Maureen Dempsey

I debated for some time about how to handle Christmas. Would I decorate the house? Ted and I usually did that together and our decorations would undoubtedly bring back memories of previous Christmases, especially last year. We left our decorations up well into January because Eleanor, a new born at the time, loved looking at the lights. I have many blurry pictures of her lying on his chest with the lit tree and glowing fire in the background.

He loved those moments with her tiny little head nuzzled under his chin. He would tell new fathers to try and get their babies to sleep on their chests as much as possible because they wouldn’t do it forever, and man – there was nothing like it.

When the Christmas season arrived this year, I decided that as hard as it was going to be, I had to decorate. Just because he was taken from us, I couldn’t take this Christmas from her. I needed to still do everything I could to give Eleanor some of the joy that he would have given her.

I put up a tree and set out some decorations. I read her the story of the first Christmas each night before bedtime and talked to her about Baby Jesus in the manger. We went to see Santa at the mall and visited some parks where there were Christmas lights. I dressed her in a sweet little dress and took her to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. We did all these things with family or friends, but the feeling of being alone was inescapable.

Ted always did Christmas big, but honestly, he did everything big. He loved making things special for his family. For Easter this year, I got Eleanor a few little things but my main focus was Ted since we always did Easter baskets for each other. But he did a whole basket for Eleanor and wrote the sweetest little card for her. Weeks before Halloween, Ted bought her a Halloween book from the Little Pookie series (which he loved reading to her) and already began planning how he wanted us to dress up as a family.  It turned out that was his last gift to her.

Last Christmas, she was too little to get into it, so this year, he would have gone all out to make it exciting for her. Maybe the only solace in all of this is that because she never got to experience the joy of a Ted Dempsey Christmas, she doesn’t know what she missed.

I do though. His absence was felt in absolutely every aspect of this season.

But I did what I will continue to do for the rest of her life: my best.

Will my best as her mom be as good as what Ted and I would have been together as parents? Absolutely not. But I’ve got to work as hard as I can to give her some semblance of the joy and delight that Ted gave as a father during his time here on Earth.

My nightly prayer over her since the accident has been that God would let her see Ted in her dreams so she wouldn’t feel that void in her heart. But on Christmas night, I asked God if she could dream the Christmas day she would have had if her daddy was still with us.

And that was my Christmas wish. Lord, hear my prayer.

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When I walked outside this evening to take out the trash, I noticed how beautiful the sky was. The sun had set quite a bit earlier and only a little light remained. The storm clouds that had been lingering for two days now were painted pink and it looked like Heaven. It struck me so much that I went inside to get Eleanor so we could look at the sky together.

We stood there in the driveway with the wind blowing around us, looking up at Heaven. I told her that’s where her daddy was, and that he was looking down on her.

The tall pines across the cul-de-sac were swaying slowly in the wind and lightening branched out just to the east of the patch of pink.

As I stood there with Eleanor in the sling that Ted bought me for my birthday, I looked up to the pink clouds and found myself asking Ted if we could just go ahead and join him. The words left my lips before I thought too long on it and I immediately found myself doubting whether or not I really meant it. After all, our family had suffered a tragedy of a lifetime with losing Ted; wishing that we could be taken from this earth to go join him felt somewhat selfish.

Still, as I watched the lightening moving closer, I couldn’t quite pull myself from the driveway. As I lingered there, I thought, if God wanted to, he could call us home in an instant…and the three of us would be together once more. There would be no more pain, no more suffering. We would be a family again.

But he didn’t.

Instead, we went back inside and I began getting Eleanor’s dinner ready. Since I didn’t let her have a second pouch of snacks, she had a small tantrum on the kitchen floor. After a few seconds of crying and calling my name, she switching to calling for Ted. Daga, Daga. Evidently, she was hoping that he would come in and make everything better, just like he used to.

If only. If only he could walk through that front door, all would be right in our little world.

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One of the things I dreaded about the holidays were the Christmas cards. What used to be something I looked so forward to, is yet another reminder of the life that was taken away from me. Sweet families smiling; husbands and wives together, loving each other; fathers holding their children close – everything I no longer have.

Most of these are addressed to “The Dempsey Family,” but that family is no longer. On bad days, I look at us as a widow and her partially orphaned child. On good days, I look at us as a mother and her sweet daughter. But we’re no longer the Dempsey Family I dreamed of.

Some women want children no matter the circumstances. They are so driven to motherhood that they’ll adopt if there is no man to father a child. I was not one of them. While I always knew that I’d like to have children one day, I hadn’t felt that strong maternal pull…until Ted.

When I met Ted, what I wanted was not just a child, it was a family. I wanted to share parenthood with him, and he with me. We wanted to experience the joy of hearing our baby’s first words as well as bear the hardship of the all-nighters.

Together. We wanted to experience life together.

We talked about parenthood – the responsibilities, the joys, the opportunities to mold them into happy, contributing members of society – even before we became parents. After Eleanor arrived, we talked about all that we wanted to teach her and all the experiences we wanted to give her.

We each had our role picked out. I was going to teach her about the less tangible things in life: contentment, graciousness, compassion. Ted was going to teach her, quite honestly, about everything else.

He was so damn smart – about EVERYTHING. Name a topic and he could have a dinner table conversation surrounding it. And frequently, that would only pique his curiosity, so he’d research the subject even further and come back with additional, thought-provoking information.

When Eleanor was a newborn and nursing several times in the night, Ted would sit up in bed with us and read me something interesting going on in the news or just something I had a random musing about. We were a perfect match: he was intellectual and I’m intellectually curious.

I rested so peacefully in knowing that Ted was going to teach our child the ways of the world. When we took her to all the wonderful places in Europe that I wanted to introduce her to, Ted was going to give us a history lesson on what happened there during the world wars. When we’d go fishing on my stepdad’s boat, Ted would teach her how to rig her lines and bait her hooks. But most importantly, when she became old enough to date, he would have taught her how a man is supposed to treat a woman, by showing her how he treated me.

We were so confident in the healthy view of marriage Eleanor was going to have because of how much we loved and honored one another. She was going to see how I trusted her father and how he respected me. She was going to learn the importance of laughter in the home and doing things together – the fun and the mundane.  It wasn’t always surfing and co-ed soccer, sometimes it was weeding the vegetable garden in August.

We were going to teach her how to play golf so we could walk the local Par 3 course on Saturday mornings. We were going to teach her the value of hard work so then she could reap the rewards of a dollar well earned. We were going to teach her both the responsibility and the value of being in a family: everybody contributes, but everyone takes care of one another.

We were a family with so much hope, so much promise, and so much appreciation for what we had.

We were a family.

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When people learned that we worked together, they asked if that was too much. Living together, recreating together, and working together – did we ever get sick of each other? I’d usually try to play it cool so it wasn’t abundantly clear that I couldn’t get enough of my husband.

But I couldn’t.

I loved working with him and even after we were married, I’d hold my breath hoping it was him when I’d hear footsteps approaching my cube. I could recognize the sound of his walk. Always with a pace to it. A purpose. A confidence.

He was so busy in every aspect of his life, yet he never was too busy for me.  Working with him for so many years, I knew the output that he had to maintain.  He was required to produce at such a high level, and he was able to do so despite all the demands for his attention.

Still, when I would step into his office, he’d grin, tell me to sit down, then excitedly present me with a piece of chocolate.

What can I say, he knew the way to my heart.

He acted like he had all the time in the world.  He’d ask me how my day was going and how my work was shaping up, regardless of the insanity of his day and his work.

When I’d call him at his desk, he’d answer in his, “Mr. Squishy Voice” (impossible to describe, so I won’t, but it was hilarious), pretending to be Mr. Dempsey’s secretary.

He would intentionally stutter and stumble over his words – as Mr. Squishy was a nervous person – and then say, “please hold for Mr. Dempsey.” He’d imitate Muzak as he’d hum, “The Girl from Impanema” and then make several popping/clicking sounds before he switched to his regular voice as Mr. Dempsey.

I’d stifle my laughter so my coworkers wouldn’t hear me over the cube wall – especially when we were just beginning to date – but I wasn’t fooling anyone. They all knew I was talking to him.

This never got old. I loved his Mr. Squishy voice and after we had Eleanor, I told him how endlessly entertained she would be by it when she got older.

When he did it for the last time a week or so before the accident, I thought (as I always did) how marvelous he doesn’t care if his coworkers hear him. He was unapologetically enthusiastic and childlike.

When I’d see him in the hall, even after we were married, my heart would skip a beat. How could it not when he’d light up too and flash me that Cheshire cat grin he was famous for?

He’d usually say something inappropriate, especially if there was a new employee nearby who didn’t know we were married. He loved hugging me, a little too tightly, while saying, “Ted Dempsey, welcome to the company.” He knew I’d play the straight man and explain to the newbie, he’s not a creep – really – he’s my husband.

Ted loved awkward.

But he also loved me. Fiercely, deeply, and truly. Ted loved me and honored me in a way that so few ever get to ever experience.

He delighted in me and I in him.

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Our plan was to host Thanksgiving this year.  If we did, we would undoubtedly be tag-teaming between kitchen duty, house duty, and Eleanor duty.  That’s what we were good at.

We were both goal-driven before we even met, so when we got together, we could bang it out like no other.  Half joking, we always said we’d be unstoppable on the Amazing Race.

If we were hosting Thanksgiving this year, I would be making something weird and hippy with Brussels sprouts and he would be making his minced meat pie that my stepmom requested every year.  He was ridiculous in the kitchen and nothing intimidated him.

I usually wanted to keep it simple when we’d have dinner guests, but he preferred to do something that required 30 different ingredients and precision timing – and he’d pull it off every time, WHILE SOCIALIZING.  Ted had an astounding ability to parallel process while managing to seem calm.

If we were hosting, I would be setting the table with our beautiful china and he would be setting up the fire pit outside under the pergola.  When we built that last spring, it was this fall we had in mind.  The wisteria is now creeping across the top of the pergola and the hydrangeas are full and healthy, surrounding the pavers.

If we were hosting, we’d have everyone say what they were thankful for.  When it was our turn, we would likely say it was our families, our health, and our freedom that we were thankful for, but what we wouldn’t say is that we were the most thankful for each other.  That was our quiet truth, and we each knew it.

We were so, utterly grateful for one another, and we told each other this up until the very end.  We felt like God specifically crafted one for the other and we held on so tightly to what we had.

What we had was love – in the purest, most abundant, and loyal sense of the word.  And for that, we were thankful.Mo-84

Everyone told me after the accident that at least Eleanor is too young to really grasp what’s going on.  Everyone told me that she would save my life.

At first, I told myself that too, grasping at anything to give me comfort among the devastating loss.  But as I’ve watched her grieve this in her own way, I’ve seen the folly in those thoughts.

No, I didn’t have to pick her up from school and tell her that her father’s been killed.  But I have had to watch her crawl around the house calling out for him, then lay her head on the floor and cry when he never shows up.  I’ve had to watch her check behind pictures of him to see if he’s behind them.  And I’ve had to console her in the middle of the night when she wakes up crying, calling for him, but he doesn’t come to her like he used to.

Her pediatrician said to show her lots of pictures and videos of him to keep his memory alive.  So anytime she sees my phone now, she’ll clamor for it, crying, “Daga! Daga! Daga!” Nothing works to distract her from this and her crying is inconsolable until she hears his voice from a video.

The Navy portrait of him is still framed from the funeral and I’ve propped up against the wall so she can crawl up to her father.  It’s the largest photo I have of him, so we use that when we “say night-night to dada.”  Last week, she was standing up at it and pulling it back from the wall to check if he was behind it and when she didn’t see him, she crouched down and kissed his mouth.

Though I understand the complexities of a young child losing a parent grow as their mental development grows, not being able to rationalize with her is heartbreaking.

I want to tell her that daddy isn’t gone because she’s done something wrong or because he chose to leave her, but rather that he loves her very much and he’s in Heaven with Jesus.  I want to tell her that when she took her first step and looked around to see if her daddy was watching, that he saw it perfectly from his perch.  I want to tell her that he’s now her guardian angel and he will always protect and look after her.

But I can’t tell her those things.

Instead, I have to wonder what’s worse: watching her desperation as she tries to connect with her father again, or seeing that one day stop and realizing she’s given up on him ever returning.

I dreamt last night that Ted left me.  He felt like he wasn’t making me as happy as I deserved to be, so he thought he should go.

My heart was torn because this couldn’t have been further from the truth.  I was desperate to tell him this and searching for him everywhere.

Then he came to me and I told him how I’ve never been so happy in my life.  I was clutching onto his hand as I pleaded with him, trying to make him understand that he was the best man I’ve ever known.  I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s in the world.

He looked relieved and for a brief moment in time, everything was perfect again.  And then I awoke.

My reality crept back into my conscious.  The pain that swelled up within me felt like frigid water filling up around my heart trying to freeze it until the point of shattering.

Once again, I was left to face another day alone.

Six weeks ago today, my husband was alive.  He wasn’t just alive, he was alive.  Before the clock struck 7 a.m., he had already been to the gym.  Before he even got to his desk at work, he had invariably answered numerous questions, likely solving just as many problems.

By the time I sent him a picture from my and Eleanor’s walk on the beach that morning, he was well into the thick of things, but he gladly talked to me about the seagulls that captured her attention and how curious she was when I dipped her little foot into the water.  He was tickled by the image of her precious baby toes fanning out when she felt the warm water and he wanted us to take her swimming in the gulf that weekend.

We had so many plans.  So very many plans.

On Thursday mornings, I find myself glancing at the clock and thinking, “at this time, X weeks ago, he was alive.”  Every time I’ve done something for the first time after the accident, even running the dish washer, I think, “last time I did this, Ted was here, on this earth – he was with me.”

For a few weeks after the accident, I begged God to let me go back to the morning of September 24th so I could tell Ted how these last six years have been the best years of my life.  How I’ve never known a more loving husband and father, and that I don’t know what I did to deserve him.

God didn’t change the clock back for me but he did allow me to tell Ted that in a dream.

In the dream, it was a Thursday and I only had until 12:20, the time he was pronounced dead, before he would be taken back.  I told him everything I felt and he smiled sweetly.  He said he knew, that he always knew.

That morning – and that morning only – I awoke with a sense of peace.Ted and Maureen-0578

Today I saw a spring breaker in a wetsuit – without shoes – at the deli counter when I was selecting my hummus.  His friend was wearing jorts.  Jean shorts barely looked good the first time around, back when spring break was still held in Daytona (and way before they had the moniker jorts).

When they say “beach casual,” this isn’t what they mean.

When Spring Break hits, I try to avoid the beach, or at least the areas where our future leaders are riding around (wasted, no less) on rented scooters.  But sometimes, that’s not possible.  Today was one of those days.

I was heading to a class and my route took me into the mayhem.  Throngs of spring breakers were walking on the shoulders of the sidewalk-less road with no apparent direction.  Though there was no sand or water in sight, many were wearing only their swimsuits.

I will try to put this as tactfully as possible.  This is a generation that grew up on partially hydrogenated everything and even their activity was done inside on a computer (Wii tennis, anyone?). So cover-ups really shouldn’t be left up in the room. Continue reading

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The second two days of boarding were far more successful than the first two. For starters, I wore my snowboarding pants and an appropriately fitting helmet (first one was so small it gave me a headache, and the second was too big so it moved easily on my melon). We were also getting the hang of it more and felt confident enough to take the steeper section of the easy green we started working on Day Two.

Toward the end of our time on day three, I was able to slide into a toe turn at the bottom of Gopher Hill, so that was delightful. However, when we on to bigger and better on Day Four, the runs were far higher and steeper than what I was used to, so I chickened out on trying more toe turns.

This little pansy move on my part led to making my life significantly more challenging. Continue reading