THIS POST IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES ABOUT GRATITUDE. THERE IS NO DENYING THE UTMOST TRAGEDY IN LOSING MY HUSBAND IAN, BUT HIS DEATH IS A CONSTANT REMINDER TO BE GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT HE HAS LEFT. POSTS IN THIS SERIES CELEBRATE THE EXPERIENCES, THE LESSONS, THE PLACES, THE THINGS, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY THE PEOPLE WHO IAN BROUGHT INTO MY LIFE AND WHO I HOLD JUST A BIT CLOSER NOW THAT HE IS GONE.
August 1, 2019
I recently returned from my second family vacation this summer — spending a week with an exceptional group of human beings in Canada. Ian is the common thread among each of us. He connected us from the beginning and to the very end. And, on this past Friday, July 26, four months after the exact date of his passing, we all serendipitously reunited. Connected now. Connected forever. Here’s a little context as to why this reunion was so special.
Kellie – Ian’s Auntie and my “hanai” (adopted) auntie, who I’ve adored since we first met. Ian and I shared many fun experiences with her and her husband Doug, including a trip to see them in Vancouver when I was pregnant with Isabelle in 2015. Ian loved it there! Kellie also happened to be the person responsible for telling me that Ian had passed away. I will never forget the expression on Kellie’s face when she woke me with the devastating news, just as the sun was just peeking over the Mokoluas that morning. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her to tell me that Ian had died, but her calm, matter-of-fact disposition allowed me to feel peace, relief and calm, despite that she had just confirmed my worst nightmare.
Doug – Kellie’s devoted husband who helped maintain cleanliness, peace and sanity in the household as chaos surrounded Ian’s death. During that highly emotional and difficult time, Doug quietly listened and shared with us his wisdom, as he always does. That was something Ian always looked to about Doug — his ability to listen, to be present but not always a presence, and offer guidance. He also officiated our wedding ceremony. I know that Theo will look up to him too someday (and not just from a size perspective — scroll below to see one my favorite pics of the two of them).
Harry – Ian’s best friend from childhood. Harry was one of the first friends from Hawaii who I met. Ever since a crazy night in college when Ian introduced us, he has shared many milestones with Ian and me — from being a groomsman at our wedding to becoming Uncle Harry to our kids, and more recently applying his MD skills to guide Ian medically, spiritually and emotionally through the most trying parts of Ian’s cancer journey. Harry sat by Ian’s bed daily during his final days in Lanikai providing comfort while he laid there, and laughter when Ian was lucid enough to see his best friend.
Jackie – Harry’s sweet, yet strong and most genuinely kind girlfriend who defines the true meaning of empathy. If Harry was there, Jackie was not far behind providing love and support to all of us through the good times and the bad.
Mel – My guardian angel. I had never met Mel before we ended up living with her for two and a half months this past March. Only through a mutual friend’s introduction and emails arranging our 5-day stay in her beach home while we vacationed in Hawaii had we even talked! Yet, half way through our vacation Ian checked into Hospice. We decided to stay in Hawaii indefinitely for care, yet had no place to live. Mel invited us to prolong our stay in her home for however long we needed, allowing Ian to spend his final days feeling the ocean breeze on his skin, listening to the kids play outside in the same neighborhood that he grew up playing in — on the same beach and in same water. Lying there bedridden each day, he knew that if he really wanted to, he could hobble outside and see the ocean. That gave him a sense of freedom. The kind of freedom that gets revoked with a terminal illness. Mel and her family gave that back to him. And after he died, she listened to me, she comforted me, and she guided me — guided all of us — through some very dark, difficult times. And, she still is!
I’ve found that grief hits me the most when I’m driving in my car. When I pause. When I slow down. Yet, during the hour-and-a-half drive from Vancouver to Whistler last Friday, chatting away with Auntie Kellie between the cries for snacks or musical requests for “Moana” from the backseat, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the usual grief and tears. Instead I felt a profound appreciation for the significance of this special reunion.
Because this is what death — what losing someone you love so much — does to you. It forces you to view your relationships through an almost dreamlike, surreal lens. Like everyone you know and love could disappear in an instant, because it’s already happened to you once. You understand how precious life is and that we all will die at some point. Death is certain. It’s just a matter of when. We all know death. But, we don’t acknowledge it.
About one week before Ian died, Harry and I grabbed a beer together. As we sipped our Big Swell IPAs he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “You know? … Ian is going to die.” Harry was making sure I wasn’t still in denial. Or, maybe he was checking himself too. As much as it looked like Ian was dying, lying in bed slowly demising day after day, I still couldn’t really believe it. To answer Harry’s question I shook my head up and down. I knew it. He knew it. The words made it real. We acknowledged Ian’s imminent death and surrendered our hopes — our internal fight — to cherish our final days with our best friend.
While you miss the deceased and long to have them back, death makes you realize how grateful you are for the people still in your life — the friends, the family, the communities, the strangers supporting you so that you can be strong in the face of adversity and hopefully find joy on the other side. You hold them just a bit closer than before because you know how easy, how quickly you can lose them.
Ian connected me to so many incredible, smart, generous, funny, wild and crazy, compassionate human beings. While I’ve written about a few here — and I’ll write about more! — chances are that if you are reading this, you are one of them. And believe me, you hold a very special place in my heart. Some of you — like Kellie, Doug, Harry, Jackie and Mel — I might have never known had it not been for Ian.
Ian had one prerequisite before we started dating — his friends had to like me (cue smirk). On our wedding day, my dad dubbed this requirement publicly as the Hawaiian “gauntlet”. Maybe Ian just wanted to make sure that his new girlfriend could “cruise” with the boys or be occupied and content hanging with his girl friends so that he could go surf, cruise, and party with the boys. Or, maybe he knew that at some point he would be leaving me in some very good hands.
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