Last week my school took part in the Terry Fox Walk. I’m not sure how much everyone knows about Terry Fox but in a way oversimplified summary he was a young Canadian, who lost his leg to cancer in the 1980s. He had an artificial leg and set a goal to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He died before he could finish his “Marathon of Hope” but many schools across the country still participate in a walk and raise money for cancer research on his behalf. My explanation does not do it justice but I strongly suggest you look it up and there’s a great new video the Terry Fox Foundation put out this year as well.
Anyways, so our school starts the walk with an assembly where we watch the video about Terry Fox and then we’re on our way with a cause. After the walk, the 5-7 year olds in my class want to talk about Terry Fox dying and death in general.
As someone who has spent so much of the last bit of my life dealing with grief I am careful to not project that onto the kids I am constantly around. However, I also refuse to shy away from talking about death when it is naturally brought up by them. I think that would do them a disservice. Avoiding conversations about death, when they have questions or comments, perpetuates the idea that grief and death are a taboo topic when it really is a natural and unavoidable part of life. They shouldn’t be forced or taught to hide their emotions connected to death and they certainly shouldn’t grow into adults who have internalized those ideas. If they have questions or comments I’m going to do my best to respond and validate them.
I must say that I was both so humbled, proud, and full of hope by the conversation that stemmed from their little minds. It was so honest and raw. It gave me a perspective of the progression from their open minds as children to the closed minds we develop as adults. It gave me hope that if conversations can remain open that maybe their thinking can stay. It expressed their concerns and worries in such a true form. It demonstrated respect, care, maturity and an awareness for others that is inspiring.
Instead of describing the conversation in length I thought I would just write a few of the things they shared and my thinking behind it and hope that maybe it can be meaningful and insightful to you too.Read more
There were so many reasons for Megan to be proud of Shelby. From her sheer intelligence, to her love for reading, to even her quirky weirdness. She appreciated that Shelby had a love for nature, at least tiny animals and flowers. We would take Shelby camping at least once a year, but due to Megan’s condition, that was the limit.
We took one “backpacking” trip as a family. Shelby was about 5 years old, and carried nothing but a few stuffed animals and granola bars in her pack. Megan had received her transplant, and thus was just healthy enough to schlep some weight and contribute to a one mile hike into the wilderness of West Virginia to camp.
I was proud of Shelby at that point for her enthusiasm. We hiked in a thunderstorm, to a small patch of territory in the middle of nowhere, and she loved it. There was no apprehension about not having four walls, light at the flick of a switch, or running water. She, like me, actually wanted that lack of modern conveniences.
Since Megan’s death, Sarah, Shelby and I have taken a few more “easy” trips. Each has had the same effect of me being proud of Shelby, although I’ve had to be proud for both Megan and I. She’s still been carrying a very small load, considering there were two adults to shoulder most of the baggage for her.
A big first happened this past weekend though. Shelby and I took our first trip together, just the two of us, and she started carrying some of her own baggage.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
Father’s Day 2017. For once, we had a weekend day where there was nothing to do. We had visited with both mine and Megan’s dads on Saturday, specifically planning to have an open day wedged into the seemingly constant stream of other events that have been taking time on our weekends together.
Sarah was awake and moving well before i was (a fairly rare occurrence), and Shelby slept until 10:30 in the morning (smashing her previous record of 9:45). We sat out on the deck, listened to music, and did nothing….glorious, breathtaking nothing.
Then Shelby presented me with a letter she wrote.
Summer is here. Shelby’s last day of school is tomorrow. Work is slowing down, after the “sales” season rolls into the “build” season for the company I work for. Weekends are a time for rest and relaxation. Time to get things done around the house, and to spend time in the woods, at the beach, or just taking in an overnight trip somewhere with Shelby and Sarah. I FINALLY get to spend more time with my family.
Only, none of that is true. It has been an endless series of holidays, birthdays, baby showers, slumber parties, and family visits for almost two months. It is to continue until July. That’s right...every single one of our weekends is spoken for already until July, and none of it has been planned by Sarah or I. Hell, she had THREE birthday parties to go to this past weekend, a baby shower next weekend, then ANOTHER birthday party the weekend after that. I seemingly get no say or respect in the matter, and it’s about to come to a head, where I will forcibly isolate myself from any and everyone.
It reminds me that Megan is gone.
Megan’s younger brother will be having a little boy sometime around late July, right around her birthday. He’s getting married in October, just after my birthday. Shelby is ten now, getting her straight A’s and growing like a weed. This past sunday, Sarah, Shelby and I attended a baby shower for two friends that were originally close to Megan (they both have Cystic Fibrosis), but who were there for Shelby and I through her rejection. They and Sarah have also begun forming a strong friendship, as they have welcomed her into our lives, and there's an underlying feeling that they have known each other forever.
Recently, there has been an ongoing parade of happy news and big milestones from persons that were close to Megan. Persons that are close to me. I cannot imagine Megan being anything other than ecstatic...
...and it sucks in a way.Read more
When you are a widow or widower, and you’re dating, It truthfully doesn’t matter how “good” you think things are going. There will always be some aspect of your new relationship that becomes amplified quite simply BECAUSE you are a widow/er. It may be a perceived slight in comparison to how your pror person treated a situation, or it may be an observation that your “second chapter” (I hate that term, by the way) actually does something better or more desirable than your first. It can be good, or bad; it doesn’t matter, it’s amplified.
Each time one of these moments arises, one can’t help but think “well, it wouldn’t be this way if my first person hadn’t died”. It can bring up emotions that are deep seated, yet hidden. Emotions that you did not know even existed, and perspectives that you had never thought about.
One of these moments occurred between Sarah and I on Sunday night, where we both were trying to explain ourselves clearly and with love, yet emotions only continued to rise.Read more
Last week, Shelby started the fourth grade. This is the second school year that she has begun without Megan doting over every paper she brought home, every picture day, PTA meeting, or fundraiser flyer th
at seems to be more frequent than homework. Her peanut butter sandwiches (which she eats every day for lunch, no matter how much we suggest otherwise) were “crafted”, not “made. Dropping her off at school, Megan would walk her to the door, hand-in-hand.
Retrieving her at the end of the school day, there was always a milk shake, followed by a snack, and then Shelby completing her homework while Megan browsed every paper contained in the backpack.
It set a standard that I, in no way, believed I could ever achieve. It was one of my largest fears when Megan died; that I would somehow set Shelby up for failure because I couldn’t keep up with the pace Megan did when it came to school.Read more
It was just a little walk. As we pulled up to the trailhead on Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, there were very light snow flurries. We were at 4100 feet above sea level, and had plans to hike along the western ridgeline at Dolly Sods, the highest plateau east of the Mississippi.
Sarah, Shelby, and I took a trip this past weekend to the area. Shelby had been here once before, I had been here at least 15 times, and Sarah had never been. I wanted to show them both a few of the varied landscapes and terrains that are unique to this place, and I figured a day hike of a few hours would suffice.
10.5 miles later, I quite possibly had learned more than they did.Read more
I'm back in Texas this week, after having visited Mike for two weeks. My last day there, we drove up to Niagara Falls to meet up with my sister and her family. It was her first time meeting him and his daughter Shelby, and it was wonderful to see how well he fit in. Again, just like with my friends, he fit into the picture eerily as well as Drew. Only it didn't feel like he was replacing him at all, but more like honoring his space. My sister adored Shelby. Since she raised three boys, she's pretty excited about the prospect of a new little girl in our world. It was all so seamless.
This was Shelby's first time to see Niagara Falls, as Mike and Megan never made it up with her for a visit. It was so much fun to be a part of that experience, of one of her firsts. In such a short time, she has stolen my heart (which she seems to do with everyone) and I can literally sit around for hours and just watch her experiencing the world and being her goofy self. I am always seeing myself in her too. I am daily reminded of the little girl I was, who also lost her mom around the same age and had a similar spunk and charisma. With every joy and every sorrow she has, I see some bit of me. I also see a different girl, who is already living a very different version of this story than I did...Read more