Wednesday, January 17, 2024


Hey Al,

Today’s your 47th birthday. I feel like I should have some kind of profound perspective to share about days like today. Like I should be able to wax poetic about loss and love and time and impermanence,

Today what I felt most was sadness. And anger. And I just really want to talk to you.

I spent last weekend in Kansas City with the cottage boys. We talked about you a lot. It was the kind of talking about you that felt natural—funny stories and memories, nostalgic laughter. On Monday, as I sat in the plane waiting to take off on my connection from Detroit, for the briefest moment I found myself thinking “I can’t wait to tell Al about this weekend.” 

I don’t have thoughts like that a lot any more, which makes me sad in and of itself. I suppose it means that I’m settling into this new reality, but it stung, and I was glad for a window seat that allowed me to look away and into nothing until I gathered myself again. You were so present in my mind during the time in KC that it only felt natural to look forward to telling you about it when I got home. I was glad to get home; your parents were here when Tobin brought me home from the airport. We ate together, and I was thankful for it, but it was you I wanted to tell silly stories to most of all.

Today was Tobin’s first day of his last semester of high school. Even as proud as you think you would be of him, it’s more. I try not to lean on him as an adult too much yet, but he is a great help. He’s in the midst of college application season and making big plans. Evan just finished his first semester of high school. He did great work in the classroom and on the soccer field, and he has his sights set on varsity goalie as soon as next season. His heart is as big and kind as when he was little, and he maintains a clear love for others that hasn’t wavered, even as he navigates what can be a big, mean high school. Lauren has jumped into clubs and activities and has the most generous gift-giving heart I’ve ever seen in someone her age. She is magnetic, and I love hearing her opinions on the music she’s discovering and listening to. She advocates for herself and speaks honestly about difficult things—I don’t think she knows how thankful I am that she is unapologetically herself, even when it would be “easier” to conform to what others might want of her. 

All three of them are beautiful, evolving versions of themselves. I see much of who each of them is becoming as fruit of you and your work and love and care. They are each distinct, dynamic blessings in the lives of so many people. Through them I feel like I see and hear you most distinctly, which on days like today is maybe the greatest blessing of all.

I’m navigating a paradox of knowing how proud you would be of each of them and feeling angry that you’re not here to see it. You’re the person who has always helped me talk through things like this. 

Meggie is here with me, curled up against the cold, or maybe her own sense that we’re all missing a crucial part of who each of us is. I love you, Allison, and I miss you more than I even realize myself sometimes. Thank you for more than I could ever list or say.

Monday, November 06, 2023


Yesterday at church, we observed All Saints Day. Katie’s message focused on an image of the Israelites moving as a group to the Promised Land shortly after losing Moses. They had to cross the Jordan without Moses who had shepherded them there. I remember hearing that story when I was a kid as a happy one: Moses was with God and the Israelites were left in the hands of Joshua to complete the journey. 

Pastor Katie’s interpretation of the passage leaned more into the pragmatic reality that the Israelites had a journey to complete, a river to cross, lives to lead, and their own paths to walk. Of course not everyone can make the whole journey, and some people have to cross the river under circumstances that they hadn’t anticipated. I appreciate that, and I find it more satisfactory than the pat, oversimplified “there’s a plan to everything” lens that my childhood self digested.

But yesterday, two years to the day since Allison died, I felt mostly indignant on Moses’ behalf and sad for the Israelites. The gap between the promise of the journey and the reality of its conclusion felt mean and capricious. I imagined the grief of those who crossed the river, simultaneously thankful to have made it and guilty to have made it without the person who was the foundation of their community. There is room for lament in the Promised Land; there has to be. There must be. To deny it feels like a commodification of the people and the process of reaching it. Moses was not a means to an end; I’ve too often allowed myself to think of him (and other people) that way.

Katie and Caleb were with us for the weekend. We hiked, ate food together, visited, played games, and spent low-key time together as a unit. They were some of the last people to be with Allison in November 2021, and their being here felt right and good and bittersweet. We visited old hangouts. We laughed and told stories. We all got to sit together in church. The kids and I have felt and continue to feel the support of so many people in person and deed, especially Al and Amy, but I acutely feel the vacuum of Allison’s absence in all of it. I feel on top of things a lot of the time, but sometimes the enormity of it all still unsettles me and returns me to the anger and indignity that dominated much of my thought for a long time. I want Allison to be an active, present part of it all.

Tobin is in a season of applying to colleges, finishing a brilliant high school career. Evan is thriving as a student and athlete at the outset of his own high school experience. Lauren is diving into activities and band and clubs, making a familiar path through middle school uniquely and brilliantly her own. Their promise seems unlimited, and on my good days I can assure myself how proud Allison is of them and how overjoyed she would be to actively participate in every component of their lives. On the harder days, I can be angry and sad and lament. There is room for lament; there has to be. There must be.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


Today is Allison’s 46th birthday. I don’t want to conjugate that any other way. 

I didn’t make my 2022 goal of posting here once a month, but we’re still here. As always, some days are harder; some are easier. Today was hard for me. The kids and I talked frequently over the previous week about what/whether we wanted to do something to commemorate Allison’s birthday. One idea I had was for all of us to eat at Gocciolina, which was one of our favorite date night spots in Durham. I made reservations for the four of us and made sure that all of the kids knew that they each had veto power. As it turned out, I was the one who wasn’t up for dinner there. I haven’t been to Gocciolina since Allison died. I love the idea of taking the kids there, but the more I thought about the reality of it, the more I felt an eye-welling sense of being overwhelmed. I vetoed dinner there myself and canceled the reservation. I’d like to think that I can take the kids there eventually, but I’m trying to give myself the space to be not-ready.

We started the day with donuts from Early Bird. During the first lockdown of the pandemic, I was terrified of bringing COVID home. Since I was the only one leaving the house with any regularity, I felt especially responsible for keeping everyone—especially Allison—safe. The very first restaurant food during that lockdown was donuts from Early Bird. I remember being nervous and excited for that return to normalcy. This morning, I woke up before the kids to surprise them with donuts. The familiar place and taste felt connected to Allison. Tobin and I went to a doctor’s appointment in the morning, so we didn’t all eat donuts together, but it felt unifying to share that treat on Allison’s birthday.

I had a teacher workday and needed to go in for a while. The new semester starts tomorrow, another firm reminder that the earth still spins, the seasons still change, and inertia keeps us moving no matter how much I’ve wanted to freeze and rewind time. I usually like to visit with friends and colleagues on work days. Today, I just needed to be alone. I was grateful for a steady stream of text messages from people telling me they were thinking of Allison and the kids and me on her birthday, but each message added a little bit more emotional weight to a day (week? month? year?) heavy with it. I listened to music while I worked and made copies and prepared for new students. I listened from beginning to end to the first album I bought after we moved to Durham: Mogwai’s Happy Songs for Happy People. Every track was a stream of memories. I listened to that record on the drive to work during my first year at Riverside. It was on the stereo frequently in our first apartment in Chapel Hill. I remember it playing while I graded papers and Allison worked on law school homework with our newly-adopted Hannah in her lap. I teared up a few times, thankful to be alone in my classroom.

I finished enough work to justify going home. When I got home, the kids were making music, playing games, reading, and making the day their own in numerous ways. The weather was rainy and dark and cool. I was tired. I decided to lie down for a while. Meggie joined me for a nap under Allison’s favorite “magic” blanket. I fell asleep in my room to the record Eno Axis by H.C. McEntire.. Allison introduced me to H.C. McEntire after she and Danielle saw her open for the Indigo Girls at DPAC years ago. Falling asleep to a record that we both liked with Allison’s dog against my hip was more important than just a nap.

Most years, on Allison’s birthday, we would get takeout or go out to eat. I presented the same options to the kids tonight. I think Allison would have picked Naan Stop or Thai Spoon if I had to guess, but I didn’t want to dictate choices for the family tonight. The kids decided on burgers and fries from 5 Guys. We ate together and joked about the enormous servings of fries and gave Evan a hard time about eating so quickly. 

After dinner, we watched a movie, then there was still enough time for some more games and play. I put up my dartboard, which I had been meaning to do for years. We had it up in our house in Woodcroft years ago. I’ve played on it with a lot of the people who sent loving messages about Allison today. It felt good to see it properly installed and to throw a few darts at it. The kids tried it out, and we even put our first small dart hole in the drywall to make it official.

The night ended like hundreds of nights ended with Allison: watching college basketball. Tonight we watched Kentucky beat Georgia. The conversations that padded the color commentary of the game ranged from the dramatic swell of the 6th grade group chat to whether Apple computers were better than Windows and everything in between. It felt almost normal. Now everyone is in bed. We’ll wake up and start new semesters at school tomorrow. It was a day of food, work, play, rest, more food, and more play. It all ebbed and flowed on memories and reminders that leaned more toward bitter on the bittersweet continuum. But it was still a day for which I’m thankful.

Monday, January 16, 2023

I miss you

 On November 12, 2021, Lauren texted Allison’s phone with three words that sum up more than 90% of what I’ve wanted to say for over a year: “I miss you”

I miss you.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Spring Sports+

I have a vivid memory of my mom and dad getting excited (is that really a fair description?) about their DayPlanner calendars when I was a kid. They had dividers and inserts in their two (maybe three) ring little calendars. The notebooks were little leather books that could have been journals or devotionals. When the new year would roll around, they'd switch out the calendar pages and refill the notebooks. I wasn't curious about the contents of the calendars, but the discarding and renewing of days, weeks, and months was a process that stuck with me. Each year was different, but was populated with the same kinds of activities, meetings, and observances.

Our calendar this spring was packed from mid-February through the end of May. I keep a digital calendar, but the principle is the same as my parents' calendars.  About six weeks ago, a friend and I were trying to figure out when we could get together for dinner at my house. I looked at our calendar and realized the first week of June would probably be the first time I could count on free time. My DayPlanner was full. The kids played on 4 teams among them this spring. The boys completed confirmation classes at church and dedicated extra time almost every Sunday to class and study. It's apparent I didn't make time to post here during May. We were busy, but we made it happen.

Tobin's U19 soccer team had a good season. He found a permanent position in a new offensive set that helped him thrive. One of the things that amazes me about team sports is how one small change seems to set everything in its right place. T's team spread their offensive attack wider and worked the ball laterally more for the last 6 games or so. That small switch payed dividends: they beat teams that had bested them earlier in the year. Their fluidity on offense improved, and along with those developments, the team as a whole seemed to come together stronger than it ever had. They finished their year going undefeated in a season-end tournament on a couple of blazing-hot days in Raleigh. During the last stretch of the season, T joked that he felt like he never got subbed out at all.

Evan played two sports for two different teams. He played baseball for his middle school. He played first base most of the time, but also was a consistent relief pitcher. At one point he was leading the team in RBIs--I'm not sure what the final tally was. The competition of middle school baseball was feast or famine. He observed one evening that it seemed like his team either won by the mercy rule or lost by the mercy rule. He is excited by next season's prospects because almost every member of the starting team will be back for next year. Ev also played another season for his year-round soccer team. He excelled as goalie, and has fielded a lot of requests to move up a level of play. He had hoped to play more in the field this season so his skills there could develop, but he wound up in net most of the time. His attitude was great about it; he would admit to wishing he could play more midfield, but he also really enjoys the competition and focus of being goalie.

Lauren played "majors" softball this year, which came a year earlier than I had expected. When her tryouts put her in the majors draft (which is the highest level of Little League softball), I was a little worried whether she was big enough/fast enough/experienced enough to keep up. As I should have learned with Lauren by now, I was wrong to underestimate her. She hit 2nd in the lineup most of the season and played reliable defense in the field, mostly at 2nd base and left field. She was a little nervous and shy at the beginning of the season, but by the end was all-in. Their team started slow, but had a brilliant 6-game unbeaten streak in the middle of the season. They beat every other team in the league at least once, and even navigated some poor sportsmanship by opposing teams with grace. Her coach was consistently positive and encouraging throughout the year, and even gave Lauren an award for the way she grew into the team and her game during the year. Beyond the success of softball, Lauren also jumped in to school chorus and all-county chorus with both feet. She enjoyed music so much that she has signed up for band next semester in 6th grade. 

Each one of the kids put themselves out into the world this year with a confidence and ethic that reminds me consistently of what remarkable young people they are. We still talk at home about giving ourselves room to feel and be and do what we need in the wake of Allison's passing. I half-expected that at least one of them would need to take some time off from a season or an activity. Instead, they each balanced school and sports and church and other commitments with grace and dedication that was exactly the inspiration I needed on the days when the calendar felt more daunting than I might be able to manage.

Allison would have loved all of it. Yesterday was 7 months since she passed away. Amid the regular roller coaster of emotions that accompanies our sports seasons every year, this one had a different weight every time out. Personally, I alternated between wanting to generate a kind of  "do it for mom" energy and feeling profoundly sad that she wasn't in the folding chair next to me for every game and practice. Al and Amy were invaluable all season, helping ferry kids all over, and watching as many games as possible. Our friends on other teams and even from other states checked in regularly about the hustle and grind of spring sports. I'm thankful for the help and the company, but it would be dishonest to say it wasn't difficult regardless.

Now we're on to summer, another "first" to navigate. We have plans for travel and some projects on and around the house. Last night, we ate the first of what I hope will be many meals from the garden. I made a pesto that I used to make for Allison. We have peppers and tomatoes and cucumbers flowering in the garden. I've gotten to throw darts and hang out with neighbors for what feels like the first time in ages. This reprieve after a busy stretch provides a welcome contrast to the hectic pace we kept for a long stretch. Allison concluded a post a lot like this one in a way that reminds me she is with us in more ways than I sometimes let myself think; it also highlights the contrast of this busy season with so many of the ones before: 

the current fullness of our lives highlights so many things I am grateful for: healthy, able bodies; sports; community; a true partner in parenting; two vehicles; a big yard for football; jobs; good schools; and even enough hours (in some days) to make good food for my family.

Saturday, April 30, 2022


 A discussion question I asked this week in class was “What conspiracy theories do you believe in or enjoy learning about?” The responses were the usual tired stuff: JFK killed by the CIA, faked moon landing, Illuminati, and so on. One mentioned the idea that life is a simulation, and that we’re all programs carrying out code from our programmer. It’s an idea I’ve enjoyed reading about before, from Plato’s Allegory to The Matrix and everywhere in between. 

That response made me think of the if-this-then-that programming responses that I’ve encountered over the last weeks.

I used tax software to prepare and file our taxes earlier this month. During part of the process, the program prompted whether significant changes have happened since last year. When I keyed in Allison’s passing, a pop-up window appeared. Its if-this-then-that programming expressed condolences and assured me it could help me file anyway. I was almost offended by the banality of it. I actually stopped the process and waited a couple of days to resume. A coder at some point was told to be sure to provide pop-up condolences as part of the customer service. Was that programming decision itself a reaction to someone offended that the software didn’t sputter regards in a previous iteration? I don’t know which would be worse, but in the moment, I felt like the struggle of the last months was more of an input variable in a simulation than real, weighted reality. It was too stupid and too predictable and too much to deal with.

Related, I realize that I bristle at being called “Matthew” lately because no one calls me that unless it’s a legal business matter. The letters and emails that start “Dear Matthew. . .” often have their own kind of mail-merge sympathy written in. I’ve made a lot of phone calls settling accounts and notifying agencies over the last months. I told a friend that I think I’ve been offered condolences from at least three different continents. I imagine the if-this-then-that on the computer screen of the customer service worker on the other end: “Ah yes Matthew, we at International Conglomerate Incorporated are sorry for your loss.” I recently read David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? It’s a book about loss and tragedy and how to talk about it in a responsible way--especially from a Christian perspective. One of my key takeaways is that it’s often best to not say something. Having nothing to say is where the banality of commercial condolences comes in, I guess.

I have my own if-this-then-that responses that sneak up on me. A couple of weeks ago, I got an email while I was at work that the principal at the kids’ elementary school was retiring. Allison used to work closely with her when she was heavily involved with the PTA. Without realizing it, my first instinct was to get out my phone and text Allison. I’ve done that for years whenever I want to share a bit of news or get a quick reaction. A friend and fellow parent from the elementary school mentioned that she would love to have Allison’s thoughts about it. So would I.

I also wanted to talk with Allison about the two concerts I’ve seen in the last week and a half. Allison didn’t always enjoy going to shows with me, but she always wanted to hear about them. When I would get in late, she would usually wake up for a minute and ask “How was it?” We would follow up the next morning about the show. She always listened with patience as I gushed or complained or tried vainly to recreate in words how it felt and how I felt. The show I saw Tuesday was the first time I’ve been in a sold-out club in over two years. There were fleeting moments when the sound washed over me and the crowd swayed and the room shook that felt almost normal. The quiet in the car after was exceeded by the quiet of home. I wrote to a friend who asked to hear about it. There were components of the experience that felt familiar to my decades of going to shows: I was at a venue I know well,  I ran into an old acquaintance, I was annoyed at another concertgoer, the music moved me, then the music ended before I wanted it to. Home always feels quiet after a show. This time moreso. 

I’m glad that I went, and I want to continue to see concerts with regularity, but the usual progression of my concert algorithm doesn't function, and there’s a hollowness to the experience that deserves to be written about but can’t be put into words.

Sunday, March 13, 2022


I've spent a lot of the last few months feeling overwhelmed. For our entire relationship, Allison has always been the detail-oriented person. We joked that she was the only grown-up in the family. Having to take on all of the financial and household responsibilities over time has been a difficult, sometimes fraught transition. I realize that when I'm feeling most overwhelmed is when I feel least in control. It's most unhelpful that my default seems to be to freeze and not do anything when faced with significant stress.

A lyric I wrote for a song I recorded forever ago said "If I made up a number, I would keep it for myself / whisper it in quiet, sharing it with no one else / I'd have a piece of all the things between infinities / a little tag of something in the mess of everything." I don't know what I was thinking about at the moment I jotted that down, but now, the idea of owning a tag of something in a swirl of infinities feels like a handhold against unstoppable tides. Thoreau's line about time being a stream that we go fishing in is similar, I guess. I don't know for certain where the water comes from or where it goes, but I've got a stretch of it now that I can think on and consider.

As a kind of coping mechanism, I've found comfort in routines (handholds) that I've been able to establish. Most of them are silly, but they provide me a sense of control in a life and trajectory that still feels wobbly. Some of the routines are daily; some are weekly. 


  • Every morning, I make pour-over coffee and allow myself at least a few minutes to sit and sip it. I like the process: the boiling sound on the stovetop, the bloom of the grounds under hot water, and the quiet moments on the couch at the beginning of a day. A few years ago, I was struck by the paradox of the uniqueness of each day--even when the activity was the same. I started taking a picture of the bottom of my coffee cup every morning. No two are alike, but I might mistakenly think they were. Beyond the paradox of same/different in the same activity, whatever complaints I have, I almost always have the provision of time and coffee and a few moments at the beginning of my day that I can stake claim to.
  • During the first COVID lockdown, I started completing the New York Times daily crossword. Almost every day for the last two years, I've found time to solve a puzzle and escape for a bit into mental effort that exists only for its own intrinsic value. 

  • For the better part of 7 years, I've had a daily alarm at 12:34pm that reminds me to take a deep breath and think about something for which I'm thankful. The last 4 months have been the most difficult in this process because my thoughts often drift to bitterness at our loss and the indignity of Allison's disease. Still, my alarm goes off every day. Today, I was at a softball practice watching Lauren confidently work on her form as a pitcher on a new team. Today, I'm thankful for the leadership of my children, who intuitively look forward for the new opportunities and experiences coming rather than looking back at time that can never be retrieved.
  • Every night, before the kids go to bed, I take their breakfast orders and ask them what time they need to wake up. Through this, I've been able to hone my omelet skills and help each of them figure out their own routines with which to start the days.
  • Every weekend, I bake or cook breakfast for the kids. My repertoire is small, but I've reached a point where I don't need to look at recipes for different quick breads, muffins, pancakes, or biscuits. I used to be in awe of my grandma, who could provide food for us, whisking and kneading without guidance beyond her own hands and mind. I hope that I may faithfully replicate at least some component of that for my kids.
  • Every Friday is "bagel day" before school. It's a small celebration of making it to the end of another week.
  • Every Sunday, I try to cook dinner for the four of us and Allison's parents at our house. I find that I think of Allison almost the whole time I'm in the kitchen on those days. Today, I prepared a potato-kale soup and a salad with crusty Italian bread. It's the kind of meal Allison loved to prepare for us.
  • Every Wednesday, the kids and I eat at Allison's parents' house. Amy asks the kids what they want to eat, and we eat and fellowship together. This was a tradition we started after Al and Amy moved here. I'm glad we've maintained the tradition, but there are nights after those meals when our house feels especially empty after we get home.
  • I have reminders and calendar alerts set up throughout the week to water the houseplants, pay bills, take out the trash, check accounts, and many others. It's almost ridiculous how much I rely on my smart phone and digital calendars.
  • Thursday and Sunday are my big laundry days. Athletic uniforms and other unexpected needs pop up, but those are days I set aside for folding and delivering while I watch TV or listen to music.
  • I try to make sure I listen to at least one record from beginning to end every week. Often, it's while I make dinner or fold laundry, but I feel again like it's a little mark in time that I can make mine. This weekend, I was able to listen to multiple records because weather canceled a lot of our outdoor plans.
People ask "How are you doing?" frequently. I usually answer, "I think I'm doing ok." That's the most honest response I can give. I have handholds each day that make me feel like I can manage. I have moments when a deluge of tasks or responsibilities feels like it might sweep me away. When I'm asked to give a blessing before a meal, or when I think to say one, I find myself falling back on a prayer that I've borrowed from Sara Miles: "God of provision and abundance, you feed us every day. Thank you. Guide us, help us, and teach us that we might also feed others in your name. Amen."

My prayer, today and every day, is that I love and provide and laugh and cry as fully as I am able for as long as I am able.