Since the meeting part of the semester is over, I thought that I would look back at the first semester after Doria’s death. Since she died on Friday, August 17th, right before the semester began, it seemed like a good review of the learning and the experience so far.`
1. I knew it would be hard. I had read about that. I planned for it to be difficult and unpredictable. It exceeded my expectations. I’ve been startled a few times in life when planning that I can look at a rosy scenario, start imagining all of the ways that it can go wrong, then try to get more pessimistic to plan for contingencies, and find out that my dramatic imagination for catastrophe is way too optimistic. I’ve been surprised how sudden the emotional ups and downs can happen, how frustrating simple things can be, and just how odd the whole thing is for me. This may sound flippant, but as a student, I really cannot imagine a worse way to begin a semester. It is definitely a way to start behind in every possible way.
2. Plans are made to be disrupted. Years ago in the National Guard, my commander had a fellow lieutenant and I spend months putting a training plan together. We warred through this, that and the other to put together a thorough plan that hit all of the angles. After we presented it, the captain looked at us, smiled, and said, “Good plan. We’ll go with it till we change it.” We were less than thrilled. Nothing new here, but that’s the story of this semester. It was mapped out as a Superman thing for me:
a. New daughter. Having Doria join us was going to be so exciting. Even though the work I had ahead was difficult and a huge mountain of things to do and read, I had even more incentive this semester than ever before. I was plowing through stuff for me, for my wife, and my little girl. Of course, we’re here, and it didn’t happen that way.
b. Huge courseload. I love a huge challenge. I’ve maxed things out a million times, and I love that stuff. I was going to walk out of this semester looking back and thinking, “Oh yeah. I did all that.” There was going to be a nice, proud smile as I spent break with my little girl who really didn’t know what I did anyway, but a huge smile of satisfaction. Instead, I found it difficult to concentrate, extremely difficult to read, and ended up using some incompletes, so the semester doesn’t really end for a few weeks. Not the plan I laid out. Instead of Superman, it was much more Clark Kent, complete with the ugly glasses.
c. Energy level. I intended to be my normal, continuous, supercharged self. If I just went with my normal 16-18 hour days, I would sail right along, even if I turned several of those hours into daddy/daughter/wife time, instead of just reading. Instead, it turned out that I had about 6 good hours in me every day. Early this week, I did two 8 hour days in a row. It took two more days to get anything done again. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I can safely say that a daughter’s death is not a good setup for scholastic work. It’s really not a good setup for anything.
3. What I could not do: Normally, what I can do is read until other people’s eyes would fall out, take good notes, and remember most of what I read for months or years on end. I like reading. I really like reading. The night of Becky’s baby shower, I read every one of our new books for Doria, most of them more than once. I love to read. It’s like breathing for me. They say that guys’ minds wander while they are grieving, and that’s certainly been true for me. Reading takes a lot longer. I forget where the author was going. My notes are shakier, but mostly OK. Basically, I found that things I normally find simple, like reading and writing, were difficult. If it involved me sitting there by myself working, I was gone. I see it improving steadily, I think, but that was huge. I’m used to holing up in one cave or another, plowing through reading and writing, and then meeting the world. This semester, alone work did not go well.
4. What I could do: Stuff with people, for about 3 hours a day. If it involved reading to talk about it, or especially to teach it and lead a class, I was much better. It still took time, but that added a focus that I needed. The interaction time in seminars or discussion sections was extremely valuable. That was a normal thing for me, but a normal thing with people around talking and thinking about something besides death. It was tougher for my mind to wander at those points. Also, I was so blessed to be surrounded by really lively undergrads for discussion sections. I needed to be on my game, and I really do praise God that I could be. A lot of answers to prayer right now seem to be “you can wait,” but that answer was always “of course.” I’m pleased. That was a constant highlight of the semester.
5. Life changed. I heard from several men in the months of pregnancy that my life would change. Each man said it like I didn’t know, or didn’t think about it, or like that’s all they had to say. Every time, I thought to myself “I don’t want to be rude , but I already know that. I want that. I’m excited for that.” Every one of them was more right than they could have known, or would want to know. This doesn’t leave, but it’s not the exciting change I wanted. I think about all of the things I looked forward to (that list will come some other time), but this wasn’t it. Because of our time with and without Doria, my life won’t be the same. That’s good and bad, but clearly there. We made a memory, but the number of memories won’t keep growing.
Before Doria, we just understood that we couldn’t have children. We wished it were different, but we were content. After Doria, we know that we want a little herd running around. We love each other, but after our talks and all, we want more. We want little crazy people running around. Freshmen are fun and all, but we’re aiming smaller. And no one would look at it as funny when our children live with us. We haven’t hosted freshmen, but I think that could get awkward. Thanks to Doria, we want some. We want our little army.
Overall, I don’t want to give the semester a grade. I thought about letter grades, but I don’t know where to go with that. Pass/fail sounded good, but that turned my little mind into a pretzel. I think I’ll go with “incomplete,” not because things are all horrible or anything, but simply because it’s not done. There’s been a lot of growth, but it’s not done. There’s been change, and change isn’t done yet. Incomplete, then, but with promise.
I know that there is more to learn. Christmas is looming. Monday marks four months from Doria’s death. A lot of those landmarks hit right during Christmas time. We still have tissues left, so that’s good. The rest of this month should be difficult. I’m guessing that it’s tough, and I really don’t want to find out that I was too optimistic this time.