Thursday, May 1, 2014

Week 2: A Pretend Phone Conversation and Other Early Occurances

(I made the drive back to Hayang and a good friend from Hadong was there to meet me. Food didn't appeal to me in the least- the smallest bite of something turned my stomach and tasted of sawdust. I promised both my mom back home and Gareth's mom that I'd try to eat something, as I'd lost 10 pounds during this week.)

March 8, 2014

Look Mom (Mary Maguire Hengen) and other Mom (Olwyn Lochhead)...finally something I can eat!

March 9, 2014

Quick update, since I know many friends and family from back home are wishing they could be here: I was to begin a new job last Tuesday at Daegu University. I had originally picked the location to be close to Gareth, whose town is about 30 minutes away. The university has been great with giving me this last week to be with Gareth's family and be present for everything that needed to be done. My classes were canceled and I'll be able to make them up. I've been in my new office today, accepting help from others- getting copies of lessons and materials to use in my classes this week. Everyone's been very gracious.

I suspect getting back in the classroom will be good for me. I've always been energized by teaching and Gareth had no shortage of compliments about (a) my abilities as a teacher and (b) my abilities to handle hard things. He called me a "spiritual ninja." I've heard him all day today in my head, encouraging me to walk through this, and as he told me daily about how he saw my beauty, my strength, my compassion, and my talents, I am listening to those words and drawing strength from them. "You've got this, babe," I'm sure he'd say to me now. I'm sure of it.

My boss also called a contact on one of the military bases in Daegu and I've been set up to see a counselor who deals with grief and trauma on the base. My first appointment is tomorrow afternoon. What a blessing.

I've noted to a few people recently that it seems like I'm in labor with grief. Contractions. Waves of debilitating grief come on sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Then it passes. And instead of the contractions getting closer and closer together, they are getting further and further apart. Still several a day, but there are longer spaces between. Gareth's mom was the first to point this out to me, and I'm grateful.

I am constantly aware that I am not the only person mourning the loss of this beautiful man. I am sending warm thoughts to his co-workers, his theatre buddies, his family, childhood friends, university friends, those who worked with him in Saudi, or Vietnam, or Incheon. Former students. Fellow writers. I am thinking fondly of his old girlfriends and even his childhood crush. I am holding all of these people in the space that he occupied and I am celebrating the fact that we belong to a very special group of people who were able to love this sweet man through his journey.

I have no doubt that Gareth Lochhead is and will always be the love of my life, and I am warmed to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the same was true for him. I purr like a kitten in the stories you share with me about what he said to you when we met, or how he lit up when he talked about me, or more recently, how difficult it was to be apart. Keep the stories coming. It's no surprise or secret how he felt. But it sure is still nice to hear.

March 10, 2014

This is "Deputy Snuggle." Gareth deputized and named him, giving him strict instructions to snuggle with me in times that he was away. He's got a big job right now, but he's doing it.


(One of the gifts emerging from Gareth's death was the connections I was making with his friends and family from back home and from previous times in his life. His friend Dave posted the following on my wall):

March 10, 2014

Maybe this might help a tincy wincy weebit...

March 11, 2014

First class at my new job taught (on time), despite my initially going to the wrong room and setting it up. The students were fantastic and I tapped into that energy I get from the love of teaching. I think in that moment, the prayers of all former students, parents of students, and coworkers were doing their job. As was Gareth, who kept saying, "You've got this, babe. You've totally got this."

March 11, 2014

22,000+ messages on facebook to each other. And many of them were like this. That love was just silly. Just silly, I tell you. And this was after a year already.

March 11, 2014

I have one student who claps for himself every time he answers something out loud. And another who I'll have to help out by explaining that "I love you" is not exactly the most appropriate thing to tell your new teacher as you're leaving the class. Both things made me smile, though. And that felt good.

March 11, 2014

I'm a little embarrassed to make updates like this. But I'm doing it for friends and family back home who keep telling me they want to hear about how things are going. So, I'll try.

It goes like this. I wake up (I've been sleeping on Gareth's pillow) and I forget for a moment what's happened. Or my hand reaches out and realizes he's not there. My stomach drops. I feel a little sick. I get up and get ready. I can't tell you what I'm doing that makes it take so long, but a 30-minute routine of wake up to out the door now takes a bit over an hour. Maybe I'm moving more slowly. Maybe I spend some time standing still and don't know it. But there it is.

I drove to work this morning and watched a group of little kids wait for the light to change so they could cross. They were hilarious. All of the boys had bowl-cuts and all of the girls had rosy, chubby cheeks. The old lady crossing guard was dramatic and forceful with her whistle blowing and I laughed. I watched them and I laughed and I felt something akin to joy.

I taught two classes in a row and found myself doing what I do when I meet a new group of students. It's a little like falling in love with a puppy you bring home. I watched them and took them in and felt something akin to joy.

Gareth and I were in almost constant contact with one another. Some may say too much. Carving out necessary alone-time was tricky because we just enjoyed being in each other's company. So these times of seeing kids who make me laugh or having a new class experience make me want to call him and tell him about it. That's what I would have done.

Yesterday I called his number on the way home. I let it ring and I let the Korean message play- the one that says the caller is not available. I kept the phone to my ear and told Gareth about my day. "Hey, babe," I said. I'm just driving home from Costco. Oh, nothing much. My day? It was great. Funny classes. I had this one student who..." I pretended. I pretended he was there.

I think about his family a lot. I think about what they're doing now- preparing for the funeral. I think about his friends that I never met. I think about past girlfriends. I think of these people and I want to reach out to them. I want to mourn with them. I want to comfort them.

The bursts of tears come less frequently than last week, but they still come. I made it through 2 classes without incident, but was hit with a big wave as soon as the students left the room. Teeth-chattering grief. Knee-buckling grief. I let myself feel it because I know it's necessary and I also know it passes. I'm riding the waves.

In the meantime, I'm focusing on several things- the incredible love I feel from so many people. I'm so lucky. I'm focusing on the new connections and intensified ones brought about by Gareth's death. I'm trying to love on those who need it and accept the love that's coming my way, too. I'm remembering heaps of good times with Gareth and letting go of any what-ifs. This seems to be how it's done. One moment at a time.

March 12, 2014

That hurt. Going to my first Korean language class. I can't tell you the number of times we came out of the station and took these stairs, often stopping to hug for long minutes.

March 13, 2014

Dear God, I know I'm not the only one grieving. I'm not the only one to get a reminder when least expecting it of the loss of our sweet friend. I know I'm not the only one pouring over shared times and replaying those memories as a way to remain connected. Today I'm sending every good thought I have, every bit of love, every virtual hug, kiss on the head, long comforting embrace, every bit of laughter I can bring up to all who were lucky enough to be connected to Gareth Lochhead. I am loving on common friends that I know and those I have yet to meet in person. Please, God, help ease the pain of Gareth's friends, family, theater buddies, coworkers, church family, spiritual partners, fellow travelers, educators, neighbors, former girlfriends, adopted siblings, mentors, fellow writers, and partners in life.

March 14, 2014

(My friend since kindergarten, Jessica, set up a site to collect funds to assist me in going to New Zealand to visit Gareth's family and friends. I was and continue to be incredibly moved, and am planning a trip there in December of this year.)

March 14, 2014

Ate at LaLuce tonight with Paige. Good memories of our time there with Gareth, Beth, Mina, and Caleb.

March 14, 2014

I'm humbled by my sweet friend Jessica Plattner who set up a site for those of you back home who are wondering how to help. I've had support beyond words and beyond measure, and for that I continue to feel incredibly grateful. Anything added here I'll use to help me visit Gareth's home, friends, and family in New Zealand sooner rather than later. Please don't feel obligated. Your prayers and emails have lifted me in a way I can never thank you for.

March 15, 2014

Walking dogs in Duryu Park = making instant and hilarious drunk Korean friends.

 Dog therapy for my spirit. Works every time.

 March 16, 2014

"You must never reproach yourself...or I'll be cross." One of the best things anyone's ever said to me. And it was said lovingly by Gareth's father while holding my hands and looking me in the eye. I needed to draw strength from that today. And I needed to send prayers to anyone feeling or directing blame at others. We've lost our dear one. We are grieving. Let's be kind to ourselves and one another.


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