“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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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”
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?”
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.
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.”