I was sitting next to my sister in orchestra row F, seat 15, at Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City the day after Thanksgiving. My fourteen-year-old daughter and eleven-year-old son were sitting behind us. I spent way too much on the tickets, but I was desperate to rebuild my family of three after losing my husband right before the confetti of New Years fell into 2016.
In the days following Jay's death, I woke up in the middle of the night to clean the kitchen. I was not sleeping well, and with friends and family at our house around the clock, it felt messy, and he liked a neat house. I loaded the dishwasher and cleaned the countertops, and through the fog; I found myself waking one morning and driving to West Elm because I wanted to redecorate.
Slowly over the months, the walls were painted, our new couch arrived, art hung in different places, and just as I thought the kitchen was clean, alphabet confetti began to fall from the sky. It landed on our kitchen floor and as I swept up the tiny pieces of paper, I asked Jay if I could read him what I wrote.
I wrote because it helped me understand the chapters of grief in my life and the layers upon layers of our marriage. In health, our story was one of true love and a deep friendship. In sickness, subjects and feelings that thrive in the dark complicated our relationship. We were bonded strongly by both.
I enjoyed helping friends with a rehearsal dinner toast or writing a blog for a previous company, but I did not consider myself a writer. And then for months and months following the death of Jay, I felt I was only a writer. I woke up in the early morning and wrote. I wrote in the middle of the night. I sat writing on my screened-in porch dripping with sweat for hours in the Nashville summer heat. I doubted my words often, but the jaybird that visited in my backyard reassured me.
When the weather became chilly, I wrote inside. I wrote all day in pajamas and left my kitchen a mess. I hid from my kids and wrote. I wrote when I should have been cooking dinner, sleeping, paying the bills. When I showed up late for therapy, my therapist knew what held me captive. I wrote in my car. When the phone rang, I hit "ignore" and kept writing. I wrote down thoughts I had throughout the day. Even when I was not writing, I was writing. I was embarrassed by the fact that it was non-stop.
And then I heard my son sing "Mom, why do you write like you're running out of time?"
I saw my daughter roll her eyes and say "Why do you write like it's going out of style?"
The answer came to me as I sat in the Richard Rodgers Theater the day after Thanksgiving with my beautiful family. I was writing my way out. I was writing as far as my eyes could see.
All around me, I saw we were loved far more than we ever knew when I walked into the sanctuary the day of his funeral. With my head down and my kids next to me, I felt a silent room full of friends and family from close and far. It was one of the largest funerals the funeral home had seen. Jay always had an open heart for people, and it was obvious on this day.
In front of me, I saw people on our doorstep, and family and friends who did not leave in the darkest hours. And then I noticed that life moved on for people while I was still stuck typing. I felt the numbness wear off and the aftershocks of change that rippled in my life.
Hidden beyond my view, was the presence of something bigger than myself. When I was angry or sad at circumstances beyond my control, I found loyal company in my words. When I needed help, and felt alone, I talked to Jay and in many magical ways, he showed me he was still by our side. How else could I explain a jaybird feather I found walking to my car on the morning of the unveiling of his headstone? Or as I looked up after almost completing this blog, a red cardinal perched perfectly centered in our open backdoor? It's bright red hue and shape appearing like a heart into my day.
Right next to me, I could see my son, who was by my side most of the time. In the car, we listened to the songs of Hamilton repeatedly, and he belted them out as loudly as the words I was typing. We fell into bed exhausted much too late every night and watched every single episode of Good Luck Charlie until we realized we were on our third round and then we started The Goldbergs. He ate cereal for dinner on most nights.
Above me, was my daughter who preferred being in her room. The stomping of her feet on her floor reminded me that the fix was not as easy as musicals and Disney shows. She wanted asparagus, not Captain Crunch. She wanted to go to the mall, not play with the new puppy.
While my son needed me to be gentle, my daughter needed me to be firm. She had beaten me in arm wrestling since she was eight. She was angry, and the house shook. We were in a match again as our elbows rested on the table and our hands intertwined tightly with teeth clenched. She pushed, but I held her tight until she let go when she saw I could be the parent she needed.
Behind me, I saw a little girl who was fishing in the sewer in the alley behind her house. After the night of her loud and sudden loss at age six, it was where she returned to many times with her homemade fishing stick. She believed stories her older sister told her about an old toy store and magic dolphins that lived beneath the sewer.
It was the hope she cast every day after losing her dad, which turned into the hope she would cast over and over again in her marriage. She was used to high tides and harsh winds and stayed longer than most would. In the year after losing her husband, after trying so many times to catch what she had lost, she finally pulled herself out of the water. She was wet, shaking and scared but she was honest. In her truth, she caught Junebug Strong.
Ahead of me, I know that writing and sharing is how I will move forward and find my voice, even if it is only Jay and me who are listening in the kitchen as I sweep up the alphabet confetti once again.
*Italicized sentences are from Hamilton