Saturday will mark the 13th anniversary of Art's death.
A few months ago, I was struggling with old, unexpressed grief.
Old grief is sticky. It's hard to identify because the older it gets, the more it becomes a part of you. It can be hard to recognize it.
When I identified it, I got myself to a therapist specializing in somatic healing. I shared my regret of not doing a better talk at Art's service in one of our sessions. She reminded me that I could write what I would have said that day. (The beauty/awfulness of grief is there is no time limit!)
So I did.
I wrote what I wish I had said. And afterward, I was a lighter, freer, alive-r and filled with gratitude.
He's been gone for almost as long as we have been married. And with every year, I feel more graced by his love. It's an incredible feeling. He was a good man, and I am grateful that he chose to spend 17 years of his short life with me.
Here is eulogy #2!
Wow! I am so glad you are all here, and I'm so angry about it.
I know it may seem unusual for a widow to speak at a memorial service, but those who know me are not surprised, and those who don't know me, well...my being up here is partly why he married me.
Art and I were opposites in many obvious ways; you know, white-black, super-tall- average height, male-female, intelligent (him), and not as intelligent (me), outgoing (me), introvert (him). But it worked for us.
I loved Art and often felt undeserving of his devotion to me. He was super smart, which I found intimidating. He had a wry and witty sense of humor, which I loved. And he was a sly, under-the-radar rebel.
He was a strong and grounded father. Like most parents loved his kids and found raising them trying, amusing, challenging, and mind-blowing.
Our daughter, Pallas, was born at 8:20 pm on a Monday night in November. And every night, for almost three years, she would lose her shit around 8:20 pm. During her first year of life, we lived in Las Vegas, where it was cold in the winter. And during those early months, when she would lose her mind, Art would take this wailing, inconsolable baby and place her in the Bjorn. He'd put on his giant blue LL bean coat with the toggle buttons, a gift from his parents. He'd zip it up over her, and head out the door to walk with her until she stopped crying.
Sometimes he'd be back in 15-minutes other times an hour.
I once asked him how he did it night after night without leaving her by the side of some road.
He said, "You just need to outlast it."
"It" being intense emotions, the feeling of chaos, or loss or tiredness.
I heard him give the same advice to his youngest sister when she hit a rough patch while working towards her Ph.D. "You just need to outlast it," he told her.
Art's rebelliousness and mischievous sense of humor showed up in random but public ways.
One year, when we lived in a small town in North Carolina, we were taking the obligatory family photo for a Christmas card. It was the typical look; woods in the background, the family in jeans and white shirts, all of us sitting on a hay bail, me six months pregnant with our youngest, Ezra. Art said out loud to the photographer, who also happened to be his boss's wife, "All we need is a confederate flag!"
His boss walked into their garage and came out, sheepishly explaining why he had a small confederate flag, something about a fight with a local contractor and the contractor wanting to remind Art's boss that he was in the south.
We took a few photos of our family holding that flag, laughing. When the photos came back (remember when you sent photos off to be developed?), Art insisted we send out the one with our little mixed-race family holding the confederate flag. I thought of all the people who might be offended, including his parents, and he said he didn't care. So that was our Christmas card in 2002. It remains my favorite one.
His humor extended to his students too. If you were late getting to his advisory group, you had to sing the entire first verse of "I'm a Little Teapot" with movements. And if you sang it too quickly or with lack-luster movements, you had to start over.
From the outside, it seemed odd for such a tall, formattable, calm man to require his students to sing that song. But that was who he was, playful in a serious sort of way.
Art was liked. Over our 14-year marriage, people always commented on how "nice" he was and how much they liked him. Sometimes it made me mad.
He had a way about him that made one feel accepted and safe in his presence. He could talk to the head of Universal Studios AND the janitor, and both would walk away from the conversation feeling heard.
This past week several parents told me how they came to his office prepared to fight for their child to get something. Then they would leave his office, feeling calm and good, only to realize that they didn't get what they had wanted. They couldn't be mad at Art about it because he was so nice about saying no!
Art loved words. He loved reading words strung together eloquently. At night, he and I would share well-written passages we'd read. We made up a word game. It worked like this. One of us would choose three letters that would be the start of a word. Then we'd take turns coming up with a word that started with those three letters. As we got more tired, the pauses between the words would grow longer and longer until one of us fell asleep. I remember the 20 times I beat him out of the over 100s of times we played.
And there is so much more I want to tell you about him.
We were at the point in our marriage that when we fought, we'd find ourselves switching sides and laughing because then we'd fight about how right the other person was.
He was a good cook, taking up the mantel early in our marriage because he told me. "I eat more than you, so I might as well cook."
He loved bikes. He was a bike racer when we met, getting up before dawn to ride bike races. When we lived in NY state, he rode 30 miles round trip to the school where he worked. Cold rain and even snow didn't stop him! He road in the heat when we lived in Las Vegas. He rode his bike here in LA. He loved the joy of using his body to get from point a to point b. He outlasted lousy weather, flat tires, and rude drivers.
In the recent years expanded to running, completing a marathon and just two months before the cancer came back, he did his first triathlon.
He was an early adopter when it came to teaching English and being an administrator. He taught his students how to edit writing by using a rubric and Google docs. The students would edit each other's work carefully and then grade each other papers as a group. Conferences for private schools asked him to share what he was doing in the classroom at conferences.
He ran school assemblies with humor and wit.
He was an excellent storyteller enthralling our kids with stories of Ezrola (Ezra(, Langlo (Langston), and Pallo (Pallas).
He is why our kids are self-sufficient, teaching Ezra to do his own laundry at age 4, allowing all the kids to learn to pour their own drinks and how to clean them up.
He was the grocery shopper and firm bedtime keeper.
He grounded our family, and covered us in a sense. When I would get into bed shivering at night, he'd wrap his big body around mine, outlasting my trembling and, I am sure, relishing in his power to provide comfort.
Art was stoic. When he was going through treatment, he was in a lot of pain that he never talked about. I caught him a few times saying to himself, "You can outlast this."
And he did, for so long, he did.
But the cancer outlasted him.
And that is why we are here today.
Sweetheart, I can outlast so many things because of your deep love for me and the kids.
But I will never outlast your loss. I don't think any of us will.