Thursday, April 30, 2015

Weeping Willows

Hey babe,

Do you remember this place? Do you remember how much Shelby loves coming here? It was the first place that Shelby and I ever took a hike, and it's the final place, a year ago, that you and I took a walk. I can still remember Shelby running around, picking up last year’s acorns, the few remaining ones left alone by the squirrels at least. I remember holding your hand and just walking, letting her be fascinated by nature, as she always was, and still is. We strolled...slowly. You had already been in rejection for a few months, but you weren't sick enough yet that you couldn't shuffle along.

We could smell the dogwood trees blooming, and I remember you commenting on how they smelled so much better than any perfume that anyone had ever worn around you, and how, for a change, a potent scent didn't make you cough.

I remember being terrified at the time that this would be the last walk we would ever take together. Turns out, my fear would become reality in November..

God, how many times we came here, and walked the different paths through the various gardens, but we always ended up here, at the “Weeping Collection”.

You loved weeping willows. They were your favorite tree, and every time we would pass one on a drive, you would always comment on how much you loved them. I always wished that we lived somewhere where I could have planted one for you. They need more space, and our little white house with the white picket fence on a ⅛ acre city lot in Akron just would not suffice. I wish we had gotten even just a year or two more...long enough we could have moved, and I could have planted that willow for you on the little mini-farm I always wanted to live out the rest of my days on. I knew you weren't going to be around forever, but I had at least hoped for the chance to get you out of the city.

We would have renewed our vows on our 10th anniversary, this coming August, right here under this weeping willow in the gazebo. I had decided upon it on our walk, but I never got the chance to tell you.

So, I came back here today to write this to you. I had to come in the spring, just to remember that walk, and all the sights, sounds, and smells. Honestly, what I needed most was to sit and mourn you for awhile. I haven’t mourned the loss of you for some time because frankly, I've been happy. I needed to sit here and talk to you, honestly, deeply, and frankly, in a place that was one of the last that you and I shared before sitting quietly among industrial tile floors, a ventilator pumping away, and IV poles for six months, and I needed to do it alone, at least this first time.

I’m sorry babe. I’m sorry that I didn't move fast enough in life to plant that willow for you, or to renew our vows under the little gazebo covered in wisteria. If I knew then what I know now, we would have done it that very day. There was no sense in waiting for a specific date, because honestly, the vows I took, and wanted to renew, meant the world to me no matter when they were stated. I guess there is no sense in renewing them now, as now that death has done us part, they can never be broken. I am morbidly proud of that fact.

Unfortunately, we can only know what we know now. I know now that you were preparing me, for 12 years, to be the man I am today. I know now that, other than still being alive and healthy, you wouldn't have it any other way for Shelby or I. I know now that I am supposed to continue my life as if you were still here with us, but with someone else that is just as special as you were, and that I can love just as much as I loved you.

I know now that every spring, I should come here, walk, talk to you, mourn you, and thank you for being who you were, and who you continue to reveal yourself to be. I know now that the same thanks should have been given to you while you were alive. I know now that those who deserve thanks and love should get it then and there, when I’m feeling it, and not on some arbitrary “special occasion”, because there aren't any guarantees that the special occasion will occur.

You taught me all of this, Megan. You've taught me that I can love even more than I ever thought possible, and that my love for you will continue to grow right alongside my new love. You've brought me to where I am today, and you'll continue to take me where I'm going. In that sense, we're still holding hands, walking together, and I know you'll be there by my side the rest of my life. Shelby? She's running just ahead, taking in everything on her own terms, but always under both of our watchful eyes.

Thank you.

Take care babe, I love you.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Setting a Standard

Shelby needs to have an example of what a caring, devoted man, father, and husband should be.  She is a mere 8 years old, but I believe most readers here will understand when I state that, well, I might not be here by the time she's 18.  It's a cold, hard truth that should never be swept under the rug or glossed over, and I can unfortunately speak from experience.

She needs standards, before she even sniffs at being interested in boys.  I can only hope that I've been, and will continue to be an example to her.

She needed to see that a man can allow and encourage her to be independent, but to always support her in a time of need.

She needed to see that a man will sacrifice his own happiness, not in love, obviously, but in general for his wife's well-being.

She needed to see that a man will hold his wife's hair for 1.5 hours, every morning for a decade, as she has her routine coughing fits, and that it is never seen as normal to him.

She needed to see that a man will be calm and collected and able to make informed, quick decisions when faced with his wife coughing up pints of blood.

She needed to see that a man will carry his wife to bed when she can't walk up the stairs, and that it is always effortless.

She needed to see that a man will bathe his 33 year old wife as she cries, because she can no longer do it herself.

She needed to see that no amount of sickness, frustration, or trauma will ever make a man walk away from a woman he truly loves.

She needed to see that 12 years is not nearly enough time for a man to give all of his love to his wife.

She needed to see that a man can be strong most of the time, but it's OK for them to cry when their goddamn wife dies.

She needs to see that a man will fulfill his vows, in sickness and in health, until death does him part from his wife.

She needed to see what true love is, and she needs to see it again.

She needs to see that though a new woman may be now part of his life, a man can and will still love his wife, and the mother of his beautiful daughter just as much.

She needs to see that a man in this situation will make smart decisions about bringing a new woman into his daughter's life.  Decisions not based on loneliness.

She needs to see that a child is always the priority for a man, but he is able to balance that with someone new that he truly loves.

She needs to see what it's like for two smart, experienced adults to meet and fall for each other in a healthy way.

She needs to see that a man can only expand his heart with love for another person, rather than replace space that someone else previously held.

She needs to see that a man should have his own drive and determination, but that the women in his life will always factor into that.

She needs to see that a man can lose his wife, but still have the confidence to move forward and keep living life without fear.

She needs to see that a man will always honor, cherish, and respect a woman's past, and know that it is what makes her who she is.

She needs to see that a man will always tell his worst truth, rather than his best lie.

She needs to see that lightning can indeed strike twice.

Shelby needed to see me love and take care of Megan for those years. As much as it pains me to say this, Megan becoming sicker and dying was another learning experience for her.  She learned that although her dad bent over backwards, he didn't break, and would walk to the end of the earth for the woman he loves.  He didn't shut down or stop taking care of his one remaining piece of his wife.  She deserves to be honored, respected, loved, and taken care of by a man just as much as I honored, respected, and loved Megan.

As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that Megan also set a standard for Shelby, upon which she can judge all women.  She has briefly met this new woman, just through a video call, and she has fully approved.  She has even made the statement that she is "magnificent", and she can't wait to do things with her.  To have Shelby not only approve, but to encourage me to love the new woman means the world to me, because Shelby is the closest I will ever come to having Megan's approval.

Shelby knows I deserve a woman that loves me just as much as her mother did.  She knows that whatever woman comes into my life will need to be strong, driven, smart, and ultimately, will need to accept that Megan is and always will be a part of our lives.  She knows that no woman could ever replace Megan, and that a new one should only compliment her.

She knows that this new woman fills out all of those check-boxes.

No matter what anyone else's opinion is on new love, there is only one person's that matters to me, and that is Shelby's.

I need to ensure that as I move forward with this new woman that the example I set with Megan continues on.  Megan is no longer here to advise Shelby on these matters, so all I can do is lead by example.

I am setting the standard by which Shelby will judge all men.

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

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Where do you Want to be in Five Years?

I hate this question in job interviews, not only because it's cliche, but also because it's a bullshit question.  First of all, if I'm interviewing for a position, I obviously don't work there yet, do I, dipshit?  How the hell am I supposed to know where I want to be in five years in relation to your company?  I might hate the place two days after I start.  "Well sir, I would like to be running the company, with 10 weeks paid vacation, a corner office, and a liquor cabinet near my desk like Don Draper, only I'm never wearing a suit"

It's so dishonest.  Really, if we're strictly talking about where I wanted to be in five years in relation to the company I'm interviewing for, it would basically be that I want to still be working here, and not wanting to rip my hair out every single day.  I want a decent amount of vacation time, a salary I think is fair, and to not feel like the entire company's business rests on my shoulders when someone's printer goes down, let alone when I want to take a half day.

Let me talk about where I want to be in five years in general, from this very point in time.  I've done a ton of reflecting on this, and it hasn't only been since Megan died.  We had talked about it for a few years, albeit not too seriously, but she knew that deep in my heart, it's what I really wanted, not just for me, but for us.

A little background is in order.  I'm an IT systems engineer by trade.  I make a very good salary.  I get paid vacation, sick days, and at my current employer, a private office.  I have good health insurance, no job security issues, and generally, the day to day tasks I'm faced with are very easily handled.  I've been doing this for 17 years now.

I don't want it anymore.  It is NOT interesting or challenging or in any way enjoyable.  Its a goddamned paycheck is what it is.  For what?  So I can have three cars and eat steak instead of hot dogs?  Yes, I have another person to feed, clothe, and shelter with Shelby.  You know what?  She likes hot dogs and reading books.  She's just fine being entertained by an old smartphone with no service plan and wathcing netflix on the shattered screen.

We (including Megan) are not materialistic.  I worked so we had health insurance to keep Megan alive as long as she did.  She knew I was miserable, but it was a reality that I needed to pursue this career to keep her healthy.  I have the money, so I buy shit, simple as that.

So where would I like to be in five years?  Someplace else, geographically, mentally, and financially.  I'll keep working in IT as long as I need to in order to reach that goal.  I'll pay off whatever debt we have, ensure we're stable, sell some things, and start a new life for both of us, on my own terms.  I'm older and wiser now than when I was 17 and shipping off to boot camp.  I can decipher the things I need versus the things I simply want.

What I need is for Shelby to be smart, happy, well adjusted, and ready to be her own woman and make her own decisions when she grows up.  I have no doubt she will achieve that goal I've set for her in whatever way her amazing little brain and heart decides.  I'm going to make sure that little girl grows up to rule the goddamned world.

What I want is for that to occur, but to finally be doing what I really desire, which is wandering the wilds.  There are ways to do this, and even to still monetize it.  Something I've always wanted is to be a wilderness guide.  NOLS offers these courses, allowing me to become certified to do just that.  In five years, if I play my cards right, I could be wandering the Rockies or Appalachians, taking people with me, and teaching them all about the wonders of these places and how to appreciate them.  Yes, I already have the background experience.  I'm self taught.  Now I have the means to make it official by taking a course.  Yes, it sounds all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but hell, I do this stuff for free now.  

Talk about a life change.  Honestly, I've been keeping up with the Jonses for so long, over half of my life, that I don't even know exactly how to roadmap something like this.  What I do know, is that when I was 8 or 9 years old, I would pour over trail guides and maps of wherever we would be taking a family vacation, and I would plan the entire day out and know the ins-and-outs of every single trail or overlook we would be passing.  I could tell you exactly what species of maple tree you were looking at, even in winter.  I could forage for ramps, berries, watercress, and any other multitude of edible plant.  (I still make dendelion salds from the weeds in my front yard from time to time)  I've wanted to guide people into the woods for that long.  I could pack my bags in about 15 minutes, drive to Dolly Sods in West Virginia, and get someone to any single point in that federal wilderness without so much as a glance at a map.  I want to do that for people.

I want to be a modern day Mors Kochanski, John Muir, Ansel Adams, and Henry David Thoreau all rolled into one.  I want to be the person, as an adult, that can shepherd a group of unassuming "city folk" into the back of beyond, and show them why these places are so special.  I want to make sure that that 8 year old me, pouring over trail guides, learning how to use a compass, reading books upon books about the wilderness and how to survive and thrive in it is brought out in people of any age.  I want to write about it for those that aren't there, in those spaces, and make them want be there with simple words.

I don't care about money, fame, or fortune.  I really don't.  I care about Shelby.  We don't need a little house with a white picket fence, two dogs, three cars, and cable TV to be healthy, smart, and happy.  She already has that same love for nature and learning about it that I did when I was 8 years old.  She grabs a map at every trailhead we go to.  She reads books about wildflowers, insects, trees, and mountains.  She can sit, starry-eyed, and just flip through a photo book of the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, and can tell you all about the various landmarks at a glance, without ever having been there.  She is my doppelganger.

So, where do I want to be in five years?  I want to be shepherding people like Shelby, regardless of their age, over the river and through the woods to what could be their own calling or love.  If people pay me to do that, all the better.  I think I've finally come to the realization though, that through all this time, it's the one "job" that no one would ever have to pay me to do.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Expect the Unexpected

Every other Tuesday, I am a featured writer for Widow's Voice, located at This was posted on Tuesday, March 31st.    
Megan had not only given me permission to "move on" again once she was gone, she had outright demanded it, years before she died.  She refused to take my heart with her, leaving a hole in me that could never be filled.  This is why, in the deepest pit of my soul, I believe she has brought someone new into my life in the best way possible: unexpectedly.

By random occurrence, I have met a new woman.  I wasn't out looking for a date, or even looking at women as something desirable or needed, when she just happened to sit down next to me at a bar where I was hanging out with some mutual friends.  I was completely numb at the time, with no desire to interact with anyone, so I was just gritting my teeth and trying to act "normal" by making small talk.

Then she sat down.  Damn.

We exchanged a few cordial "get to know the basics" questions, and immediately became fast friends.  Although completely platonic, I was blindsided by a connection that I had never expected to occur.  Suddenly, I was transported back to December 10th, 2002, when I walked into a Kay-Bee toy store, met Megan, and unexpectedly, my whole journey began over a cash register, pudding cups, and Van Wilder in her mother's basement.

Since that time, this new woman and I have talked every day, sometimes for hours on end.  The connection we found at that bar has only grown, without any signs of slowing.  I am again faced with a question that is confusing to me, albeit in a newly pleasant way, and that is "what would Megan think?"

Our relationship has matured, and we have committed to each other.  She gets me, my story, and understands it all, just as I get her, and her story.  We know for a fact that Megan is a part of this relationship, and we BOTH cherish her and wish she was here.  A better person could not have found me.  She has encouraged me to love Megan even more, and I do.

I am truly and deeply happy, for the first time in well over a year.  Though Megan died only four short months ago, she was "dying" long before that, so my happiness was put on hold when it began, and obliterated when she died.  She knew this.  It's why we had the final  "talk" in June, when she was admitted for her last 6 month stay.

I am truly sympathetic to all widows that did not have this "luxury" of knowing their dead partner's wishes before they died.  Though incredibly hard to swallow at the time, Megan said these exact words to me as she lay dying in a hospital bed in Cleveland:

"Don't you dare sit around by yourself if I die.  You need someone else.  Now go get me some broccoli and cheese soup downstairs"

That was Megan.  Frank, to the point, then shifting gears into bossing me around.  She was a goddamned master of living in the moment, influencing the future, and always being right.  That is why I don't feel guilty in the slightest about being happy with a wonderful woman other than my wife.  It is a powerful reality of my heart, and my mind.  Of course, I am still a logical, cynical person at my core, and I know that opening myself up to this could result in a crash of epic proportions.  I am still completely terrified of that happening, because it's been over a decade since I took this kind of risk.

I still reflect upon the absence of Megan every day, but there has been somewhat of a shift in that perspective.  I've gone past the "acceptance" stage of losing her.  She's dead.  No sugar coating it.  What I pine for the most about her is our friendship.  It isn't the affection, her sharp wit, her motherly instincts, and her uncanny ability to be strong in the face of death.  It is her friendship that I miss right now.  I want her to appear, when I am with this new woman, smile, give me a high five, and say "about damn time, idiot, she's magnificent"

How strange is that?  To know that I am falling for another woman, and to want my dead wife to be not only pleased about it but present to witness what is happening?  Honestly, given some of the signs I've seen since meeting this new woman, I'm positive that it was Megan that made sure I was sitting at that bar, and that there was a seat left open beside me.  She expected it, she wanted it, and she made it happen.

I love Megan even more for bringing someone new into my life at just the right, unexpected time, and that is key.  12 years ago, Megan and I crashed into each other like a freight train, and though I'm now left without her in the physical world, she continues to surprise me in whatever ethereal world she exists in now.  I am still putting blind faith into everything about her, and expecting the unexpected.

There is so much more for me to say about all of this.  For now, I am content in the belief that Megan has my back, and she's going to make sure I'm happy.  I just wish she was here to share it with.  I miss my best friend and partner-in-crime, poking fun at me, but also being happy for me.