Sweet Melanie

The scene still haunts my grief addled brain. Me – standing up in the living room. The kids – age 5 and 9, sitting on the dog clawed white leather couch, facing me. I told them their father was dead and then we all screamed and cried hysterically as one would expect us to. No mother should have to say such things to their children, as no children that young should have to hear those words.

A year and a half later, the numbness and hysteria is gone, but the horror is not. Even now – if I let myself imagine, just for a moment, what it would be like if John came back to help me raise the girls, I instantly become nauseous and feel like I’m re-living that night all over again. I flash back to the phone call from the Ranger telling me of the avalanche, the calls I then had to stoically make to John’s family, the conversation with the kids on the white couch. Can it really be true? 18 months later and I still wonder – is this really my life?

Holly-comforting-melanieThe good news is that Melanie (now 7) opens up to me about her feelings. The bad news is that her pain breaks my heart all over again every day. When I put her to bed in the evenings, I always climb in with her for a bit. Partly because she wants me to, but partly because I’m also in need of the touch and warmth. Typically we lay on our sides facing each other. She wraps her arms around my neck while I bury my face in her hair, and we chat.

Just now, 2 hours ago, we had this conversation, verbatim. This is a very common conversation for us to have when I’m putting her to sleep. She initiates these conversations completely out of the blue, not me.


“Mama, I don’t want you to ever ever EVER die.”

“I won’t die until I’m very old, sweetheart.”

“…and I don’t want you to ever leave me.”

“I will always be your mom and I won’t die until I’m old”

“No mama, I mean – I don’t want you to be alive but gone where I can’t see you.”

“I will go on trips at times, but we will always spend lots of time together.”

(pause, snuggling)

“Mama, what if you marry someone and after a couple of years you find out he isn’t a good dad?”

“Hmm. Well, someday if I get engaged, then that man and I can live together for a while before the wedding, and if he isn’t a good dad, I will find it out before we get married. I won’t marry someone who isn’t going to be a good dad to you.”

“But, won’t that be rude, if you tell him you will marry him but change your mind?”

“Yes Melanie, but I would rather be rude than marry someone who won’t be a good father to you.”

“Yeah mama, because I need a good dad. The best would be my real dad, but he’s dead. I miss Dada.”

“I miss him too, Melanie. Every minute of every day, I miss him.”

(pause, snuggling)

“Melanie, I love snuggling with you. Your skin is so soft. I love kissing your cheeks.”

“Your skin is soft too, mama.”

“Not as soft as yours. My skin hasn’t been as soft since your dad died.”

“Let me feel.”

Melanie strokes my cheek gently with her fingertips

“Mama, I think your skin is softer than mine.”


“Mama, I get saddest about Dada at night. Every night I get sad.”
“Me too, Melanie.”

“That’s why I come to your bedroom in the middle of the night. Sometimes I don’t even know I’m getting up. My body just gets up because it is so sad.”

“I know Melanie, but still, you have to try to stay in bed.”

“Ok Mama.”

“One last kiss and then goodnight.”

I get up and walk quietly to the door in the darkness. Melanie starts whimpering.

“Mama…. Daddy. I miss Daddy.”

“I know Melanie. Just try to sleep. Goodnight. I love you forever.”

“I love you forever too, Mama.”


I am alone. I am loved by so many people, but still – I am the only one holding this space. I hold my grief, her grief, and Isabella’s grief. I use the little bit of strength I have left to be calm and nurturing while her words rip my heart apart. My poor darling Melanie. So young, so innocent, so sweet, so powerless. I ache for her, I ache for Iz, I ache for myself, and I ache for John for not being able to watch his beautiful girls find their way in the world. No one can fix this. When Melanie cries in the middle of the night, that’s all on me – not on my MIL Mary, not on my aupair Camila, not on John in the sky – it’s on me and only on me.

This deep and profound alone-ness has been a theme for me as of late. I go to a lot of group therapy, and this seems to be a theme for other widows as well – year two is lonelier than year one. No more numbness, just a sadness and desolation that stretches into forever. He’s really not coming back.

Still, I have gratitude. My brain has distilled all of the horror and reminds me repeatedly – only a fiercely strong tiger mama could survive all of this. The wounds of my trauma are like claw marks on my belly, exposing ribs and entrails, but still – I do not succumb. I bleed, I pace, I snarl, and I spend hours every day licking up the caked and dried blood, but I do not succumb. I am not graceful, gentle, or selfless every second of every day, but I know that my most important job is to protect my cubs, and I do just that. I hold them. I cry with them. I set up college funds, drive them to group therapy, and do whatever I need to do to take care of them. Even though we often bicker, argue, and take our grief out on each other; still – I can tell that they know I will always be there for them. I may not be very fun to be around, but I’m tenacious and my dedication to my children flows through every fiber of my being.

Thank you, John for giving me these beautiful children. Thank you, universe, for bestowing me with this unending strength. Thank you to my community that continues to let me be as I am – broken, but also beautiful in my brokenness

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