Letter to Ryan

One of the biggest regrets I have is not taking the time to record videos of Theresa for Ryan.  Every big event, holiday, birthday or milestone would be a great moment to have recorded words to Ryan.  We talked about doing that, but there always seemed to be more time and to be candid, the thought of doing that seemed quite taboo.  Once we realized that time was short, it was too late to do this.  I’ve decided to not make that mistake going forward.  I’m going to document things for Ryan so he can look at, read, touch and share with his wife and children for many years to come.  I started with a little letter to him.

Dear Ryan:

On May 20, 2005, your Mom woke up very early and spent some time in the bathroom. She came out of the bathroom, flipped on the bedroom lights and started saying to me “Wake up, wake up, wake up Daddy”.  I was always the better morning person, but it took me a few seconds to realize what she was saying.  Yes, after so many years of trying we finally were going to have our first child.  I got out of bed, looked at the pregnancy test, three in total, and realized that it was real.  I remember wrapping my arms around her, dancing around the bedroom and both of us laughing.

We had a trip planned to Omaha for Memorial Day and were leaving later in the day.  When we walked up the exit ramp in Omaha, Nana was waiting to pick us up.  Your Mom gave her a hug and said, guess what, you’re going to be a grandma again.  I wish you could have seen that exchange between the two of them.  It was a wonderful moment with tears of joy flowing all around.  Everyone had been waiting for you to come for many years.

You caused quite a bit of distress to Mom’s body during her pregnancy.  She started having migraine headaches, dehydration and nausea.  Yet, through all of this, her first worry was you.  She wouldn’t take any medicine for fear of hurting you who were growing inside of her.  Eventually, things got better and the time came for you to be born.  You were a planned delivery on January 24, 2006.  The schedule kept getting moved back and finally, you came into our life at 4:51PM.  You were a 19.5”, 7.4 pound bundle of joy.  And in that single instant, at 4:51PM, our lives were forever changed for the better.

I’m happy to tell you that your first word was “Gaga”, a name you called me for a couple of years.  It took you more than one year to say “Mama”.  You took your first steps alone on November 28, 2006.  First, with Mom holding your hand and finally, all by yourself.  Since that time, you’ve been constantly on the move.

You took your first plane ride on December 1, 2006 to visit Mom’s relatives in Bethalto.  When we got there they had snow on the ground and you got your first taste of it.  Since that first plane ride, you’ve become quite the world traveler in your short life.  You’ve been to: Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Marteen, Barbados, St. Lucia, Aruba, Curacao, St. Kitt, Honduras and Belize.  You love to travel, you love the sea.  Both things that you got from Mom and me.  There are so many more places that I want to go with you and look forward to the adventures that await all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are the perfect blend of Mom and me.  You are quick to tell everyone that most of the things about you came from Mom.  To be sure, there are many good qualities that you got from her.  You have an incredible mind, you love reading books that are years above you, you like to draw, you like science…All things that you got from her.  Looking into your brown eyes is like looking into your Mom’s eyes.  To be sure, you got your good looks from her.  One of my favorite moments was turning your light on early in the morning to get you up for school.  You looked over at me and said, “Just 9 more minutes Dad”.  To be sure, you got that from Mom. From me, you’re learning to become a good man and patiently enduring all the trials that life has put on you.               

You have grown so much in your 11 years.  I’ve watched you grow from a little boy who was so shy and kept to himself in the early part of his life, to one who can engage anyone in conversation and isn’t afraid to do so.  Just that one part of your growth is amazing.  You’ve had to endure trials that not many kids your age have to endure.  You’ve done so with a grace that can only come from above.  Time after time you amaze me with your understanding of life, love and the communion of the saints.  And yet, you are still an 11 year old boy trying to walk to path that has been placed in front of you.  I remember you asking me last summer if I still do dangerous things at work.  I told you that my job involves an element of danger but that I was doing all I could to cut back on it.  I no longer want to be the first person at the door on a search warrant, instead I let the newer agents take care of that.  I know how hard that question was for you to ask and I hope that my answer put your mind at ease.

You were the best thing that Mom and I ever did in our life.  You continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.  I know you grow tired of hearing me say this, but you are the only living part of your Mom on this planet.  That’s a big burden for you to bear and a lot to ask of you.  But every time I’ve brought it up, you have responded like a champion.

Not that long ago, I read the following scripture to you: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”  You have asked me many times if Mom can see what we’re doing and what she would be thinking.  I believe with all my being that loves transcends death.  We sing every Pascha, “By death he trampled death, and to those in the tombs he granted life”. I read this quote just the other day, “They that love beyond the world cannot be separate by it.  Death cannot kill what never dies”.

Ryan, you inspire me to do and be more every day.  Every time I look at you, listen to you laugh, hear you play, I’m reminded of all the good that is left in this world.

You Only Get More When You Give It Away

“It’s a highway sliding through a Sunday afternoon. It’s a snapshot smiling like we ain’t got nothing to lose. It’s the peace in knowing that love is gonna be gone someday, but you only get more when you give it away” – My Hallelujah Song

To say that I am a changed man after all that I’ve been through in the past 2 years is the understatement of the century. And if I were to take an opinion poll of 100 random people, I’m sure the answers they would give as to how I’m a changed man would be so far off the mark they would be laughable. Sure, there are many things people would say such as “Single father” or “Young Widow” that are true. But that’s not the kind of change that I’m talking about. My experience has changed who I am, how I live, how I love. And those changes make me a better man.

My gender has a reputation for being poor or non-communicative, holding things in, keeping our cards close to the vest. And in some respects, that reputation is well deserved by us men. But, things happen, people change and sometimes for the better. When you go through the death of your spouse, many things change and many things come to the forefront of your mind. For example, how many of us assume that we can just wait until tomorrow to tell someone what we are thinking, what we are feeling? How many of us take for granted that there will be a tomorrow? How many of us put off until tomorrow (or later) what we could & should do today?

communication-in-marriage

One of the hardest things for me was the feeling of being useless during Theresa’s illness. We men are problem solvers. You tell us what is going wrong and we fix it. But when it comes to nature, there is nothing that can be done to fix it. It will run its course, ebbing and flowing wherever it will. During that journey, I learned that the most powerful thing I can do was to just listen. And to really listen. Not half-heartedly, not trying to interject my thoughts or words. Just sitting there and taking it all in. After a week of non-stop bad news, I sat on the hospital bed and listened to Theresa talk about how scared she was and how we did everything we were supposed to do. I heard her tell me that this journey was forming me for my future life and ministry. I just listened and held her hand.

431e36b6f669a31fd5522421e38a68fa

It wasn’t until late summer that I learned just how much that meant to her. My good friend Robert told me that his wife Toni had been wanting to tell me something but didn’t know the right time. During a conversation with Theresa, Toni said that Theresa was so proud of how I’d learned to just listen and not try to fix things.
WomanUnderStress-quote

I have a co-worker who went through a very traumatic loss in June 2015. While driving to a family vacation, his SUV crashed and rolled over multiple times. In a flash of an eye, he lost his wife and three oldest children, 18, 14 and 11. He was left with his 6 year old daughter and forced to move on. There was no time to say what needed to be said; there was no time to let his wife and kids know how he felt. On a dark night on Interstate 10 in West Texas that moment was lost forever. I was blessed to have time to make sure everything that needed to be said, that needed to be done, was. With that said, I know my experience is not the norm. Most losses take place suddenly and unexpectedly. Has that changed me? Without a doubt!

“She turned around and it felt like the world turned upside down. And the only thing I could say was hey, and I’m so glad she didn’t walk away. She dances like nobody sees her, I can’t believe I get to be here in her world. I met a girl. She made me smile, she made me wait…” I Met A Girl, William Michael Morgan

 

I have a new best friend. She came into my life and the winding path I was walking became much straighter. Our first phone conversation lasted for 5 hours, well into the early morning. We talked about so many things. Our past marriages, what we learned from that, how our past experiences have changed us. One conversation led to another and another and another! When we finally were able to sit down face to face it was like looking into the eyes of someone I had known forever. That meeting, at a Starbucks in Cave Creek, Arizona, confirmed everything I thought I knew about her. And that was the moment I jumped…Jumped off the cliff with no parachute and took a chance with Jennie.

IMG_20170208_114812

When I made that decision to pursue Jennie, it was full and complete. I was not going to hold anything back, not going to leave anything unsaid that should be or needed to be said. I opened up my heart to her, let her in and showed her everything. And what a wonderful gift that has been. Why? Because in doing that, she has returned that gift 3 fold. She is a feeler and she wears her emotions on her sleeve.

We came to this point in our lives via vastly different paths. One through the death of a spouse, the other through the death of a marriage. I’ve taken what I learned during the last 2 years of my marriage and applied it with zeal and fervor. When she needs to vent, when there is some anxiety in her life, I listen. When she needs to be reassured, when she is feeling sad or lonely, I put my arms around her and let love cover us both. That is not something I would have been able to do 10 years ago. The loss of my spouse transformed me forever, and that transformation is so good and powerful. I love my best friend. How many people get to say that?

IMG_20170208_115825

Last week I was driving back to Tucson in the early morning and had plenty of time to reflect on all that has happened to Ryan and I. When I got back to my office, I wrote Jennie a letter. One of the things I wrote about was how I felt after spending an evening with her at the Phoenix symphony. “As I was driving home, a song that you sent to me came on and tears came to my eyes. They weren’t tears of sadness, but of overwhelming joy and relief. To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming and frightening. A part of me was afraid to give into it completely and to give all of myself to you. But, I knew that I was going to do give you everything I had and see what happened….I know that I can never take you for granted, I know that I must always share with you every day we have. We only get one shot at life and there is no point in messing around. Treat each day as it is your last one and never leave things said or undone”

IMG_20170108_174839

To all of my fellow men, read the words of the Holy Theotokos to Juan Diego. “Listen, and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son; do not be troubled or weighted down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here whom am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

mother-of-God-the-sign
Don’t be afraid to go all-in. Don’t be afraid to open up to those closest to you. Don’t be afraid to give completely of yourself. Don’t be afraid that your man card will get revoked if you do these things. I’m still the same guy I was before, I carry a gun and kick doors in for a living. I’m not afraid to stand up to the biggest, baddest criminals running around Southern Arizona. I know without a doubt that I am capable of moving from diplomacy to deadly force in a blink of an eye if that’s what is required of me.  I’m still a guy.

20160721_074219 (1)

And I’m equally capable of pouring my soul out to the right woman and offering everything that I have to her. Thank you Jennie for being that woman. Thank you for praying me to you, thank you for being patient and caring. As St. John Paul II said, “Be not afraid”.

 

And in the timeless words of Julianne Hough, “You only get more when you give it away.”

Laughter In A Broken Washing Machine

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them” – Isak Dinesen

Every morning I receive an email called Daily Affirmations.  I don’t remember signing up for it; I think that it was part of the package I bought from Brings Funeral home.  I have read every message that has been sent to me, 295 in total.  The quote above came from the message today.  The Readers Digest version of today’s message was how stories and cherished memories stay deep in your heart, residing there always and will be there to bring fond memories of the shared past.

This brings me to the title of this post, Laughter in A Broken Washing Machine.  In 2005, Theresa was pregnant with Ryan, my one and only child.  In October or November, 2005, I came home from work one day to find Theresa is a state of absolute hysteria.  I dropped everything and tried to get her to tell me what was the matter.  No matter how hard she tried, all she could do was cry.  I started asking if she was sick, hurt, sad?  She shook her head no to each question and all I was left with was confusion.  Finally, she grabbed my hand, walked me over to the washing machine and pointed at it.  More confused than before, I opened the lid and saw that it was half full with water.  Finally, she was able to produce some recognizable words and said in a hysterical voice, “The washing machine is broke, it’s full of water and I can’t get it out”.  This was my first go around in 35 years with a hormonal, very pregnant woman.  I laughed and said, “Is that all that’s wrong”.  Fortunately, I could move faster than she could and was able to get out of the way when she came after me.

 

I told her that it was OK.  I would get a bucket and bail out the water and dump it into the bath tub. After that, we would go to the store and buy a new one, which we did.  That washer, purchased in 2005 and older than Ryan is what made me laugh today.  As I was removing the rubber seal and door latch mechanism I couldn’t help but laugh at something that took place almost 12 years ago.  To be sure, all of those memories are stored forever in my heart and it’s great to pull them out and smile at the joy they bring to me.  I started to laugh and Ryan asked what was so funny.  I shared this with him and he just rolled his eyes.  I guess you had to be there!IMG_20170212_133533_01

Yesterday, Ryan and I spent most ofthe afternoon at our Oro Valley house.  Ryan, playing Minecraft and Dad, installing hardwood flooring.  After the room was complete, we packed our stuff up and headed back to our Sahuarita house.  We were driving along and Ryan asked me this question, “Dad, what do you think Mom does when she see’s you and me hugging or laughing?”  I said, “I’m pretty sure she is filled with overwhelming joy” He reached over, put his arms around me and said, “#bringonthejoy”.  Afterwards, he asked me many questions about his Mom.  Tell me again how she told you she was pregnant with me.  Tell me what was the first thing you said to me when you saw me.  What was the first thing Mom said to me when she saw me.  When was the first time you kissed her.

d50_0582-251763289-O d50_0678-251766139-O

This has been a crazy journey for Ryan and I.  For him, the good days vastly outnumber the bad ones and he delights in hearing all about Theresa and asks so many questions about her.  I know that we are creating memories for him to cherish for the rest of his life.  He didn’t get to experience these memories like I did, but the stories will live on, long after I’m gone.  I’ve decided to start writing these down in a journal that Ryan will have to share with his wife and kids when that day comes.

I shared these words with him last night, the words that came to me from Fr. John Petro in April.  “There are some journeys in life, Patrick, that we must walk alone.  And this is one of them for you.  Others may offer their support, their prayers and their help in many wonderful ways, but, at the end of the day, it is a journey that only you can walk.  No one can enter that sacred place that defined your relationship with Theresa.  And, no one can ever take it away from you either.  Please treasure that sacred place as Theresa’s lasting gift to you.”  I told Ryan that while we are walking together, he also has a journey that he must walk alone.  These memories that he is learning about through the multitude of questions are his Mom’s lasting gift to him as well.

#bringonthejoy  #itiswell