Sorry I didn’t write you sooner. As fate would have it, your birthday was last Wednesday, and this just happens to be the best forum for me to do this, albeit only on Tuesdays. Sue me.
Anyway, this is the third year in a row that I’ve given you a birthday letter. Last year, it was about cake and bacon beer (of which I did NOT get to partake in this year...you’re slacking, although, I did make a cake that was pretty damned good). The year before, it was simply a personal thing, telling you about all the new things I was learning about being not only a widower, but dating a widow.
Mostly though, the song remains the same. I still would have liked to know you personally, even though it would have absolutley sucked to see you gone. There had to be something interesting about you that brought such a unique group of friends together. Friends who continue to remember your birthday every year. Friends who still hate this day, because it reminds them ever more so that you’re not there wearing a purple tiara and having a beer with them.Read more
The fact of the matter is, I’m a 37 year old widower. By most standards, it’s quite unique. I wasn’t married to someone in a high-risk career. Megan wasn’t in her seventies, hell, she barely made it into her thirties. Statistically, I’m much more likely to be divorced than widowed at my age.
The fact of the matter is, Cystic Fibrosis is a brutal disease. It’s filled with ups and downs that last a lifetime. Emergency room trips and months-long inpatient stays, immediately followed by “feeling good” and leading a normal life for awhile. One can never plan their lives out more than a few months in advance. You just don’t know what’s around the corner.
The fact of the matter is, I understood all of this very early on in Megan and I’s relationship. I knew she would have to be admitted to the hospital for, at a minimum, two weeks at a time, multiple times per year. I was completely aware that birthdays, holidays, vacations and other events would be a crap shoot from time to time, not knowing if she would be blowing out candles or coughing up blood.
Half a lifetime ago, it was esprit de corps. It was smoking breakfast, sleeping through lunch, and drinking dinner. It was hard working weekdays, and lazy weekends. It was little pay and long hours, and not caring about either.
Half a lifetime ago, days went by as years. The soundtrack was Blink-182 and Korn. The beer was warm and cheap, and almost all “home-cooked meals” consisted of some form of noodles or junk food. The only feelings were that of morning humidity and skinned knuckles. My brothers and sisters “in-arms” all shared in this routine eagerly. We’d all been through the same things, in the same places, around the same time.
Half a lifetime ago, 15 people would pile into 3 cars on a Saturday drive to the beach. Seven would return in a state best described not as “wasted”, but “happy”. The remaining eight would have stories to tell. There were no real bills and our biggest concerns were being on time and in uniform for Monday morning’s 5 mile run.
It was, simply put, fun. I miss it. Those were some of the best days of my life. Before I was a widower. Before I was a father. Before I had even met Megan, or even cared about meeting anyone. It was carefree routine, peppered with deployments to some far off land for a few months, again with the same brothers and sisters. Sure, there were arguments. There were times when we had to suffer through trying to sleep in 100+ degree desert heat, because we pulled the night shift. There were times when we had to wait for hours in line at the base barber shop, because every single Marine gets a haircut, every Sunday. There were times when we blew our car payment money on that cheap beer, and the Monday morning run was done with a hangover. But it was all worth it.
Or was it?Read more
`Yesterday, the 26th, was Sarah’s mother’s birthday. Part of a tradition that she has done over the years is to have a small cake, and a bouquet of flowers, as a way of celebrating her, though she’s no longer here. It’s a simple gesture that means so much. She lost her mother when she was only nine years old. While her siblings were much older, and had much more time with her, Sarah had to “make do” with memories she only had as a little girl, and recollections of her older siblings.
Shelby, too, lost her mother at a young age. She was only seven when Megan died. She remembers quite a bit, but again, she was nowhere near adulthood when any memories she could form ceased. She relies heavily on myself, grandparents, and her uncle for the stories that she may have been a part of, but still too young to realize they were something to remember.
As we sat down to partake in the yearly birthday cake, I (somewhat in jest) asked Shelby if she remembered Megan’s birthday. She did not, other than she knew it was in summer (her guess was a month off). I wasn’t disappointed, for she’s still just a little girl. It is not like she has a date planner or had any part in actually NEEDING to remember the exact date of her mother’s birth.
After some good natured ribbing, and finishing our cake, Shelby asked a question to Sarah.
“Did you ever forget your mom’s birthday?”Read more
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