Friday, March 27, 2015

Year Without a Summer

Ohio in this time of year is a cruel joke.  Personally, I truthfully enjoy the snow, cold, blanket of white, and silence that winter brings.  It's something I begin missing every year around November, when the leaves have fallen, and the Autumn color palette of reds, oranges, and yellows have turned to brown death.  Winter comes along every year here, sealing the earth, and wiping it clean every spring.

But in March, we only get glimpses of the impending rebirth.  There will be a day of mid sixty degree weather, with the sun shining and the windows down, and then winter returns, just as it's doing today, as I write this.

Megan's rejection process followed much the same schedule.  Last winter, we were ready to start a new year of life and sunny days together with Shelby, but by spring, the cruel joke had started.  What we originally believed to just be a minor setback, the 30 degree snowy day following the hopeful, sunny day we had before, turned out to be a permanent winter. 

We had a year without a summer.  There were no spring flowers, no long lazy days sitting out on the deck, no happy, relaxing talks on a road trip.  It was just winter.  It was winter until October, when we got the fall colors that were the last hope of her getting a transplant.

November came, and the colors started to fade.  Leaf by leaf, certain aspects of her health, mind, and heart started to fall to the ground.

On November 19th, the last leaf fell, and I was plunged back into winter.  

Winter remained as scheduled here in Ohio.  When I just sat, frozen and sealed inside my mind after losing that last little leaf.  There were a few indian summers, like we always have, when I returned to Crossfit, for instance, and realized that even for a few hours a day, I could have warm sunny weather in my mind.  

But it wasn't enough to convince me that spring would eventually return.  I would still have to deal with returning home to the cold. 

But I found a place where spring could finally begin.  I had to go travel south, to Florida, where it's continual spring and summer.  As soon as I arrived, I caught a glimpse of that first daffodil, cracking through the frozen surface of the forest floor at the end of winter.  I could hope for what summer would be like again.  I stared at that daffodil for a moment, and realized that it symbolized a new round of seasons.  I could finally have a "next summer".  

Megan always loved daffodils, for the same reasons.  They were always the first indicator that the long, cold, crappy winter (that she NEVER enjoyed) was almost over.  

Although it may be cold, snowy, and generally crappy here in Ohio as I write this, I'm pretty sure it's a nice warm late spring day for me.  Summer is right around the corner, and I don't think I'm going to be missing winter for a long time.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

4 Months Time

Today is 4 months since Megan died.  On one hand, its seems like it was so recently when I look at it from a purely intellectual perspective.  On the other hand, most of the time anymore it feels like years.

I feel a lot of that perception is based on the fact that financially, physically, and emotionally, Shelby and I are doing pretty well.  I'm off of the anti-depressant (that only lasted a month, and I was fed up with it), Shelby is getting straight A's and is a very happy little kid, and we're both in very good health.  To the outside world, no one even knows that anything ever happened.  Not because we hide it, hell, I am VERY open about what happened, but because we aren't sulking around like our world has ended.  I can't explain why it didn't take at least a year or two to get to this point, but why in the holy hell would I try to deny it?

I was actually asked at the gym the other day, after participating in a "painting" fundraiser, what my wife thought about my artwork that I had created.

Most people at the gym know the entire story.  They knew Megan as well.  I distinctly remember one of the guys doing the "inhale scream" when he heard this woman ask about what my wife thought about it.  He was bracing for me to flip out, and his eyes were as big as saucers.

There was none of that.  I actually laughed.  Maybe it's my morbid humor, but I snorted, and said "Oh you didn't know?  She passed away (I still hate that term, but polite society demands it) back in November" and pointed to my memorial tattoo.  The look on her face was priceless.  It's so odd when people you are less familiar with, but still friendly to realize that you are a widower and suddenly want to over-sympathize as if we were at her funeral mass, and not in a cool, loud, crowded Crossfit gym poking fun at each other for cracking ribs attempting muscle-ups.  

I didn't launch into the entire back-story, and I didn't get in a funk in any way.  I've actually started referring people to this blog if they are truly interested.  Not because it pains me to talk doesn't, but because I wanted to get her out of the funk she had just fallen into unexpectedly.

So really, because we aren't displaying any outward signs of grief, the world isn't treating us as if we're grieving, and it's causing us to move through even further.  There's something to be said for that.  Of course it was horrible in that first month or two to try to act like I was in a good mood, but for the most part, I stuck with it.  I was so sick of people asking how I was doing that I basically convinced them that there was no need to ask.  Once they stopped asking (and I met with other widows in Tampa for a weekend), I actually no longer had to try to act just happened.

The fact of the matter is, I'm NOT classically grieving right now.  I'm NOT mourning right now.  I really, really miss Megan.  I always will, and I think about her every day, but it doesn't consume me.  I feel like her death has accelerated time, rather than stopped it.  She truly is still around, and I know it.  Hell, I'm back to having conversations with her in my head and dreams, and all we can seemingly talk about is how proud we are of Shelby and how happy she is for me.  At this point, I have to recant a portion of my statement in my original post on here, where I said that "if she was guiding me, she's doing a really shitty job".  I now think she was giving me time to work through things on my own, until she resurfaced and started putting her foot down and making sure I was in the right place at the right time to bring amazing new things into Shelby and I's life.

 Has it really only been 4 months?  Has it really been over a year since she started the process of rejection?  I simply don't feel like it "just happened", but I tend to think those around me do.  Maybe they don't have the luxury of getting to see and talk to her and realize that she wants us all to be happy, and now she's doing her damnedest to facilitate it.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Place of Existence

For years, I have wandered outside.  When I was very young, on through my teenage years, I would often times find myself on my Aunt's cattle farm, traipsing around the back lots, playing in the creeks, or just generally exploring the land and finding interesting spots to spend time with my brother and cousins.  We were always outside.  We camped, fished, shot at old oil cans, roamed, watched birds or squirrels, built little shelters or dammed the creeks with a shovel and time, stared at the stars, and generally didn't have a care in the world.  I was a kid...that's the way it should be.

The farm is no longer in the family, but now, I have my own place.  It's a place that Megan never knew about, nor did Shelby.  It's a place I can go to to just "exist", and be that kid again, playing in the creek, listening to birds, or staring at a beech tree in winter, with its white leaves just barely clinging on while they flutter through the cold winter wind.  I found it one day maybe 7 years ago by glancing at a topographic map, looking for a sea of green and picking an interesting looking spot.  This little glade at the outlet of a small spring caught my eye, and I decided to explore.

It amazes me that I forgot about this place until last weekend.  Megan has been dead almost 4 months, she was in the hospital for 6 months before that, and had been diagnosed with rejection in early February.  That was the last time I visited my place...February 16th, 2014.  I read my journal entry from that day, and it might as well have been written the day she was going to die.  The terrifying feeling that I was going to be on my own had already crept in, and it was just as suffocating then as it was later on in November.

I packed my backpack, hopped in the truck, and decided that it was time to exist.  It's an odd thing for me sometimes to want to write something down, but predetermine that whatever I write is going to be more honest, raw, and meaningful if I wait and disappear into my place.  After a few miles of plodding through that late-winter crusty, creaky snow, I had finally returned to my place of existence.

I set my little stove up to make some coffee with snowmelt, assembled my mini chair, grabbed my journal, and started writing in my own little Walden that I had constructed.

There is something about being outside in an isolated spot in the woods that clears my head and fills it with thoughts at the same time.  I put pen to waterproof paper for awhile, every so often adding a little bit more snow to my pot until there was enough water in it to have a nice cup of coffee.  Once it was ready, I took a break and "existed" for awhile.

That's when it hit me.  Here I was, in a place that I had always come alone, but always had someone to return home to once I cleared my head.  Only now, I knew I would be returning to an empty house, and I was happy.  Not happy about having an empty home, obviously, but happy that I could still come to this place.  Happy because I was that skinny, nerdy little kid again, outside, building things out of sticks and snow and imagination, and not having a care in the world.  Happy because I was outside. 

Happy because after years of walking with Megan, I still had somewhere where I had NO memories with her, and the only footprints leading to it were mine.

I stayed for about 3 hours total, but I really didn't want to leave.  I could have continued happily existing for what felt like years. Finally, a small snippet of my own instruction manual for dealing with losing Megan wiggled its way into my head, oddly, from a comedy special that I had seen on Netflix.  I feel anyone dealing with any kind of stress, not just the loss of a partner, would find this advice useful:

Go outside. Remain.

Every other Tuesday, I write for Widow's Voice, the blog of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation.  This post was originally published at that location.  Widow's Voice can be found at

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


When your spouse/ partner dies, the world sees it generally fit to give you a little bit of time to process that information.  It's never enough time, of course, but at least a token three days bereavement leave is granted, because you know, three days is PLENTY of time to heal right up.  Hell, I was ready to go unicorn riding with Ronald McDonald in Madagascar by day 4!  Thanks, world, for giving me SO much time to find inner peace!

Honestly though, I have to find humor in all of the bullshit tasks you have to go through after the fact.   From paperwork, to calling banks, to verifying it was Megan's body in her casket before they cremated her (really?  that's a law now?  I don't even want to know why, but I unfortunately think I do know why) It really is my "coping" mechanism, and it's served me well for years.  

On March 5th, I had an appointment at the Social Security office to set up Shelby's survivor's benefits.  (Quick back story, Megan was on disability, and when she died, Shelby became entitled to receive a portion of her benefits until she is 18.)  This turned out to be an exercise in ineptitude.

First, I called to set up the appointment back in January.  They had no openings until March.  Really?  You're telling me this will take only 45 minutes, but I have to wait until March to sit down and answer a few questions and show a few documents to you?  Alright, at least I'm penciled in.

So I show up about 20 minutes early to the federal building, because I'm a responsible adult, and I'm not late to appointments. Of course, this being a federal building, I have to go through the x-rays and body wanding, and tell them what I was there for so they can be sure I'm not there to attack the place.  It's a good system they have, but it's a weel known fact that terrorists are incapable of lying about their true intentions.  Since the SS office didn't open until 9:00 AM, I was told to go wait in the main lobby on the big cold granite bench with all of the other responsible adults.

That's when I learned that there's a "system" to this.  About 4 or 5 people were there early, waiting with me and getting the stinkeye from security like we were a huge inconvenience.  At about 5 until 9:00, a wave of people came flooding into the lobby, somehow breezed past the secret service wannabes, and hopped right on the elevator to go up to the dingy little social security office.  Turns out that it's MUCH more efficient to be almost late.  Paul Blart informed the rest of us punctual dumbasses on the stone monolith that we were free to go upstairs after the first load of 10 people crammed in and rode up.

Now, this being 'murica, of course there was a "check-in" kiosk as soon as you walked in, and of course the damn thing wasn't working, and of course there was no sign of anyone that could even POSSIBLY work there anywhere within a two mile radius.  It was only 8:57 AM you see.  They open at 9:00.

Picture a scene of what is now 17 people, waiting patiently in a somehow organized line behind this kiosk (seriously, I don't even know how some of these people could stand up...I almost got drunk from the fumes), and stretching back to the elevator doors. The man at the front of the line (we shall call him "Dunkin") is feverishly tapping on the screen of this kiosk, because he somehow knows that if he hits it hard enough multiple times it will suddenly come to life and bend to his will.  The woman behind him (eh, let's call her "Sniffles") is watching over his shoulder....probably taking notes so she knows how to operate the damn thing the next time she's there.  I swear she should could have given Dunkin a hickey as close as she was.

Finally, at 9:00 AM, the Kiosk magically comes to life, because, you see, it gets paid hourly wages, and it'll be damned if it works one second before it's on the clock.  Dunkin finds that his finger mashing has worked to awaken the infernal machine, and promptly forgets the last 4 of his social security number.  Sniffles is getting impatient while he flounders around for his wallet (his back pocket was pretty well out of reach for his t-rex arms), and asks if she can go ahead and put her info in so she can get her ticket (that's right, you get tickets here, like the worlds worst amusement park).  "One second" is the response.  It is now 9:04, it is approaching 20 people waiting, and not a single person has checked in yet.

Dunkin realizes that Ohio driver's licenses don't put the social security number on there any more, so he finally decides to let sniffles in front of him while he calls...someone.  Sniffles remembers the last 4 of her SSN, but her appointment isn't until 10:00, and there's no way to change it from the magical kiosk.  Evidently, she thought she was at an airline check-in, and could change her seat right, Sniffles is pissed.

After 5 more comedic performances, I walk up to the kiosk, put my last 4 in, a ticket spits out, and I wait for an appointment that was supposed to start 15 minutes ago.  I'm finally called into the back.

I take a seat in front of "Diane" and pull out all of my paperwork...Shelby's birth certificate, Megan's social security card, our marriage license, etc.  Diane starts asking boilerplate questions about my income, if Megan worked, my military service, if Shelby had disabilities, and the like.  She never makes eye contact with me, as she's too busy doing the one finger shuffle across her keyboard.  Take a look at your keyboard, and try to figure out why it would take 15 seconds to type the name "Welker".

These questions go on for at least 25 minutes, and finally, she says we're done, and she just has to go grab the paperwork off of the printer and have me sign it.  Ok.  "Not bad" I think, "I'll be out of here before 10:00, when Sniffles out in the waiting room can come back for her appointment"

She returns with a stack of paper, and asks me to review it for accuracy and sign off on it.  Here is what I have now determined about my's probably news to you, because it sure was to me:
  • I was born in February 2007
  • Shelby, my 8 year old daughter, was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 2002 
  •  Megan lived in Canton, and I lived in Akron
  • We were married in 1981, magically, 26 years before I was born (Megan was a cradle robber)
After pointing out that I am not an 8 year old to Diane, she gets flustered, and spends another 15 minutes trying to determine where her life went so wrong.  Three more trips to the printer, and we finally have a coherent document that doesn't somehow bend the space-time continuum.  

I sign off on the application, and then I'm informed of the "benefits".  Shelby will be getting a direct deposit of a portion of Megan's disability until she graduates high school.  Well, at least she'll have some extra savings by that point.  

Then the best news of the day!  I am entitled to a "survivor's" benefit!  Only I'm not.  Because I have a good paying job, my wife was apparently worthless to the gubmint.  If only I made less or was unemployed, then I could get the whole $250 that Megan was worth.  That's right, after years of paying into social security, Megan was worth $250.  I'm not saying I SHOULD be entitled any benefits, but if you're going to dole out government cheese based on someone losing their goddamned WIFE, at least make it a little more than a token $250.

At this point, we're 5 minutes from being done, and "Schteve" comes over to Diane's desk and tells her to vacate, because he has an appointment at 10.  Really?  There are literally 3 other empty desks within my field of view.  This sets off an argument between them about how it's not anyone's desk, and they need to share.  The dad in me almost stepped in and told them to play nice or I would be turning this car around.  Schteve relents and finds another desk.

Finally, this whole clusterfuck is over with, and I get the hell out of the office, with 9 copies of the paperwork in hand, because they are not allowed to keep or toss the incorrect applications themselves, because they have identifying personal information on them (I would LOVE to see someone try to steal my identity using this information)

I'm actually in a good mood as I walk out, not only because it's finally over, and one more task was accomplished, but also because I realize that the Federal government is helping the make-a-wish foundation give Diane her special day that she always dreamed about.

This being downtown Akron, I had to pay for parking.  There aren't any attendants in this lot though.  There is one "pay station" on the 3rd floor of the garage that you pop your ticket into, pay your fee, and it spits the ticket back out and you're on your way.

Hey, only $2!  Damn, I only have a twenty.  "Oh well," I think, "it gives change."

Yeah, the whole $18 change was in the form of Sacajawea Golden dollars.  It felt like I had just won the jackpot at the worlds most "value-oriented" Casino!  Clink after clink after clink!  I half expected an employee to come running out and tell me I had just won a 1995 Buick Skylark along with my now 3 pounds of gold doubloons.  

Thing is, for some people, this would just be a shitty, shitty day, and cause endless amounts of frustration and possibly even trigger some anxiety.  My response is almost always the opposite...I have to laugh at this kind of stuff, and I immediately want to share it and laugh some more.  I look at these "follow-on" tasks with an outsider's eye (generally, I try to channel Megan, because she would be laughing her ass off) and treat them as just another thing I have to do.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Life Lesson From Nintendo

There has been a few times in life where I've hit the reset or pause buttons.  You know, the one that the old Nintendo sitting on your shelf collecting dust has?  You would be happily playing a game, getting further and further along, and suddenly, you would have to go to school, or a friend would come over to play outside (and I still firmly believe that being outside with friends is better than any video game), or your parents would realize that you hadn't cleaned your room and yell at you to get the hell off of the Nintendo and do as you're told...

Press the pause button.

It was the rudimentary "save" function.  You couldn't turn the system off, and the if the power went out, your game was reset yet again, but most of the time, it worked out ok.  You could think of nothing else but going back to your little electronic world once you were ripped out of it, but you had to have confidence that it would still be there, waiting for you to pick right back up where you left off if you just stepped back and took care of your responsibilities first.  Logic and odds dictated that the smart thing to do was to simply press pause, and revisit it later.

But there was always a worse scenario.  Again, you would be happily playing a game, almost to completion, slaying enemies or toadstools or winning the final race, and the game would freeze.  You had one and only option at that point.

Hit the reset button.

Old video game systems never had a true "save" function.  No matter how much progress you had made, it was all lost the minute the game froze, the power went out, or you ran out of lives.  The only way to earn back the progress you had made was to hit the reset button and start all over.

But it was different than the first time you played the game.  You had experience.  You knew where those enemies were hiding, where you needed to jump, and where you needed to slow down and figure out a puzzle, because you had done it all before.  It was frustrating to have to go through it all again when you felt so accomplished the first time, but the end goal was still the same, to progress further and ultimately, beat the game.  You might not have remembered everything from the first run through, but you damn sure had it a little easier.  There was never a question of putting the controller down and walking away...the game was there, and it must be won.

I knew all of this when I was 8 years old.  It now amazes me that at 34, it took me this long to realize that Megan's death has shown me the same thing as Mario and Luigi did all those years ago.  I was happily playing the game of life until her first transplant, in 2011, where we had to hit the pause button while she healed from the surgery, and all we could think about was picking it right back up and progressing further.  We were in the final boss battle in 2014, where we hit the pause button yet again in order to take care of responsibilities, but there was a glitch in the system, the game froze, and she ran out of lives.  Game over.

My only choice was to hit the reset button.  I have the experience of going through the game the first time and I'm able to remember how it's played, but there are always things that I don't recall because it was such a long and epic game.

Weird thing is, I've found a secret level that I've never seen before prior to this run-through.  It's shiny and new and interesting and most of the time, fun to play, but it's difficult, because I don't know all of the ins and outs and where the enemies and special jumps and hidden spots are.  I know how to use the controller in this game in general, I'm very experienced with it, but not necessarily in this level.  I've already had to hit the pause button just to keep my composure and not want to toss the controller at the TV.  I have to have confidence that the power's not going to go out, but I can't help but worry that the game will freeze while I do other things and take care of responsibilities, and I'll have to start all over yet again.  This secret level is almost an entirely new game for me, and I can't stop thinking about sitting back down and playing it.  Even with the difficulty and unknowns, it's one of the most interesting parts of the entire game...i just wish there was a strategy guide for it, because I'm flyin pretty fuckin blind right now.

So, it's paused while I search for my own guidebook, when hopefully, I can come back, sit down, and just enjoy playing it without ever having to press the reset button.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"Until my Dying Day..."

"...until my last breath."  My wife Megan and I had those words tattooed onto our forearms on February 8th, 2014.  It was my suggestion, and she was completely taken aback by it.  Not because she wasn't sold on the idea of a little ink (she had sixteen tattoos already), but because I suggested it and came up with the whole plan.  I only had two tattoos at the time, so it wasn't my "thing", and she found it one of the most romantic gestures I had ever made.  Yeah, we were weird like that.  

Megan and her younger brother were born with Cystic Fibrosis.  I won't get into the details of it, but in summary, the symptoms are effectively like having permanent pneumonia.  Look it up if you're interested, but prepare to be depressed at what some people have to go through just to live.  Her brother Jason only made it to age 19.  I was at his bedside with Megan in 2005 when he passed.  I was 24 years old.  That is the very moment that I knew that I would be seeing this scene play out again, probably before I turned 40 years old, but it would be my wife lying in that bed.  Four days after her brother died, Megan and I were married, in the same church where Jason's funeral was to be conducted the next day.

Talk about sobering.  She was sick before I even met her in 2002, just after being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.  She was sick when I proposed to her, at the hospital, no less, in 2004.  She was sick when we married, and she was sick in 2007, when our daughter Shelby was born.  She was sick until 2011, when she received a double lung transplant, and we finally got three healthy years where we maximized every moment we had, not worrying about when her time would come, but knowing in the back of our minds that it would come entirely too early.  She wasn't sick again until January 2014, when the "pop" was felt when we were at Crossfit together.  That "pop" was the first sign of those recycled lungs beginning to be rejected by her immune system.

On November 19th, 2014, at age 33, Megan took her last breath.  I held her hand and watched as her heart rate went from 90 beats per minute to 3, then zero.  The tattoo, after spending less than a year on her body, had just taken on its true meaning. 

So here I am, writing about my dead wife on the internet.  At age 34, with an eight year old daughter, I'm a widower.  I was gifted 12 years with an amazing woman.  My perspective is somewhat unique, because after the initial shock of losing her, I came to the realization that I don't feel "cheated" like many other widow(er)s justifiably do.  I made a deal with the devil, because I loved Megan "in sickness and in health, until death do us part.  There wasn't any fine print on that contract.  It was all there in big capital letters: IF YOU MARRY HER, SHE WILL BE DEAD BEFORE YOU'RE 40.  

I simply refuse to let something that I knew and accepted would happen someday destroy my life.  It's not too bad.  It's too soon.  Of course, I wanted more time with her, and would have sacrificed anything to grow old with her and never have to be here, where I am, right now.  She would have never let me do that though.  She was guiding me long before she died, and she's still doing it now.  I can't help but think that she actually lived, and gave her life, for Shelby and I, and I am eternally grateful.   

Did her death change my life?  Obviously, but it did not destroy me.  I still get mood swings or bad days like everyone else, full of rage and hate and pain and fear of self, but generally those days are followed by ambition and an intense need to scream out that I will not let life take me down.  Those bad days are the ones that let me know that I'm human, so I wipe the snot off of my face, get the hell off of the couch, and get shit done.  Feeling sorry for myself accomplishes nothing.  When that switch flips from suffering to determination, it is simply not possible to feel more powerful.     

All of my strength and love and fire went into Megan, involuntarily, for 12 years, and now that she's gone, I've got one hell of a surplus outside of Shelby.  I'm still trying to figure out what to do with it all, but I've got a pretty good idea that it shouldn't be left to collect dust.  The odd part, and the part I've still got to figure out, is that I don't get to just decide where that all of that fire gets applied.  She's somewhere, still stoking and handing out those flames to whomever she sees fit, and I have no choice in the matter but to awkwardly accept it.

Her smart-ass personality (and her brother's) will find it hilarious to watch me flounder around, but I know she only wants what right for Shelby and I.  I'm falling down life's staircase, and she's at the top, laughing her ass off at my misfortune as always, but still helping me crawl back up by bringing people and events into my life that even I don't understand yet.

Breathe easy babe.

This was written for the Widow's Voice blog, located at as my introductory post.  Hence the "rehash" of things.