Here I Stand

Yesterday, August 9th, would have been our 18th wedding anniversary.  Can it really be so long since that day we said our vows on that beach in Maui? He died before we made 14. I hear of people married 25 years, 40 years, 55 years…we never got that. But I am grateful for the years we did have. Believe me.


One of Mike’s best friends died recently here in Kona. Tabo and his family were endearingly important to our happy welcome to this island when we moved here in 2001. We shared so many meals together, holidays, birthdays. His wife Lani taught me to weave ti plant leis and to pick the flowers from our native Ohia trees…I remember she told me the legend that if you picked an Ohia flower, it would rain, and the day we first did that together, it did indeed start to rain. That time was just purely magical for us, becoming part of life here on this remote island with its rich history.


When Mike died, Tabo was devastated along with the rest of us. He and his boys went down to the spot on the beach we had selected for Mike’s memorial, early in the morning, and set up all the pop up tents, chairs and tables, and ran the barbecue. I was blind with grief and will never forget what a help that was.


Tabo was around Mike’s age, a year younger perhaps, and suffered a very rapid cancer that took him in mere weeks, before anyone could even suspect it would happen. 


His memorial was this past weekend. I appeared, by myself, not sure what to expect or how I would handle it. I hadn’t seen the family in quite some time, though I see the kids on Facebook. My stepdaughter who lives here joined me briefly, but she was triggered and left early…which I totally get. It just brings back so much.


But I had those early years here with that family which she hadn’t. I needed to see each and every one of them, hug them, cry with them. It was a beautiful service in a large pavilion at a beach park. I estimate at least 200 people were there. Maybe more. We used to joke that Tabo was the unofficial mayor of Kona, he seemed to know everyone.


I stood in the back for a long time. Then I wandered near the front to grab a bottle of water from one of the coolers just as the slideshow started. I didn’t realize his boys were standing there too until one of them saw me, grabbed me and hugged me, sobbing. I couldn’t stop crying. And it wasn’t just that I felt the loss of Tabo so deeply, which I did. I felt the loss of an entire life. An entire existence we all shared for so many years, and yet, not long enough.


I talked to Lani, his wife. We remembered our good times together, which were many and plentiful with happiness. She then told me with eyes glistening with tears how she had also lost two other important family members this year. She said, it’s not even just about the loss, it’s about that feeling of being left behind. Yeah. I get that.


Mike and I moved here with stars in our eyes. We shared glorious, wonderful, heartfelt moments with this family and others. I cried for Tabo, I cried for his family, his children, his grandchildren. But I also cried for the loss of that life. We had become part of something here, and it felt lost now, even amidst the love. Standing in that huge pavilion looking out over the people and onto the ocean just outside, I saw the entirety of that life pass before me. My circumstances are contriving to move me away one of these days in the not so distant future. And the loss of Tabo seems to be the punctuation at the end of that sentence.


You might have thought it was Mike’s death that would have done that, but I’ve had more years here which I now realize I needed. I’ve had life to figure out without him, friends to do that with, and time to do it. But that day spent mourning the life of our friend hit hard. The loss was unbearable as it came pouring over me.


In Hawaii, lots of food is served at events like this - funerals, baby birthdays, graduations, weddings. Traditional luaus like most tourists never see, much of it caught and prepared by the families themselves. One of Mike’s favorite parts about life here. I have to laugh thinking about how much he loved those local buffet lines with all the local fish and delicacies. But I just couldn’t bear to stay. It was all just too much, and despite all the people I knew, I felt searingly alone.


That feeling has not left. That feeling that I have witnessed a beautiful era, and then the passing of that era. The wholeness of our life here together, the beautiful people we shared it with, and the shocking new reality I am now faced with as I attempt to move forward. It will not leave me, I think. 18 years later, here I stand, like it or not, on the precipice of a very different life, with a cascade of beautiful memories I will always treasure.


Soon, it will be time to move on from this place. But I will take it all with me in my heart. God speed, brother Tabo. Hope you and Mike are flying high together now. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything you and your family shared with us. Thank you for your generous spirit and the friendship you showed my beautiful husband. I miss you both so much.


Showing 10 reactions

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  • luna bovle
    commented 2018-01-29 10:44:08 -0800
    Beautiful story, and I am so sorry for your loss. I completely understand what you mean about the “feeling left behind”. It’s such a weird concept to continue living life normally after something tragic happens. Everything feels so different even though it looks the same. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Stephanie Vendrell
    commented 2017-08-18 16:08:21 -0700
    Thank you Sharon. Interesting that you didn’t make 14 years either. I will be thinking of you on August 26. That is my parents’ anniversary, they will be 56 years, hard to believe, both living, though dad not doing well. Seems the fates deal us each such different hands. Hugs and blessings to you.
  • Sharon Wall
    commented 2017-08-17 17:37:09 -0700
    So sorry for the loss of your friend, loss of an era, and most of all, of your life with Mike. I haven’t yet had to face losses of contemporaries, but I know that will come and it bring all the feelings flooding back. Brian and I also didn’t quite make 14 years. It would have been 17 years on Aug 26.

    Searingly alone – I know that feeling.

    You have such a powerful way with words. Thank you.
  • Stephanie Vendrell
    commented 2017-08-13 18:34:14 -0700
    Oh Sarah, thank you for sharing this. What a learning curve, this grief thing, and how it changes us, and our entire lives. I wish you peace and blessings in your new chapter and think of you and Mike with great fondness. Much aloha.
  • Sarah Treanor
    commented 2017-08-13 04:43:33 -0700
    oH my goodness, I know exactly how you feel when you talk about an era passing you by. The years that Drew and I spent together in Dallas were the happiest of my life to date. The most carefree and full of ease. We had a close group of friends there that became like our family. We’d go out every Tuesday night to our regular bar and hang out and laugh till nightfall together. We were there for each other when the bad stuff happened. And while Drew’s death made us all in fact even closer… I left Dallas immediately. So my friends there lost both of us from their day to day lives. Then another from our group moved out to LA. Now, we are all worlds apart, and though we are still just as close, we are all painfully aware that an era has passed us by. Quite simply, nothing will ever be the same as those years in Dallas that we shared together. Almost every time we talk, one of us will mention how much we miss it. Five years later, none of us have stopped missing not just the person we lost – but the brief and beautiful chapter of our lives. I SO get this.

    I am so very sorry for this quite sudden loss, and all of the stuff it’s bringing up for you. I totally understand that feeling about the punctuation on the end of the sentence. So well put. I can’t imagine how hard it will be to move from there. Deep breaths. This journey has SO many different facets of grief and loss doesn’t it? Ugh.
  • Stephanie Vendrell
    commented 2017-08-11 14:47:30 -0700
    Lisa I know we are on the same page with having to move and feeling unexcited faced with it all on our own. But I am glad to hear how well the memories of Hawaii serve you. I hope the same for me. Joseph, 3 months is such a hard time. Not that any other time is necessarily easier but it is still so raw. The thoughts you have about the beauty of our world and the creation of it all are familiar, since Mike died I have those more frequently myself. And at about my same age, facing life alone now is indeed daunting and oh so sad. I am feeling your pain, and glad you are coming here for support. It just sucks, and nothing much else to say. Big hug.
  • Joseph Kearney
    commented 2017-08-11 09:34:47 -0700
    Today, August 12th, I want to emphasize that this isn’t an anniversary. Anniversaries should only be designated for happy things such as weddings and things similiar. This is more of a date of remembrance or a date of a memorial. Karen passed away 3 months ago today. 3 months of not seeing her, 3 months of not talking to her and 3 months of her no longer existing. I am now at a point where I imagine where my life would be with her if she was still here, alive and healthy. Traveling, shopping, vacations, barbeques with family, sitting around an outdoor fire or just simple date nights holding hands. I also try to imagine what our plans for the future would of been then reality sets in and I realize I’m alone and pretty much starting over. I miss Karen everyday and I love her even more. I hope God is looking over her and taken care of her until I get back to her. I know to many thats just a fantasy and the idea of God is just a way for us to live a good, honest, civil and moral life but in the end its just the end. Sometimes I do question the existence but my only hope now is for God to exist and to hope I will one day be reunited with Karen. There are days when I see Sunrises and Sunsets. How the clouds are formed and intermingled with a blue sky and the beauty of it. Or the beauty of a fresh layer of snow, the trees turning colors in the Fall or the beautiful formation of the Rocky Mountains. I think about how big the universe is and how it was and who created it. These things make me think that there has to be a God so I must have faith and believe that I will be reunited with her one day. 3 months has been an eternity. I don’t think there has been a day that I haven’t cried. Im only 52 years old. Imagining another 30 years without her is daunting and I only hope that when its my time she is the one that will be welcoming me to where she is. Wherever that shall be
  • Lisa Richardson
    commented 2017-08-10 23:30:14 -0700
    Somehow the loss of an entire world, all the people, places, memories is devastating. I feel life as I knew it here in my community is over and facing an unknown future doesn’t feel exciting or hopeful like it did with someone to share it. I lived in the islands 30 years ago, but the memories of that special place still wash over me like the gentle tradewinds blowing whenever I close my eyes. Much aloha to you.
  • Stephanie Vendrell
    commented 2017-08-10 13:04:35 -0700
    Dear Carol, I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Learning to live without them is so hard, it just sucks. I’m glad you found Soaring Spirits. Its a terrible club but at least we have support. Sending love and hugs to you.
  • Carol
    commented 2017-08-10 10:33:10 -0700
    So sorry for the loss of your friend. I also am trying to learn to live alone. Had a sweet marriage to a dear man. I have been trying to figure out the nagging feeling I have had. You named it so very clearly. Being left behind!! I am suppose to be with him. What happened??