whole year. Many days, I can’t bear to go near those memories; gingerly sidestepping them until I am alone; my eyes suddenly sting and swallowing is heavy and hard. It took me days before I could write a simple statement. Telling the kids was the single hardest moment of my life, swallowed in my own grief, but needing to hold them up and be their anchor. Only time will tell if I did a good enough job. I would have traded any earthly thing to change that morning.

On my phone is a voice-text you sent me right before you died. I’ve played it for Jeffrey. It’s short. You’re goofing on yourself, and you end with a laugh. It feels like a tiny gem, this little electronic data bit, preserved forever. I’m so glad it exists.

Remember when we’d talk on the phone, we’d clarify if it was a parent call, or a friend call? Remembering how much we mattered to each other, even after the disastrous years and divorce- is one of the things of which I am most proud. Your forgiving heart and my forgiving heart allowed not only you and I to start to heal, but it created a safe and sacred space for the kids to be whole. You never stopped being one of the most important people in the world to me, and it aches that I cannot pick up the phone and tell you the funniest thing Bean did, or what a good man Jeffrey is becoming, or that Abby inherited your brilliance and is skipping ahead to 6th grade. You’d be weeping with pride.

In that spirit, I am writing to you as a parent first.

Oh David, they are so beautiful and strong and full of life. When Jeffrey was born, you said it wasn’t us that mattered, but that the kids would be the arrows to change the world. Each of them has processed your loss differently, and Jon and I have carefully tried to protect the spaces around them for that to happen organically. We speak of you often, we celebrate your birthday, and we tell stories around the dinner table. Happiness and laughter often accompany many of those memories.

Jeffrey tells people he has two dads, and Jon and I smile and don’t offer anything beyond what he wishes to share. It’s a testament to you and Jon he feels so confident and safe in both of your love. Jeffrey has a huge heart- he’s always been a champion of the underdog and guardian of those in need- and his size affords him privileges that match his spirit. He’s taller than you were in your prime, and he’s not done growing yet. He’s playing football, and he is certain he can feel you with him, when he’s exhausted or completely spent, and it keeps him going. He firmly believes you are cheering him on with Jon from the sidelines. I hope he’s right. He’s starting his sophomore year in high school, and is counting the days until he can start driving- I’d have to ask him the current tally. We’re bracing for insurance hikes, dating and girls.

Bean is thriving. We just returned from a week at the beach, and I don’t think I have ever seen him so happy in his entire life. The ocean tapped him into something deep and important- not unlike what it used to do for you. The constant rhythm of the waves, the pressure of the sand, the unending white noise; it was like a week-long heavy blanket; he was peaceful, calm and deeply happy. He’s very excited that Abby is moving to his school in the fall, because it means they can ride their bikes to school together. Simple things, right?

Speaking of Abby…this girl. I worry most about her, actually. She doesn’t talk as much as the boys do, and she keeps a lot of herself tucked inside. I ask her questions, and can draw her out sometimes, but I think she’s had the hardest time with missing you. You were able to see her in ways I am lacking, and there are places I just simply cannot make up the loss. I hope acknowledging that sorrow helps, and I will keep trying. Much of the time she’s fine—she’s friendly and happy. I’m alternately worried and really happy for her to be skipping a grade— I have no doubt it’s the right move academically. The girl got your head for math and science. She hates to write. Go figure.

Now, as your friend…

I talk to you in the car sometimes. It was Jon’s idea- now that I can’t call you to check in, he suggested when I’m alone, I just talk. It helps, but I usually end up crying. I get stuck on the precipice of mercy and faith and on how a light as bright as you left this earth alone.

There are memories I can barely brush up against and still remember how to breathe.

Recently, a friend asked me about my fears. As I tried to find a real answer, I had to look at the spaces that make me afraid. I have to remind myself darkness can hold answers not found anywhere else, and I realized that my deepest fear is the thousands of tiny moments of light and brilliance that make up the life of a person being lost, and forgotten, and swallowed by the breach. I am not afraid of dying; I am afraid of our stories— our precious sparks of madness and glory— being forgotten. The thought makes me hurt, and I shy away without meaning to. This is my truth. This is why I am a writer, a steward of some, a protector of others, a champion of myself and those I love. I am a writer- you helped me learn this fact. I must write to figure this out.

So that’s what I’m doing.

It breaks my heart that the kids didn’t get to know the you that I knew. Too many of their memories of you are of the last, broken years. I try and help with this by telling your stories. There are so many stories. Twenty years of life together, plus the years after; there are a lot of stories. I know my voice isn’t— and can never be— your voice, but your stories matter, and I cannot think of anyone else to attempt the stewardship of preserving these memories, and not trying just because it’s scary is not an option.

I talked to your sister the other day, and she’s planning a small memorial next summer when we bring the kids to California. I reminded her that the roses we plant should have the biggest thorns. No cultivated, de-clawed roses for you. Emily, by the grace of God, has some things of yours saved for the kids. Your relationship with material things was complicated, I know— you spent years giving pieces of yourself away—we talked about it before you died. But material things are helpful places for children’s memories to live, and want them to have what few items Emily saved of you. It does matter.

The two weeks you spent with us here in Virginia remain high on my list of gratitude. Having the kids’ last memories of you be of you and Jon sitting around, amiably talking and sharing stories, poking fun at me, and laughing together, is one of the best gifts you could have given them. They know it’s okay for them to love their home, their lives, and to be happy. It’s part of your legacy.

Jon is very careful to always refer to you as their dad. He’s mindful and respectful of the role he’s assumed, and all three kids love him. He loves them. Bean started calling him Person. I was confused at first- but Bean clarified “He’s my dad-type Person, but he’s not Dad.” So for Father’s Day, Bean got him a keychain that says “You’re my Person.” It’s pretty charming, and it’s a way Bean has made space for both of you to inhabit his heart.

I don’t think I believe in an interventionist God, but there are pieces that were moved around in the most unlikely and unexplainable ways, through some of the hardest and darkest years, that allowed the kids and I to land in a place where one of the very best of men was waiting for us. In Jon’s love and protection, there is boundless generosity of heart, there is kindness, there is an utter lack of envy, there is certainty of self and place, and there is a spiritual sensitivity that has allowed us all to heal in safety.

I tell you this because I want you to know we are in the very best of hands. We are cared for, loved, and protected. Our family now extends in all directions, and my gratitude matches in vector. It reaches back, to thank you for sharing your life with me and for helping me forge the foundation for the woman I am today, and it extends forward to and with Jon, who will walk beside me and raise this family to eternity. I don’t know how it all works out, but I offer my mite of faith in a loving God, and hope to one day see your beautiful smiling face again, my dear friend.

Tracy Leigh

5 thoughts on “One Year Later

  1. No day shall erase you from the memory of time. (Virgil)

    Thanks for sharing this bit of your heart.

  2. My dad died when I was a young child. His death, like David’s, was preceded by “broken” years. He was (and is) rarely spoken of, and it was/is a terribly confusing and painful area of my heart that I still struggle to access or process 39 years later. The gift you are giving your children by speaking openly and often of their father is immeasurable.

  3. Still feels like a minute ago. Though I’ve not been a part of your lives for almost all of those 20 years, I hold so much love for you both. And subsequentially, your beautiful children. I see him in every one of those photos. I saw this posting but didn’t read it till just now cuz it still hurts. I had to wait until I had a moment to myself to let the tears out. Thank you for sharing, giving me a minute to spend with the big man.

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