The Final Firsts

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Jamey’s death.


It also marked the last of “The Firsts” for me and Cael.


“The Firsts” can be ominous milestones in the infant phases of grief.

We often ask ourselves how, as a widower, we’ll manage an anniversary dinner with only one place-setting.

We ponder how a child will respond to Christmas gifts with only one parent’s name listed on the “From” gift tag.

There is simply no way to predict our feelings during these events.

We have no precedent set for “The Firsts”; all we know is that life will be different.

We know that someone will be missing.

We know that that absence; that permanent loss of normalcy, will be recognized and felt.

We simply can’t predict the depth or enormity of that absence.



Looking back at Cael and my “First Year Firsts”, I see a definite pattern.

To her credit, this pattern was established by Cael.

It’s been a pattern of change, yet sustained engagement:

We flew to San Diego a few weeks after our birthdays and wedding anniversary(all three events are a mere three days apart).


Cael cartwheeling in Cali

We flew to Ohio on Christmas morning to be with Jamey’s family.


FYI–Santa’s elves fly coach!

We jetted down to DC on Easter to catch the cherry blossoms mid-bloom.



Aunt Kelly and Cael under a canopy of beauty.

We both cut school, went to the cemetery, then hung on the beach yesterday–the anniversary of Jamey’s death.


On the Ocean City boardwalk

On the Ocean City boardwalk

Barefoot and fancy-free

Barefoot and fancy-free

Graffito-tagging Jamey's gravestone.

Graffito-tagging Jamey’s gravestone.

For the most part, these weren’t events that had been months in the planning.

San Diego materialized less than a week before we flew out; our DC trip was decided about noon on Easter itself.



The therapist in me is cautious that this pattern of “escapism” when faced with potentially painful days is unhealthy; a stereotypical avoidance behavior.

The mom in me is wary that this pattern is establishing unrealistic expectations(….”but we celebrated our birthdays in San Diego last year…why can’t we go to Hawaii this year!?!?!”…)

The human in me says, “screw it”!(well, I’m actually thinking of a harsher term, but am trying to sound all dignified and such).


What we’ve done on ALL of our Firsts is create new memories.


And although Caeley and I carried the memory of Jamey around in our backpockets with our sunglasses and cellphones, he wasn’t a part of the new memories we created with one another and other important people in our lives.


And that’s ok.



One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced this past year hasn’t been experiencing happiness-it’s been admitting to myself and others that I actually am happy.


For some twisted reason, I often find myself falling into the trap of equating martyrdom with true love and devotion.

If I can experience life; if I can live and laugh and love in Jamey’s absence, what kind of person does that make me?

It’s as if my current measure of happiness completely cancels out any feelings of joy, contentment or love I felt when Jamey was alive.


And that–frankly–is just bullshit(ok, no longer concerned with sounding all dignified and such).


Sadly, though, it’s not just me who’s inherited the “Mark of the Martyr”.


On more than one occasion, Caeley has shared similar concerns, especially relating to (International) Mystery Dude.

To paraphrase—“I find myself laughing with him and having fun, then I catch myself and get quiet. It doesn’t feel fair to daddy that I’m happy

So we’re both kind of torn.


And, I think, umm, we’re both pretty…. human.



It’s hard to hold two opposing thoughts in your mind at the same time.

The technical term for that occurrence is cognitive dissonance.

And when you’re grieving, cognitive dissonance can be a bitch.

It can cause you to question how it’s possible to feel sad for your past but happy for your present and future at the same time.

And it makes you question your current relationships and emotions.

Even worse, however, it can make  you fearful about the authenticity of your past relationships.


It sucks.


And it makes both Caeley and I feel guilty.

At the same time, I also selfishly feel we’ve both earned our current states of contentment.


At least I know I ain’t handing mine over anytime soon.


On the topic of current relationships, I got a text from (International) Mystery Dude this morning that read, “Happy New Year!”


I hesitated about putting that into this message for a number of reasons.


In the end, his text made the cut for two reasons:

Reason #1

The Final Firsts are over!

Every annual milestone from here out will have a mixture of two memory sources:

–the tender, poignant memories of life with Jamey

–and the new, but equally meaningful memories of life without him.

Reason #2

I just really like using the term (International) Mystery Dude!


I’m thinking the kid and I are facing a happy new year of Seconds.

6 thoughts on “The Final Firsts

  1. Seeing that picture of Jamie compared to later pics of him really floored me because it shows just how much of the light had gone out of his eyes by the time you started this blog.
    The same thing is happening to my guy and it really shows in the eyes, doesn’t it.

    I’m glad you wrote about him being gone, about memories being made without him. It was hard to read and got my attention much like phrases do when I read scripture. When it gets my attention, it’s asking for a prayer so I’ll pray for you and me and all the surviving spouses trying to get thru this. It sucks alright! Worthy of all the escaping you need to do.
    Maybe you’re happy because you know in your heart that you did everything possible and you hung in there for the duration. That’s what I’m going for, no regrets.

    There is always an end to martyrdom, it was never meant to be a lifestyle and for me, I’d only make a good martyr if they killed me real quick. I may be wrong but, I think people confuse martyrdom with the self-emptying love that Christians are supposed to practice. there’s a Greek word for it that I can’t remember at the moment. It gives us peace that the world can’t give us, the world can only magnify it.
    Maybe magnified peace is another way to describe your happiness.

    God’s blessings on you guys and the new man in your life! He sounds like a keeper.


    • Oh gosh, Judy…I typed a really long response and then my phone kicked me out…..ok, you’ll have to settle for my shorter(because I’m frustrated now!!!)version.

      I definitely know what you mean about “the eyes”—-I see it with my mom now as well. It’s like they’re living their lives staring through a window that’s been smeared with vasoline; they’ve lost a spark of connectivity or something.

      The minute you mentioned Greek word, the term “agape” immediately sprung to mind. It was odd, but I knew exactly what you meant. Maybe my use of the term martyr is inaccurate. Maybe “pseudo”martyr is closer to the point. I sometimes feel like I should be walking around with an invisible cross to bear; as if I should be chained to misery by a scarlet letter “W” hung around my neck. I sometimes think that people seem to believe that if you inject huge syringes of sadness and wailing into your current life, it plump up all the profound, undying love you had for the person when they were alive. And if you DON”T walk around shrouded in black and lamenting your current life, it brings into question how much you actually cared about the person when s/he was still on earth.
      Does that even make any sense?

      LOVE the term magnified peace. I kept struggling to come up with synonyms in my post for the word “happiness”–yours is a beautiful and completely accurate description of how I really feel.
      And about the new guy–yeah, I’m going to hang onto him for a bit. I asked him the other day if he ever got bothered by how much I still spoke about Jamey. His paraphrased response was this, “If I was ever upset by you sharing stories about your husband and father of your child, I wouldn’t be worth your time”. Perfect response.
      (Oh, and he has a British accent, so that alone is a selling point 🙂

      Going to say a prayer for you and your man now…..I also put that into my previous response that got lost–so now that makes two prayers!



  2. Your an incredible person. Be dammed with anyone that judges until they walk in your shoes. You honestly do what feels right in the moment for you and your sweet girl. The seconds are sometimes worse than the firsts …. however you handle it is for you to decide


    • Thanks, Kim…..I try to do what makes the most sense for us most of the time(and what keeps us both sane as individuals and as our tiny little family), but it can be tough.
      As you well know, there’s no rule book on this whole grief process.
      As much as I’d love to plan ahead and prepare for what’s to come, I know that’s just not possible.
      It’s honestly been people like you and Steve–Dawn and Butch–Karen and Steve–all the parents on soccer who have made our lives this past year so much easier.
      Simple little things like playdates(both kid and grownup) have been huge in giving both Cael and me a break and sense of “normalcy”.
      It’s meant sooooo much(and I’m sad to see it all change soon, but that’s life too, I guess).


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