A letter

COURTNEYICECREAMDear Courtney,

You left us almost 3 months ago. (2 months, 13 days, 3 hours and 42 minutes to be exact, but who’s counting.)

“You left us…” I hate this wording. Countless English professors and bosses trained me over the years to avoid the passive voice. But the passive voice seems so much more appropriate in this case. This was not something done by you, but something that happened to you.

You didn’t leave us. You were taken from us. Cruelly, suddenly and against your will. You had no agency — no choice in the matter.

Surely you never would have chosen to leave this world before seeing the perfect son we created. You never would have chosen to leave your daughter… not before she started kindergarten. Not before she learned to read and play sports and take acting classes and go to prom and attend college and start her career and have children of her own. Not before you got to see her grow up in your beautiful image, and brighten the lives of those around her the way you brightened the lives of those around you.

You didn’t leave us. The world was robbed of your life force. What’s left now is a crater. An enormous, smoking cavity of sadness and loss. I looked up craters online. They are caused by the explosion or impact of a meteorite or “other celestial body.” I like that wording. You were a celestial body, and you left an impact on me (and the world) that could never be undone or filled in or paved over.

Immediately after your death, I chose to walk around the crater. It was a longer, less-direct route, but it was necessary. I had diapers to change and crusts to remove from PB&J sandwiches and bills to pay, and other people’s grief to manage, like the woman at the insurance company who broke down crying when I told her our story. And I had a funeral to arrange. Walking through the crater — spending any amount of time in the crater — would have made those tasks impossible.

There is more time now. More time to walk through the massive hole and ponder what happened to you. There are still diapers to change and crusts to remove, band-aids to apply and tears to wipe away. But they are all part of a routine now. And that routine came shockingly easy… because of you.

I am truly in awe of how much you put in place for our family. Reading two books at bedtime, brushing teeth and answering something fun in our book of questions. There were also the “movie nights.” Singing in the car. FaceTiming the Grandparents. Dance class. Gymnastics class. The weekend breakfasts with our friend, Bryan.

I was able to pick up all these things so seamlessly because of the work you had already done. You didn’t just leave behind a crater — you also left behind structure. A structure and scaffolding built on love and creativity and fun. Scaffolding that will keep our family together and upright long after I lose count of how many minutes you have been gone.

For now, though, I count those minutes because there aren’t very many of them. It is still so fresh and real and raw. And I’m not going to lie to you, some of those minutes are brutal. And sometimes the minutes turn into hours and days.

On those days the tears come. I try to limit them because I don’t think you would want me to cry. You were never like that. You always wanted me to be happy, even when I forgot to take out the garbage or empty the dishwasher. (By the way, I do all that stuff now without anyone asking. Sometimes I don’t even curse in Italian while I do them!)

There is another reason I limit the tears, though. I am afraid. I am afraid that if I start to cry I will never be able to stop. I think I could probably fill the crater with my tears and then drown in them — and probably wipe out half of Burbank in the ensuing flood.

Surprisingly, there are other days when the tears do not come at all. They could not come even if I tried, for I am too numb. Numb from talking to doctors and hospitals and the paperwork and the phone calls to the banks and the city and all the other tedious minutiae a person deals with when a spouse dies.

On the morning you died, I remembered thinking, “I am not prepared for this.” There is no manual for how to react when a doctor hands you your newborn son after telling you that your wife just died. There is no book, no song and no episode of This is Us that can actually prepare you for having to tell your 4-year-old daughter that her Mommy wouldn’t be coming home again.

But you know what? I didn’t need to be prepared because you were still there with me. Even in the moment I learned I would never see you again, you were there. You gave me the strength to call my therapist on the way home from the hospital to get the appropriate language to talk to Darby. And you were there when I talked to her. You helped me help your poor parents deal with the grief of losing their only child on what was supposed to be such a joyous day. And you were right there with me in the long, shitty, debilitating days that followed (that I was surely present for, but thankfully no longer remember).

You are still here. In Bobby’s smile and Darby’s voice. You are still here in your handwriting on the white boards in our office, and the notes you left on the fridge. You were there in our linens and bed sheets. (Don’t get mad, but it took me a while to change them. Not because I was lazy, but because I liked that you were the first thing I smelled in the morning and the last thing I smelled before I went to bed.)

I did eventually change them, though. Just like I will eventually have to erase your handwriting from the whiteboard and donate your clothes and delete the shows from the DVR that we used to watch together. You will still be here, though, because you were always more than just your physical presence. You were your light and your spirit and your humor and your love.

And now I am convinced more than ever that you will be there when Darby and Bobby start kindergarten. When they learn to read and play sports and take acting classes and go to prom and attend college and start their careers and have children of their own.

I am going to sign off for now, but before I do, I want you to know something: We will be okay. We’ve got this — whatever “this” is. I mean, I still have no idea how to fix Darby’s hair in the morning, so she kind of looks like some dusty kid out of a Steinbeck novel or one of The Others on LOST. But otherwise, we’ve got this.

Remember how we used to joke that our nanny, Cricket, lived with us? Well… guess what — Cricket actually lives with us now. And we are so lucky to have her in our lives. She already treated Darby like a daughter, but you should see how wonderful she is with Bobby. Somehow, though, I think you can see.

Oh, there’s one other thing you should know: You were loved and you are still so loved. I have been incredibly moved by the outpouring of support for our family, but also the love everyone had — and continues to have — for you. You are a special person. And I miss you.

Love,

Anthony

P.S. I gave up on Westworld and Legion. I know we watched them together but I have no idea what the hell is happening on either of those cockameme shows. And it’s not the same watching them without you calling me a “dumbass”, even though you secretly had no idea what was going on either. : )

32 thoughts on “A letter

  1. Anthony you are amazing. You have proven it’s not how long you have someone in your life, but rather the quality of that time. Courtney gave you all the tools you need to make this work. I’m sure she’s smiling down at you and your beautiful babies. You are all in my prayers. Bobby and I share the same birthday and I will smile every year knowing I have a new Birthday Buddy. Keep being strong, but it is ok to hurt and feel sad too. God Bless you all!💕💕💕💕

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  2. Beautifully written…as always. I never met her, but I can tell from all the way over here that Courtney was good people. I never asked what happened…. don’t know if its my place. I just hope you’re doing ok.

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  3. Anthony…this is just lovely read it all the way through..I wish I lived near you…I would help with the children.I am so very sorry for you and your children’s loss.PS..
    I know that you will do just fine.

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  4. A lovely respectful piece. I think I can partially understand the depth of you feelings. You were obviously very much in love and that love has not gone. I wish you all the best for you and your familiy’s future, you deserve it.

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  5. Dear Anthony ~
    You do not know me, but I know your wonderful Dad through AHRC. I did not know Courtney either, although she and I shared a few comments on FB once when Darby was dressed up as Mei from “My Neighbor Totoro”. I knew immediately who Darby was dressed as, because my own daughter (now 29) loved that story too. You have shared a beautiful testament to Courtney, it reflects your pain and anguish, your frustration, your feelings of inadequacy, but most of all your love – for your beautiful wife and your beautiful children. This is a tremendously difficult journey for you, but know there are many who care, including me. ♥️

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  6. Anthony ,
    I think of you all often, I constantly am wondering about Bobby, and I think about him regularly, and his face, as I was resuscitating him, and the way he just returned to us with a vengeance, with an incredible will to live.
    Your letter to your wife is a testament of your deep love, and I feel your kids are lucky to have you as their dad! Take care dear Anthony, your family has a permanent spot in my heart! Love Patty Hepburn RN

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    1. Patty, this is an incredible message to receive. Thank you for sharing that with me. I have obviously been so consumed with what happened to Courtney that I sometimes forget what an amazing, super-human job you all did with resuscitating Bobby. Thank you thank you thank you! And please pass along my thanks to everyone who helped that day.

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  7. I don’t know you. I foun your Fatherbon FB or he found me I’m not sure. Through an Italian club. Not that one where you have to tell them where your parents parents were born, the looser one that takes your word for it. And so I read your fathers joke a day. Some of them are funny. All of them are old, like me. He is a dear. And then I see a picture of the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen which is ironic because my granddaughter is the most beautiful child ever. There was something about her eyes that haunted me. Not in a bad way, they had more depth than most children’s eyes do. This one will do great things. I looked forward to her pictures, I never had to wait too long. We grandparents do that, we post often and proudly. And all was happy,until it wasn’t. I didn’t understand what was happening. The posts implied but didn’t state because it was too private and if stated the it was final. So I went by the look in her eyes. For a while she was on the surface, playing with her new brother, my granddaughter has one too. I’ve watched her closely, this child who doesn’t know me nor I her but forsome reason her face is permanently in my brain. She is doing the great thing she was placed here to do. She is loving her brother, making her broken-hearted grandparents smile. Holding your heart carefully, loving you. Afraid that you will leave too but sure you won’t ever do that. Mommy is an angel, her angel. I pray for all of you especially for her. I don’t question why anymore. Keep some of her mothers clothes for her. A suggestion if you don’t mind. Forgive me for intruding on your sacred space. Strangers care and love you when you’re not looking. Keep in in your pocket for the days you’ll need, it. Continue your journey. You are doing an amazing job. Love never dies, energy never dies some kisses never end

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  8. I am so very sorry for your loss! Thank you for sharing with your readers what you are going through. You and your 2 children will now be a part of my prayers!

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  9. As I have just hit the 10 month anniversary of the loss of my husband due to something as senseless as complications from influenza, it’s amazing to read your story how something so everyday as childbirth can go so incredibly wrong. We go on because we have to, the world keeps turning, the kids keep growing, the bills keep coming. And one moment you whisper how much you love them, and the next moment you’re calling them a jerk because you had so much in front of you to do. Stay strong; sadly, you are not alone

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  10. When I was five, my 13 year old brother was not allowed to play the Jimmy Dean song Big John because I would dissolve into tears with the knowledge that “… at the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man… Big John.” Empathy is painful and, for me, an embarrassing thing.

    I know Darby. Our grandkids mom, Reiko, babysat her for a time. We would hear about her from Mikala, Kalia, but mostly Acen, see her angelic face in Reiko’s daily blog…the zoo, park… all those other places that this dedicated mom takes her kids. We heard about the super cute Puppy Birthday Party held for Darby.

    So, one day, while on a cruise with Kalia and Acen, the conversation came up regarding what they were doing on Saturday after our return. They said they were going to a funeral…for Darby’s mom. No, wait, Darby’s MOM? Don’t you mean grandmother?! They shared your tragic, and happy (Bobby) news. I could not wrap my head around this. Women still die in childbirth? In America?

    I made the mistake of searching Courtney’s name. There I found an obituary for a woman that had no business being there. Too young, too radiant, too loved, too needed, too vital… too soon. Then I found a video of this spunky father and daughter doing a choreographed wedding dance. I remember thinking this gal was gorgeous *and* and able to come off as a bit of a goofball. Golden! I asked Kalia if she’d like to see it. “Wait… you’re Googling her?” Eight going on 42, that kid. I felt embarrassed… but compelled. I checked out Courtney’s facebook, Twitter. Checked you out, too… you’re both funny and apparently, fine humans. That pesky empathy has kept the Del Broccolo’s in my mind… and heart. So, I followed you on Twitter. You’ve been so kind to reply and ❤️ my feeble offerings.

    The love letter you crafted for your wife is such a testament to your pain, resolve, and gratitude. Thank you for sharing it. I hope to hear more of Darby’s hijinks in your tweets. Tina Ige

    WordPress.com / Gravatar.com credentials can be used.

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    1. Tina, this is incredibly sweet. I can’t express how much these kind words mean to me. Thank you! And I’m so glad I know who you are now! I’ve been enjoying our twitter exchanges and all this time I had no idea you were the Toshima’s grandma. That is very cool. Thank you again!

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  11. Awwww, I am so relieved. I can be rather filterless when trying to be candid. Yes, ta-dah! , I am the fun, crafting, bug hunting, baking Grandma in the Toshima* clan. No fear of looking foolish for entertainment reasons. These kids are our heart and souls. I don’t know if you plan on maintaining the blog, but I am enjoying being friends on Twitter. *Auto Correct, stop changing it to Toshiba!

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  12. Thanks for making me cry in the middle of the day you jerkoff. But in reality I’m truly sorry for your loss and wish I could be as strong as you.

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  13. Dear Anthony,

    What a beautiful letter and tribute to your wife and mother of your children. You do not know me, but I knew Courtney in high school.

    I recently went to the 20 year high school reunion of Edmond Santa Fe. I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Courtney. We were in Art class together and I will never forget her wit and intellect. She would always surprise us with her knowledge of US presidents. We’d ask her, “Ok, who was the 8th president?…the 22nd president?” We could never stump her! She even said she might run for President one day: “Courtney Hyde 2020”. I was actually wondering about her the other day and whether she might have taken up a career in politics. From a brief search online, it looks like she brought her talents in the arts to the world, and also gave the gift of a beautiful daughter and a son. I can see that Courtney also grew even more beautiful, and continued to be the bright and inspiring person that she was. She once sent me a postcard from her trip to Boston. And with no one other than JFK on the other side 🙂 (I still have the postcard).

    I’m sure there is no preparation for this kind of loss, but I am sure Courtney’s spirit and life will live on through her children, and in our hearts. In my search to learn more about Courtney’s life, I came across this beautiful note in a family blog. I don’t think it was intended for Courtney, but I feel like it deserves another mention:

    “Maybe the tributes to motherhood need clarity. Maybe they, mothers, should be celebrated on their children’s birthday. Those of us born should not take the bow, the mom that suffered through 9 months and childbirth should be celebrated.”

    You all seem to have a very special family. I am thankful for being blessed to know Courtney, even for a short while.

    Nassim Sarah Seyedali

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