This last week has taught me a few things. One of them was a surprising lesson that I didn’t think I’d ever learn. I had packed up my four children, gotten on a plane, and headed back home to Nebraska, all in an effort to avoid the worst possible thing I could imagine: a day, March 26th. For my children, that day may always be a hurtful day, something you feel weighing on you like a yoke pulling down your mind so you stare at your shoes and avoid contact with everyone else. For me, it’s a conflict of emotions and difficulties because the day I lost the most amazing person I have ever had in my life was also the day I married her. So landmark times in that day when she left us – and that’s how it feels sometimes, like she left us – are also monumental memories that would normally be celebrated.
8:20am March 26th, 2011, was when they were pumping on her chest to try and keep her heart from stopping; 8:20am March 26th, 1993 was when I showed up at the apartment I shared with my fiance hoping to avoid seeing her and asking for my guitar, which was needed for the band at our reception. 9pm March 26th, 2011, I sat on the couch, staring into space as my children went to their respective bedrooms asking what we were going to do next; 9pm March 26th, 1993, I was leaving the Creighton University church complex and our reception, newly married, happier than ever, and slightly put out that I’d gotten cake smeared on my face when my fiance threatened to kill me if I’d try to do the same to her.
It’s these conflicting memories, the dichotomy of a strange day, that I knew would tear at me if I stayed at home. You have to understand, California was Andrea’s home. As much as we’d made a life for ourselves: gotten our own friends together, gotten the kids in a different school than Andrea’s; lived in a different suburb than the one Andrea grew up in, it is still her home. It’s also home for my children and their myriad friends. But it’s not mine. I have friends, close colleagues, surrounded by good people, but it’s still influenced, in the vast majority of places, by my late wife. I couldn’t face this day, a day totally devoted to what I gained and lost, surrounded by those who would mean well but in the end, create a day wallowing in self-pity.
You may have seen the video our family produced as a tribute to what we lost and where we’ve been going (it’s also at the end of this post). It is a true statement of where we stand and what we hope the rest of our lives will bring. It is filled with all those monumental high points in our family and shows that while Andrea is left behind at a crucial moment, we move on and face all those other moments without her, something none of us ever wanted or expected. I have three proms (with four kids); three graduations; four college educations; maybe four weddings . . . my daughters will get their father-daughter dance but my sons will not get to dance with their Mom. My daughters will have a Dad (God-willing) to walk them down the aisle but my sons will not stand in front of their Mom and declare love for a fiance and hear her cry at a wedding.
All these things weighed on me this day. So we strove to avoid them. We went home: my home, a place where we could take a cleansing breath and realize someone who knows what they hell they’re doing is helping to guide us through the day. We took walks on country roads. We played outside on the three acres of land surrounded by trees and chased by my brother’s puppy, affectionately dubbed “Brubeck” (I dare you to figure out the musical reference there!). We went to a place where you don’t have to race through traffic, stumble around sidewalks filled with people or worry about deadlines.
I played guitar into the wee hours with my brother’s band and broke guitar strings on more than one guitar venting my frustration, listening to the bass player say, “I wondered how long it was going to be before he did that/he’s barely in control of that thing/ he’s making the guitar work so hard!”
More than anything we thought we’d avoid the influx of people wanting to be in contact for this day. But like moths to a flame, we couldn’t help ourselves. While we were sure that being home would equate to our having to make others feel better for our being sad and feeling the loss, we found ourselves looking at the numbers of people contacting us via Facebook and Twitter. We found ourselves wanting to push the number of views of our video on YouTube; not so we could reach some bizarre Kardashian/Kate Plus Eight/Octomom/Paris Hilton level of questionably attained fame. We we wanted the world to see it. We wanted to talk to people, but this was a sly and loving way to do it. We got sympathetic but loving notes from dozens of people. We saw the number of faces and names of those touched by Andrea in her life.
Social media may have a lot of ills (and there are a lot) but we realized that on this day, when we needed the gentle contact, the reminder of what we lost but what we could do, and it made things better. We needed the isolation, the music, the birds singing, breeze blowing and quiet time to dwell on the events that transpired on that day and the year that has passed. But we also needed people to know we appreciated and loved them. We wanted to show the world what an amazing, beautiful woman we had in our lives. We wanted to show the world that we’d not only survived that day, but every single event: every birthday, holiday, and familial moment. We wanted to thank everyone who’d helped and give credit to the people who helped us survive. I wanted to show the world what it lost, the reason the sun shone a little less bright after a year ago. I have no idea why, but it was important to us all.
But we didn’t want to answer the door to unexpected visitors and phone calls from people grieving themselves and looking to us to say, “It’s alright.” Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, all those things gave us the opportunity to show everyone just what we needed them to see. It gave them the chance to see we were okay, despite the fact our hearts are still aching.
At the end of the day, the best thing is, I could tell the world I’m still in love with the woman I lost, while realizing that I felt better and so did they, as they clicked on the “x” and opened up the gossip pages to see who Kim Kardashian is dating today. After all, I can only solve one problem at a time.
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.