When Jules found out she was going to die, we mostly focussed on the present - making the most of the days we did have left together.
When we talked about the future, we covered off only a few things off in conversation. A high level discussion envisioning her living memorial, encouragement to downsize our house when I was ready, and permission to fall in love again. She told me to seek happiness. And, she suggested that Addison and I should take a vacation with just the two of us.
These were the things that she didn't want to leave unsaid.
Jules knew that the month after her death would be difficult. There wouldn't be time for me to grieve, to reflect and to take stock, because I'd be so busy dealing with all of the things you need to deal with after someone dies.
When your wife leaves you so few post-death wishes, you try to honour each and every last one.
Addi and I spontaneously booked a week-long trip to Jamaica in late April.
We talk about Mama all of the time. I want Addison to always know her other parent. To know Jules in ways through experiences they shared, and to know Jules in ways that she never had a chance to.
Years ago, in a past life before kids, we had vacationed in Jamaica with Jules' family. We'd booked an excursion to climb Dunn's River Falls that I remember fondly. I wanted to take Addison to do something off the resort, to have an adventure that her Mama had once had, to live the same joy in having that shared experience.
We also decided that we wanted to have an adventure that was unique to the two of us, so we added a stop to the Blue Hole. This is a pretty new attraction where you get to jump off of cliffs into the blue water below. My fearless kid loves to jump into water.
Travelling as a queer family of two, in a country where homosexuality is illegal, presents some interesting...let me say...challenges.
I want our youngest child to be able to honour that she was raised for the first part of her life by her two mommies. I never want her to feel ashamed or to have to deny that her Mama existed. She has yet to experience shame or feeling different about her family. I want to preserve that bubble for as long as possible even while I'm simultaneously honest about the hatred towards gay people that some feel.
But in explaining our family, grief is unleashed. It gets awkward and uncomfortable. It gets judgemental as I feel the burning judgemental stare of this isn't how a widow is supposed to act.
We didn't have a day where we didn't experience an interaction similar to this one:
Other person: Where's daddy?
Me: There is no dad.
Person looks at my ring finger where I'm wearing both Jules' and my wedding bands. Then the person looks at me with pity or sadness about what presumably is my difficult divorce. Then Addi chimes in, which isn't always understandable as her English isn't as clear as her French.
Addison: I used to have two moms, but my other mom died.
What does it mean for Addi and I now to be a family of two? How do we explain our queer family? How do we not erase her other mother?
We're learning and we have no perfect answers yet. Everything we do is honest and is true to honouring Jules.
There were photographers everywhere on the resort. They shot pictures of the kids all day long that you could buy. It was to "help" parents by not making us carry our cameras everywhere and bring them near the water.
A photographer approached us and asked us if we'd like to book a family photoshoot (after he clarified that we were just a family of two and that there was no dad).
I wasn't ready for this. Not at all.
Not only do I have a strong dislike for posed family photographs, I just wasn't ready to have our new family structure formally documented. We'd actually been working on a portrait project where I'd take a photo of our family once per month and I wasn't ready for our first family photo after Jules' death to not have her in it. I realize that's a conundrum.
But Addi was excited. She thought this was a brilliant idea. She wanted to participate. She was pulling on my arm with glee.
In embracing this photoshoot, she was taking a huge leap forward, gracefully accepting that Mama wasn't physically present. In a way, this is part of her grief process and another first that I'd eventually have to tackle.
The sadness is nearly unbearable at times when you approach these firsts. You dread them. The occupy your mind.
But the only way to deal with grief is to move through it. You can't stop moving. You have to be in perpetual motion. Otherwise, you'll drown. Trust that once you move through discomfort of it, you can breathe again, find acceptance and calm. You can actually slow down.
I never thought that a family photoshoot would be hard. And it was. There were tears. But that, too, was also okay.
The first two images are from the resort photographer, the rest are mine.
Jules knew we would need this trip, and of course, she was right.
Jamaica gave Addi and I change to learn how to travel together. We established new patterns and routines. New ways of being just mommy and Addison.
There are lots of zingers. Grief sucker punches. Difficult firsts. But there are also moments of contentment and great joy. Sometimes, I even briefly forget that Jules died.
We're learning to live and move forward as a family of two. I'm relieved that we're figuring this out. It's not always easy, but it's not as awful as I expected it to be.
I know that the life we're living today would make Jules happy.