Six months: Reflections on life without Debbie

After we lost Debbie, I took the lead on writing her obituary and planning her memorial. Her memorial was in October, almost three months after she passed. I gathered photos for three different slideshows that my friend Kat put together. I worked with John, one of Debbie's former teaching partners and a cherished friend, to compile photos and quotes from her friends and students. The church lobby had three memory tables, for education, travel, and family. We also set up a version of her Christmas tree, which she was well known for, featuring some handmade ornaments that a friend's current students made in her honor. There were nine speakers, myself included; I read a letter I had written her a year earlier that, before she died, she requested I read. Her beloved nephew Jett played and sang three songs.

On our way home after the reception, I felt crummy. Minutes after walking through the door, I was hit with chills and a high fever. I had an infection that I'm convinced took hold after the release of stress and tension culminating at the service.


Since then, I do think of Debbie often, but not in the all-consuming way of those first few months. It's actually been six months today.

Now, I think of her when something happens I would've told her about, or when reminiscing about when Ethan was younger since she was so much more present and active then than in the past couple of years.

At Christmastime, on more than one occasion, I was hit with a panicked feeling that I'd forgotten to get her a gift. On Sunday, Oliver dislocated his elbow, so we took him to the ER to have it put back in place. He did such a great job, was so brave, and I knew Debbie would have told the story of a preschool-aged Noah bravely sticking out his hand for an IV after an allergic reaction.

I know the story well, but I would have liked to her her tell it again anyway.


We kept several mementos from the memorial around the house, although I felt the urgent need to immediately organize and put away almost everything.We havea poster of her with Noah and some other students in front of the Eiffel Tower when he was in middle school. We framed and hung up her high school senior portrait; she looks like a Charlie's Angel. We have a wooden shoe from Europe, a replica vase from Pompeii, a miniature of the Eiffel Tower scattered among vignettes on shelves throughout the house. We have several valuable prints from her Disney collection on the walls of our office.

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What really gets me the most, though, is a photo of her with Noah, Ethan and me. It was the trip to DisneyWorld we took the month before Noah went to boot camp. On our last morning, we had breakfast at a beautiful character buffet in one of the resorts, and a photographer snapped our picture on the way in, in front of a mural with Cinderella's castle as the focus.

Her hair was already cropped short, but she was still very mobile and able. We didn't foresee the worst end at that point.

It was an awesome trip. She made meal reservations at our favorite restaurants. She took us to Raglan Road pub on my birthday and bought Noah and I tickets to see Cirque du Soleil in Downtown Disney on our anniversary. In the evenings she would stay in the room at the Yacht Club resort while Ethan slept so Noah and I could go jogging around the lake, past the Beach Club, the Boardwalk, the Swan and Dolphin, right up to the gates of Epcot. We made several longstanding family jokes and memories on that trip.

Whenever I look at that photo, I see everything we had and all we're missing.


Lately, now that the most raw emotion has been tempered, for me anyway, I've been thinking about what she taught me by how she lived and how she died. She once said, "I thought I'd have more time to do good." Although she *had* done a whole lot of good, which her friends and students reminded us about again and again.

These past couple of months I've enjoyed rereading contemplative yet practical books like Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and Happier at Home; the humor of family and relationships, even during dark times, in David Sedaris's books; seeing the sacred art in the everyday in [Emily P. Freeman's A Million Little Ways.

I've been trying to treasure my days as they happen, to not feel nostalgic for the days I'm currently living, my sons still young and filling our time with the loveliness and silliness and tiny dramas of childhood. To step slightly out of frame so that the annoyances and frustrations of a life with small kids don't occupy the greater portion of what I'm seeing and experiencing in this season of life. I think the final gift Debbie gave me was one of the best: a lasting change of perspective.

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