Four years have come and gone since the last time Megan was present for Shelby’s birthday. By February 17, 2014, Megan had already been diagnosed with rejection, although she hadn’t been admitted to the hospital as of yet. Shelby was turning seven, and four days prior, Megan and I received the results from her bronchoscopy.
We rented out one of those “inflatable gym” spaces for Shelby, and invited all of her friends to join. It was a madhouse, to say the least...screaming, jumping, running around, laughing, and smiles from ear to ear. I distinctly remember the both of us having nervous thoughts in the back of our minds about Megan’s health, but suppressing all of them in order to give Shelby the birthday she wanted. She would have no clue, no inkling of something amiss on this day.
Going through some old texts and emails last week, I came across a conversation that Megan and I had just a day or two before the party…
Megan: Should we talk to Shelby about it?
Mike: Yeah, but let’s do it together. I don’t know how to start the convo with her, but we need to anyway.
Megan: Yeah. I don’t like this.
Mike: Me either.Read more
Three years is not an insignificant amount of time to be in a relationship with someone.
Three years is how long Megan and I dated before we were married.
Three years is how long Megan was “healthy” during our relationship.
Three years is how old Shelby was when her mother was carted away in an ambulance, on her way to an unknown future.
Three years is how long Sarah and Drew were together before his death.
Three years ago, Sarah and I met.Read more
Up until about age 30 or so, I was a fairly social creature. I made friends easily, whether it be through work, spending weekends in the woods with groups, or wrenching on cars. Through my twenties, not only did Megan and I make “couples” friends, but I had my own as well. Friends that Megan appreciated herself, but really, they were people that I hung around with.
Most of these friends were around our age and roughly the same stage in life. When Shelby was born, it wasn’t long before our closest friends were having their own children. All seemed in order in the world. Both of our thirtieth birthdays were spent with largely the same people at a local winery, having some drinks, laughing, talking about our children, cars, donkeys (long story), illness, and whatever other mundane subject we all shared interest in.
We would all attend football games together. Or go to the movies, festivals, car shows, or just “hang out”. Even when Megan would be admitted to the hospital, she had frequent visits from our friends. I would go fishing or hiking with my “buddies” whenever I had the chance, and Megan would do much the same with hers (well, not fishing or hiking, but you get the idea)
Seven years later, and that part of my life seems foreign to me.Read more
In my 37 years, I’ve seen my share of loss. I’ve lost all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, fellow Marines, a brother-in-law, cats, dogs and other pets, co-workers, and obviously, my wife. There has been illness, accidents, age, war, heart-attacks, and a sprinkle of stupidity involved. It happens. Death happens. I know of no one my age that hasn’t experienced some sort of loss to death at some point in their lives. The first loss can symbolize a loss of innocence. A loss of the childlike optimism that nothing bad ever befalls us. It’s reality surfacing for the first time in our lives.
For some, that could happen at a very early age. Others may be adults before it happens. Regardless, death is something that we humans are aware of. We are conscious of our mortality very early on, and the first loss of someone or something close to us brings with it clarity.
However, there is a secondary loss currently beginning to clarify in my life. Something I was aware that I would lose one day, but that I will never be prepared for. You would think, after so many years with Megan’s Cystic Fibrosis, that I would be better suited to be mentally cope with something long-term and inevitable…
...Shelby growing up.Read more
Ahhh yes...the holidays. It is a constant ride of ups and downs, like the world’s most depressing roller coaster. Kicking off with Thanksgiving. Spending time with friends and family, circled around a hearty dinner and laughter, I get to remember that Megan died just a week before that day. I don’t get to remember the 33 prior enjoyable Thanksgiving dinners. It doesn’t work. All I can recall is sitting in my parents’ dining room, crying, and having to leave the room in the middle of dinner.
Then, following that Thursday comes the epitome of consumerism...Black Friday. I avoid anyplace that may sell something like the plague that day. “You’re not going to con me into buying your baubles, Mr. Scrooge!” as I shake my fist in the air. But it’s fruitless. Inevitably, I'll need to fuel up my car, and Christmas music will be playing everywhere, even at the gas station. Sure enough, “Blue Christmas”, or “I’ll be home for Christmas” will softly emanate from a tinny speaker somewhere. Done. You’ve succeeded, Ebeneezer, in depressing me.
“You bathe in these spirit-beams, turning round and round, as if warming at a camp-fire. Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature.” -John Muir
It is no secret that John Muir inspires me to no end. While my love of nature and being in the wild places has done more to heal and calm my soul than any other aspect of my life, Mister Muir made it his religion. Every time I step into the woods, I lose connectivity with not only my cell service provider, but with the likes of the modern world. What wild refuge would John Muir have found in today’s endless series of hashtags, shopping centers, gluten-free water, and email? What would his sermons be in this year’s existence?
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” - John Muir
I’m on the other side of the three year mark at this point. I can watch a movie where an actor is hospitalized, and not have to turn it off. I can hear a song that reminds me of Megan, and get a little choked up, then laugh it off. I can even pull all of our holiday decorations out from storage, observe the ornaments with Megan and I’s names on them, or pictures, or items we purchased together, curl my lip a bit, and remember the happy times we had at Christmas.
I can remember dates. Anniversaries, birthdays, transplant dates, and so on, and know that they’re coming. I can even find a private writing of Megan’s, written long before her passing, cry my eyes out reading it, and go about my day afterwards. A persistent cough that Shelby or Sarah may be experiencing only pales in comparison to the decades of it that Megan experienced, but it still makes me remember just the same.
These are called “triggers”. I know it. We all know it. It’s the songs, sights, events, smells, sounds and memories that don’t really “haunt” us, so much as they are just part of our day to day lives. Time does not make these go away, but rather, softens their outward impact. When that godforsaken “Let Her Go” song, by Passenger, gets randomly played, it has become somewhat humorous (that particular piece of music has followed me around since the day she died), albeit still thought provoking, to say the least.
November 19th. It’s “the” date. A week before Thanksgiving, and the start of the holiday season. The weather has turned cold, the leaves are off the trees, halloween is over, My work begins to slow down, as does the seemingly endless string of summer and early fall weekends where we have plans with family and friends.
For all intents and purposes, November was always a “quiet” time of year, when I could sit back and take a breather. I could focus on preparing the house for winter, lazily erect a Christmas tree, and read the newspaper as the first snowfalls and blustery winds crisply blew in. Full blown winter hadn’t arrived yet, and you would not catch me anywhere near a shopping area this time of year. The lawn and any gardens or flowerbeds are dormant, leaves are cleaned up, and there isn’t any real snow to shovel yet.
November was “easy”. Three years ago, that all changed.
It is very rare that one particular emotion takes the forefront of my mind for any longer than a few days. In general, there is a veritable melting pot of thoughts occurring at any given moment, ranging from sadness to joy and everything in between. Fear and confusion are tempered by confidence and determination.
Of course, there are periods where certain emotions boil over and persist. Obviously, the first few months after Megan’s death were filled with overwhelming grief. The “busy” times of year at my work are always stressful, and it shows, even when I’m at home. There are times when my “give-a-damn” appears to be busted, and times when worry about the future pervades. Excitement and joy one week can easily give way to doubt and malaise the next.
Approaching three years since Megan took her last breath, I can truthfully say that I’m openly wandering.
And that’s a good thing.
As I write this, Sarah is cruising at 30,000 feet over Indiana. She’s en-route to Chicago, then Phoenix to spend 6 days with Drew’s mother at a conference. We woke up early this morning to get her to the airport, then for me to get Shelby to school and myself on to work.
For the next week, I’m back to basics. I’m effectively a “single father” in the sense that it’s my sole responsibility to make sure Shelby is taken care of, the clothes are washed, the lawn is mowed, and the bills are paid. Sarah has been here for almost 2 years now, and as time has progressed, her and I have become more and more of a team.
I won’t lie, having Sarah making sure that I knew when Shelby’s after-school activities were, or making sure that we had some food pulled out of the freezer for the next few days is nice in more ways than one. It’s funny, really. We have become so “in-tune” that she doesn’t trust me to be able to take care of myself and Shelby for a few days on my own.