December 31, 2017: New Year’s Eve

One year ago today, we (our family of four) celebrated the end of 2017—the end of a year that brought us into a world of miraculous clinical trials and showed us the very sharpest edges of a brutal disease. We celebrated the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 at a friend’s house with a handful of other families.

A few things from this night stand out. Matt ate. A lot. I blamed the steroid for his seemingly unstoppable hunger, but truly I didn’t know whether that was the case. I remember friends commenting that Matt seemed good and I hated that I could only nod. I couldn’t see what they saw. I could only see all the minor details that were wrong—I was, for all intents and purposes, missing the forest for the trees, and I wished I could see beyond the details. The quiet where there should have been jokes, the flatness where there should have been spark. And when the ball dropped, I remember looking at Matt, missing him while I was standing right beside him, and wondering what the year had in store for us because I had no idea. Our lives had become too predictable to plan.

New Year’s Eve is almost necessarily a time for reflection, for looking back on the year that has been and planning for the year that might be. This year, looking back on the year is— I’m not sure what the word is.

2018 is the year we lost hope, lost dreams, and lost Matt. So looking back on the year is painful. It’s also the year we (G, H, and I) found we could get back up after being knocked down too many times. It’s the year of grief waves  and big sunglasses and half-marathons, the year of sheltering in place to block out the outside world and permitting the outside world into our grief. It’s the year that refuses to go out silently—in the last few days of 2018, we’ve had one last visit from the plumber, one hole in the ceiling, and one (hopefully mild) case of the flu. With all of that, it should be easy to say goodbye to 2018, a painful year. And yet saying goodbye to 2018 means starting a new year without Matt, with only the memories of him. It means leaving our happily ever after further in the past. And as difficult as 2018 has been, it’s also the last year I started with Matt—Matt will never know 2019—and for that reason, saying goodbye to 2018 is—

Bittersweet? Strange? Unfair? No word quite fits.

And planning for 2019? Hoping for a happy new year when we know the happiest moments are the ones most lined by grief, when happy can at times feel like a betrayal? Happy might always be a word with an asterisk for us. I suspect I will look at G and H and wonder, once again, what the year has in store for us. We’re still finding our way through Post Hope, learning the curves and jagged edges and unseen detours of this new life. We might never truly know how to navigate Post Hope—there may always be a new sharp turn we don’t see coming. So like last year, our lives might be too unpredictable to plan.

And maybe that’s okay. Maybe the plan isn’t as important as the knowledge that we can get back up if we’ve fallen; that even if we take a wrong turn, we can carve a new path; that hope isn’t so easily extinguished.

So, instead of wishing a Happy New Year, for this last post of 2018, I’ll leave with this: For everyone reading along, I wish for a new year full of a hope so bright, almost nothing can destroy it.

December 30, 2017: A Night With Friends

One year ago today, we (Matt and I) took G and H to see Ferdinand. We met up with close family friends at the movie theater and afterward we (the other family plus our family of four) went back to our house to order in dinner and let the kids play.

I only vaguely remember this night. I remember that Matt ate with his hands, scooped food with his fingers. I remember he disappeared into the bathroom for a while and everyone grew slightly nervous, even as I smiled and tried to reassure everyone, including myself—everything’s fine. I remember the irrational need to entertain, as if that might distract from what was happening with Matt. The family friends we had over knew the truth about Matt—they’d seen it for themselves and heard the stories—but somehow I still wanted to protect everyone from the truth.

One year ago today, we had exactly five weeks left—thirty-five days. These thirty-five days were filled with lasts. Last conversations, last text messages, last hopes. The story of December 30, 2017 is also the story of a last. A last movie. A last dinner-in with friends. A last attempt at normal.

A few days ago we returned from our second ever ski trip. I’ve spent the days since we returned trying to collect my thoughts on the trip. Days later, I still don’t have a comprehensive overview to offer. The grief that accompanied this trip was different. Though it was our second ski trip and first without Matt, the grief that accompanied this trip wasn’t for what had been. Nostalgia and sweet memories didn’t lurk around every corner. More often, the memories were harsh. The grief that accompanied this trip was solely focused on what might have been: G realizing Daddy will never see her ski down the bunny hill, H looking around the ski lodge at all the families of four.

Matt and I had always wanted G and H to learn how to ski. We’d wanted them to learn, though neither of us had any interest in going out onto the cold, snowy mountains. Matt and I had big plans—his sister and her husband would take G and H out on the slopes, and he and I would drink wine in the lodge. This trip, with the knowledge that Matt wouldn’t be there to sip wine with me in the lodge, I took a ski lesson. Maybe in the spirit of trying new things in Post Hope, proving to myself that I can do the things I never thought I could do.

The lesson was fine, I didn’t fall on my face, and except for one incident in the line for the ski lift, I wasn’t half bad (if I do say so myself). I could have talked myself into another lesson, another day of skiing. But I didn’t. As I sat in the lodge, missing what might have been, I thought of how I’d spent the last year proving to myself that I can do the things I never thought I could. But maybe it was also time to prove I could still be the person I was, do the things I’d always wanted to do with Matt, even without Matt, even if that seemed like the harder path forward. So, while G and H skied, I sat in the lodge, missing Matt and remembering a little bit of the person I was when I was with Matt. And I realized that maybe I could somehow be this Post Hope version of myself and myself. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s more than okay to realize the person I was before February 3rd isn’t completely gone, after all.

December 29, 2017: Minor Details

True to the pattern we’d established, one year ago today, after one of our worst days, we (our family of four) had a better day.

I don’t have any emails or photos to share from today. I have a few text messages that give our day an outline—we (our family of four) took a trip to the grocery store and made it out without a scene. But I have nothing more, no stories of overwhelming changes, for better or worse; no razor sharp edges or moments of light. Which meant that December 29, 2017 was an easy day. Though the definition of easy day had drastically changed.

When I think back to these days, I remember most clearly the minor details that told their own story about Matt, about how much of him was missing.

Matt’s sneaker collection rivaled my shoe collection (probably overwhelmed my shoe collection) and he’d always been meticulous about matching his sneakers to his outfit. But by December 2017, he’d started wearing the same pair of Carolina blue sneakers every day. He’d always been meticulous about organization, but by December 2017 he’d started leaving things in his pockets—hats, gloves, papers, potato chip bags. He’d started wearing the same shirts in rotation rather than looking into his closet for other options. He’d started sleeping in socks.

The sneakers he chose, the chips he bought, the socks at bedtime. Everything from his sneakers to his undershirt to his choice of potato chip spoke to how much of Matt was truly missing. All minor details. Minor details that were clinically insignificant when compared to all the other changes that made it into his medical file. But minor details are sometimes the details that matter most to a heart and a soul and a family. I remember the minor details as well as I remember every MRI.

In a very early post, I noted it was hard for me to believe that Matt was the person we lost on February 3, 2018. I said in that long ago post that I couldn’t explain why until I told our story. The explanation is becoming clearer. Matt wasn’t Matt. What he said, how he acted, how he dressed, and how he slept— None of it was familiar.

In Post Hope, I’ve been struggling to write the story of our days. Identifying, describing, and understanding our hope feels almost disingenuous given the ever-present countdown in my mind. Explaining our hope while also staring down the fact that our hope wasn’t enough to save us feels almost forced. Writing about hope while drowning in the memory of how it felt to just barely hold on is simply impossible.

But maybe that’s because I’m no longer writing about the kind of hope that was the brightest star in the sky, the kind that looked like a miracle and was featured on 60 Minutes. That hope was always there, an ever-present light glowing in the background. But the hope I’m writing about during these days is different. It’s the hope for a calm morning, a quiet car ride, a forgotten pair of sneakers, and a shared smile. The hope that I might see Matt when I looked at him. The hope that Matt might see me when he looked at me.

The hope that infused these days was softer, quieter, maybe naive and full of denial, but no less formidable. Because the hope that infused these days survived despite razor sharp edges, unfamiliar details, and moments that felt impossible to withstand. The hope that infused these days deserves a story, too, even one that may be hard to write.

December 28, 2017: The Cheddar Bunny Incident

One year ago today, G and H had their first appointment with the art therapist. After weeks of discussing the pros and cons of therapy, this first appointment couldn’t have come at a better time. We’d reached that tipping point weeks earlier. Matt had started lashing out at G and H, and G and H had responded by ignoring him completely. They understood he was sick, but his anger still hurt. They understood he couldn’t be himself, but they missed him. The feelings were (and are) complex and G and H needed a safe space to untangle all those complicated emotions.

While Matt went to lunch with his mom, I took G and H to the art therapist. I remember this first trip to the office. I remember I sat between G and H, who alternated between clinging to me and bouncing around the room with nervous energy. I remember the art project the therapist had them do—draw a picture of an animal with a part that’s not working correctly (like Nemo’s fin) and think of a way to help that animal.

Afterward, they couldn’t wait to go back. I wasn’t sure whether they just liked what felt to them like a private art class or they liked the way they could discuss Matt without fear. Either way, a partnership was forged that day, a safe space to let out and untangle feelings was created.

That afternoon, we (Matt, G, H, and I) had plans to hang out with Matt’s high school friends. I remember wondering how much they knew about Matt’s condition. I remember wondering whether I should warn them in advance. Ultimately, I said nothing, made no warning. As I had so many times before, I decided it would be a betrayal to Matt.

The incident that happened next is one G, H, and I have talked about often. It’s an incident so razor sharp in my memory that I don’t need text messages or photos to jog my memory in order to write the story. It’s an incident during which I couldn’t see Matt when I looked at him, when I realized Matt was simply gone.

As we were getting ready to leave, I received a phone call from the insurance company. I sent G and H—bags of cheddar bunnies in hand—into the basement to put on their shoes and jackets while I finished the phone call and gathered everything I would need for the short road trip. Matt followed them downstairs to also put on his shoes and jacket.

I’d become proficient in the days and weeks leading up to this particular incident at keeping G and H separated from Matt. During the writing with scissors incident, they were in another room. During the bank phone call incident, they were watching a movie downstairs. During car rides and family dinners, I did my best to deflect his anger from them, onto me. But one year ago today, I was caught off guard. I was upstairs and distracted and didn’t see the potential for disaster.

I heard shouting first, followed by crying. When I ran downstairs, too late to deflect his anger, I found a scene that is burned into my memory. G, in tears, crawling across the basement floor, picking up the cheddar bunnies Matt had tossed across the room in a fit of anger; H standing protectively in front of her, yelling at his father for throwing his sister’s snack.

I was too late to prevent the situation, but I thought I could defuse it. I helped G pick up her snack and tried to convince Matt to apologize, to admit that everyone sometimes loses their temper and it was a mistake to throw the snack. Matt refused to apologize, and, after a few minutes, almost seemed to be unsure to what I was referring. As if he forgot. As if it never happened. Which was almost harder for G.

To this day, I’m not sure exactly what incited Matt’s anger. To this day, the memory of this incident breaks my heart. To this day, I am so proud of H for standing up for his sister when it mattered, when it might have been a little scary.

When we arrived to Matt’s friends house, a little emotionally bruised and battered, we were greeted with warmth by people who knew Matt and loved him like family. When he made a sharp comment to me, they sent a smile my way and tried to soften the blow with a joke. When our day was almost too dark, they made it a little brighter.

The story of today is the story of how brain cancer impacts not only body, but mind. The way it reaches and makes a person think and act in ways they never would have thought and acted. The extreme cruelty of brain cancer.

The story of one year ago today is a razor sharp, but it’s also a story full of new partnerships, old friendships, and an unbreakable bond between a brother and sister.

December 27, 2017: Decisions, Choices, and Possibilities

One year ago today, we returned to Columbia so much earlier than we had expected. I don’t remember very much about this particular appointment. Thanks to text messages I sent to friends after the fact, I know a few things: we arrived fifteen minutes late due to traffic on the George Washington Bridge; the doctor agreed Matt had experienced severe changes in his cognition and processing and it was unlikely those changes were a result of swelling from the whole brain radiation; and Matt didn’t know what year it was, even after a hint. Even after a bigger hint.

Months ago, in April, I wrote that Matt—in the throes of poliovirus induced swelling—had trouble remembering three words: apple, penny, and table. I wrote that I couldn’t believe the doctors and nurses weren’t panicked about his poor memory. I wrote I didn’t know that the questions could and would get easier, that Matt could and would do worse, that I’d wish for days during which he struggled to remember an arbitrary word.

On December 27, 2017, the resident who arrived to complete Matt’s initial cognition exam did not ask Matt to remember a grocery list of items. She did not test his long term memory with the words apple, penny, and table. Instead, she asked him his name. His date of birth. All correct. Answered without hesitation. Of course. Of course he knew his name and date of birth. His cognition was suffering, his reality was warped, but of course he knew his name and date of birth. The resident then asked Matt the year. Again, I expected him to answer correctly, without hesitation. Of course he knew the year. He didn’t.

He stammered and thought about it. Then answered. 1977. The doctor gave him a hint. He tried again. 2001. The resident told him the new year was just a few days away. He shook his head. He simply didn’t know the answer.

And I’m not sure how to describe that feeling. The combination of shock and terror and pure disbelief that accompanies the realization that your husband doesn’t know the year. That Matt’s amazing brain had fooled me—I knew he wasn’t okay, but I still assumed even his warped reality was informed by a set of basic facts.

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Our morning had been impossible. For the first time, Matt had needed help getting dressed and lashed out when I tried to put a shirt on over his head—because he’d asked for pants, which he was already wearing. By the time I’d made my way downstairs to make breakfast for G and H, my energy—mental, physical, and emotional—had been depleted.

The doctor ordered a MRI for Matt and discussed starting Avastin infusions again (that black box drug that I’d vowed Matt would never start in the first place), assuming the MRI didn’t show any new hemorrhages. We agreed to begin tapering the Dexamethasone, as originally planned, in the hope of decreasing some of the pain in Matt’s joints and weakness in his legs. The doctor warned that his cognition would get worse, but maybe decreasing the Dex would make him steady—keep him safe.

One year ago today, there were no easy decisions. Avastin was dangerous and caused so many problems, but it had also brought Matt back within twenty-four hours once before. Dexamethasone created weakness in Matt’s joints, but it kept us from spiraling down even further.

And I remember, at the end of the appointment, at the end of the day, I found comfort in this fact: we had decisions to make. Because decisions, to me, meant choices. And choices meant possibilities. And possibilities meant hope.

December 26, 2017: More Moments Like That

One year ago today, our ski vacation was coming to a close. While G and H went sledding with their grandparents, I prepared myself for the days ahead. Those days didn’t promise to be easy.

That morning, Matt had woken up and hadn’t brushed his teeth. When I handed him the tooth brush, he handed it back up to me and asked, with a fair amount of frustration, what I expected him to do with it. We didn’t argue. I didn’t try to remind Matt that he’d been brushing his teeth for forty years and he should know what to do with the toothbrush. I was simply tired and discouraged, and struggling to remind myself that his worsening cognition could be a symptom of brain swelling, not a sign that his tumor was progressing. In truth, it was harder and harder to convince myself that what I was seeing was treatment effects and not tumor progression.

I called Columbia. I’d long ago realized that the doctors could do very little for Matt—in reality, aside from increasing his Dex, which we’d already done, they could do nothing—but calling the doctor made me feel as though I was doing something. Calling the doctor was the only action, however insignificant, I could take against a disease that struck harder with each passing day.

The doctor at Columbia said she’d like to see Matt the next day, on the 27th. As it turned out, our one month reprieve was little more than a week.

Matt slept for most of the drive home. I texted a friend about a scene that occurred when we stopped to pick up pizza at our local pizza place. I didn’t go into detail over text—nothing more than that Matt “flipped out at me” about something—and the details didn’t stick in my memory. I only vaguely remember the look the owner flashed me. There was something like pity in his gaze. He didn’t know that Matt’s anger wasn’t his and wasn’t truly meant for me. He didn’t know the anger was the tumor, and Matt couldn’t help it. Why don’t I remember more about this scene? The sad truth is that by December 26, 2017, we’d made enough scenes in enough public places that this particular one didn’t even phase me.

December 26th did stand out in one important way. That night, I was upset with G, who wasn’t listening when I asked her to get ready for bed. Maybe she truly wasn’t listening, maybe my patience was short. Either way, I was upset with her and she was upset with me. And she went to Matt for comfort—the way she had a thousand times in the past. She curled into him and he consoled her, the way he had a thousand times in the past.

And I remember being relieved at the sight, thinking that no matter how tired or discouraged I felt, as long as Matt wanted to keep fighting, I would keep fighting with him. So he could have more moments like that. So G could have more moments like that.

December 25, 2017: Last Christmas

Christmas for us (our family of four) usually meant a lazy morning in pajamas followed by a trip to the movies and Chinese food for dinner. Christmas one year ago today meant ski school for G and H in the morning while the adults sat in the lounge restaurant and then a movie in the hotel’s rec area.

The increased dose of Dexamethasone the doctor had ordered hadn’t helped in any significant way. Matt still looked unsteady and off-balance when he walked—though no worse. His cognition hadn’t improved. But his temper—

I texted a friend one year ago today and told her that Matt was being too hard on the kids and I didn’t know how to stop him or shield them. She asked how G and H were handling his anger and I said they’d begun to ignore him. That cruel transition. Not only had they stopped asking for Daddy to play, but they’d stopped acknowledging him, too.

A fact that broke my heart. Because the truth I believed was that Matt was simply trying to find a way to interact with G and H. The truth I believed was that some part of Matt desperately wanted to be with G and H—talk and engage and play with them—but a crucial connection had been fractured by the tumor, and he no longer knew how to do that. And in place of that crucial connection was that anger, easy to grasp.

I knew that half (or most) of the problem was the Dexamethasone. Increasing the dose of the rage-inducing steroid certainly didn’t help. But we were walking a tightrope, trying to find a balance that wouldn’t tip us too far onto one side. We (maybe just I) had to balance Matt’s anger against the modicum of stability it brought him. I’d seen him fall once—we’d been lucky he walked away with only a scar.

At 4:54 p.m., I texted Matt: We are downstairs watching a movie. Any interest?

We (G, H, Matt’s parents, his sister and brother-in-law) were watching The Wizard of Oz. I remember walking upstairs after I sent that text to find Matt, to make sure he knew how to make his way down to the lounge. I remember watching him walk (with a fair amount of unsteadiness) down the stairs and settle into a seat vacated for him by his brother-in-law.

I remember wondering if Matt knew it was Christmas, if he remembered all those Christmases we’d spent at the movies—pre and post kids. I remember wondering if our story, our memories, were still a part of him, and (or) whether they’d return when he did. In Post Hope, I remember realizing one of the most surprising secondary losses was missing the person who shared my memories, realizing I was the sole keeper of our origin story.

Lately, in Post Hope, I’ve found myself sharing stories about Matt with G and H—nonsense stories about dates we went on to Korean BBQ restaurants when he ate too fast and places we traveled and got lost despite a map. G and H devour the stories, turning over the details and savoring the trivialities. For them, the stories give back some of the father they lost to brain cancer. For me, it’s a chance to keep our stories alive, ensure that I am not the only keeper of our stories. For all of us, it’s a chance to ensure the bad memories never diminish the good.

December 24, 2017: Christmas Eve

One year ago today, G and H tried ski school while the adults tried to find a warm place to sit. A few friends who knew how difficult our days at home had been checked in to see how we were faring now that we were away from home.

I sent everyone a version of this text message: The kids are loving skiing and having fun. Matt is struggling, physically now too. He’s not walking correctly. I called the doctor today, and she increased his steroid dose, though I’m not sure it’s helping. But it’s so much better to have other people around. It makes such a difference to not be alone.

I don’t remember December 24, 2017. I have a photo of the kids waiting to start ski school. I have the text messages to my friends. But I don’t remember calling the doctor. I don’t remember how Matt was walking and what exactly made me anxious. I don’t remember why we decided to increase Matt’s steroid dose, where before we (the doctor and I) had decided to keep his dose steady and then work to taper the dose. I suspect the need to keep Matt physically stable—safe—outweighed all the concerns.

I remember only thinking how good it was to be with family. One year ago today, I didn’t know I needed help until I had help—four extra adults to step in with G and H, with Matt. In retrospect, it almost seems obvious—I should have called in for help weeks earlier. Then again, asking for help would have meant admitting I needed help, which would have meant admitting things I couldn’t quite admit about our life. (And, to be very honest, like so many others, I’m terrible at asking for help.)

Lately, in Post Hope, I’ve found myself writing every post while thinking of it in relation to what comes next. For example, as I wrote today’s post, all I could think was how I wished I could go back and tell the past version of myself that in exactly one month, on January 24th, I would see a MRI that would be burned into my mind forever; I would hear words that I could never unhear. I’ve found myself re-living moments in January—arguments with Matt and conversations with G and H—in a way I haven’t since Post Hope started. I’m not sure what that means, whether it’s a grief wave or simply a function of the upcoming one year mark, or both.

Maybe it means that I can’t escape the truth that the end of this story is coming, and that it will soon be time to stop living in the past and write the post-Post Hope. The post-Post Hope story, a story that is just emerging, with an as yet unknown ending, a story that from beginning to end requires a leap of faith and the decision to choose hope again.

The truth is choosing hope is harder this time around. I’ve seen hope blink out. I’ve seen an ending that is far from happily ever after.

But I’ve also seen the heights you can soar on wings of hope, the statistics you can defy and the battles you can win with nothing but an ember of burning hope.

December 23, 2017: To The Mountain

I ended yesterday’s post with this line: for the steadfast burning hope that tomorrow would be better.

And it was. Simply better. Easier.

One year ago today, Matt woke up relatively calm. His cognition hadn’t improved, but he woke up with the ability to recognize that his thinking wasn’t clear. Which meant he asked for help and he took the help that was offered to him. Which meant that anger had dissipated, though the instinct to tread carefully around Matt had not. Would not.

December 23, 2017 marked the first official day of G’s and H’s Winter Break. Winter Break is always a challenge with kids—too many hours to fill with not enough options in a town that feels all but deserted as the friends who are usually available for playdates have left for family vacations. In the time before, Matt would take a day or two off from work during this week and we’d make day trips. Legoland, Liberty Science Center, the Palisades Mall.

I knew well in advance that the Winter Break of 2017 wouldn’t look like it had every other year. This winter break would require striking a balance between G’s and H’s needs—to be entertained and engaged—with Matt’s needs, which changed every day.

Luckily, Matt’s parents had the foresight to realize our family of four might need help during these ten days without school. That I might need help during these ten days without school.

One year ago today, we packed our things (Matt allowing me to help), climbed into the car, and drove to a ski lodge about an hour outside of New York City. Our first ever ski trip. Matt and I had taken the kids skiing once before, to a local mountain. The kids had rented skis and had done little more than slide down the hill that led up to the bunny hill. We’d called it a success and gone inside for hot chocolate. But this time, the kids were excited to learn. They were excited for the change of scenery. I think they were excited (subconsciously) to escape the bubble of brain cancer.

I don’t remember this road trip, this drive to the mountain—only a vague recollection of gray skies and bad visibility. I don’t remember arriving at the hotel. I don’t even remember what we did that first afternoon. But I remember feeling relieved. It was an easier day because G and H were happy, because Matt was calm, because we weren’t alone.

If I was keeping count, that would be twice now that I felt saved simply by walking into a room of family willing to help bear some of the weight I’d been trying to carry. As I’ve said so many times before, we weren’t lucky medically, but we were incredibly lucky to be surrounded by the people who surrounded us.

One year ago today, we didn’t know that we had six weeks left together. One year ago today, I didn’t look at the hospice timeline, the symptoms to expect, and see Matt. One year ago today, I saw only a family that believed they could, together, get through another bump in the road.

December 22, 2017: The Steadfast Burning Hope

I remember the argument we had on December 22, 2017. I remember the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, the moment when I fell apart and thought this—this nightmare we couldn’t escape—was too much. The weight I was trying to bear alone was too much.

Matt had accidentally received (been copied on) an email from work about a payroll issue. The issue, as far as I could tell, was wholly irrelevant to him—and also he hadn’t been to work in any real way since September. But, in his mind, he jumbled that email with a personal financial issue I’d been trying to untangle for us.

For a reason I couldn’t understand, he tried to log in to our mortgage account. He couldn’t remember the password or log-in information, and I didn’t help him retrieve that information. I believed he was too agitated that night, too confused. I told him we’d work on the issue together in the morning, hoping that, by then, his thinking would be clearer.

But it was a bad night. Matt grew furious that I wouldn’t give him the log-in information. He called our mortgage company and was directed to customer service. For more than an hour, I pleaded with him to hang up the phone as he was put on hold and transferred from agent to agent to manager, none of whom could make sense of his nonsensical requests. As the minutes ticked by, his anger grew. And I couldn’t find a way to calm him down. He wanted an answer to his irrational question from someone who wasn’t me.

I tried calling his dad, who attempted to explain the email that incited Matt’s concern. I tried redirecting his attention. I tried showing him the paperwork related to the personal financial issue to prove the mortgage company was uninvolved. He only grew angrier, and the customer service agent on the phone grew more confused, possibly suspicious. I was certain the mortgage company would freeze our account or worse.   

Often during these December days, when Matt’s temper would surge, mine would surge to match his. On December 22nd, it didn’t. I was worried and desperate, but I wasn’t angry. I couldn’t be. Because I knew what Matt was trying to do. He was trying to be the man he’d always been—the one who managed our finances and paid our bills and knew how to make it all look easy. He was simply trying to help. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t.

But he was so angry and so stubbornly determined to find the answers he was looking for, and I didn’t know how to defuse the situation.

Finally, a branch manager ended the call. She or he took Matt’s number down and scheduled a call for after Christmas. The promise of a conference call was enough to assuage Matt’s anger. He hung up and his rage subsided. The rest of the night, he watched television upstairs, while G and H watched a movie downstairs. I sat on the top steps, halfway between the kids and Matt, and tried to breathe through the stress of the night, the night that had escalated and spun out of control. Tried not to listen to the voice that was telling me I wasn’t strong enough to get back up.

In the days and weeks between December 22nd and February 3rd, that voice surfaced more times than I’d like to admit. So many times I felt simply broken, too tired. So many times I nevertheless stood back up. For Matt. For G and H. For the steadfast burning hope that tomorrow would be better. That hope kept us standing when the weight of it all pushed us down.