Friday, December 23, 2011

Marking Two Years

I can’t believe it’s been two years.

Two years since Dana, as her uncle Jon said, accepted a better offer on where to spend Christmas.

Two years to the day since Dana traded me wiping her tears for Jesus wiping her tears.

It’s been two years of loss and recovery.

And if you don’t mind, I’d like to reflect on those two years for a moment.

Besides the God stamps which have so mercifully assured me of God’s presence, the most direct impression I received from God came in the form of these words: recover well. That phrase (which I posted about at the time) has been the North Star of this journey to keep me on track. It’s been the mountain peak in the distance to provide perspective. I found great hope in those words in this way: there is something to recover for.

And of course, one of the first things I was to recover for? Love. One of the questions I asked early on in the journey was this: What does the best-loved man in the world do when he has lost the source of that love? The quick answer, which has had staying power, was simply that I would love well. At the time of that Q and A with God the roles of life that I could apply that answer to were son, brother, uncle, grandson, cousin, friend and many others. I will be a better son, brother, uncle, etc. Obviously I had no idea that the role of husband was just around the corner. In fact, the last two blog posts have documented that miraculous turn in the journey and the wonderful gift of Jessica.

There are so many things you learn through loss—things you would not have learned without the loss. You learn things about yourself. You learn things about life, about gratitude, about God. You feel like you gain a unique perspective on existence itself, on the meaning of everything. What has blown me away is how all the things that I have learned have seemed to custom-build me for the love that I am now getting to experience. And that’s not just being a “new and improved” husband (I am better at keeping horizontal surfaces cleared and cupboard doors closed, but still a long way to go), but loving out of reservoirs that I did not know existed.

I’ve begun to see the slightest glimpse of the redemptive thread that God is knitting into this journey. I’m seeing some of the reality of the reasons for “recovering well.” I’m overwhelmed at the gift of relationship that I have been given to practice “loving well.” With regard to the state of “the journey” you and I have been observing these past two years, I’m doing okay. Better than okay.

But I’m wondering about you.

I’m wondering about my and Dana’s dear friends, our close families and extended family, our circles of friends who Dana knitted with, scrap-booked with, lost weight with, studied the Bible with. The grieving spouse, and that’d be me, has obviously lost the most. But the grieving spouse, and that’d be me, has had a very visible, nearly tangible, goal to shoot for: the possibility of another relationship. While I never thought this would happen (again, see the last two blog posts), it was still a healthy goal to shoot for—a goal that helped me set other valuable milestones in the journey toward recovery.

I am getting to put into practice all that I have learned (which is more than I expected) through not only knowing and loving Dana, but also losing that love. And since every person who came into Dana’s life was deeply loved by her, my hope is that all of us are finding a similar path. I’m hoping we are all getting to explore what it means to love well in all the relationships we have in our lives.

Today has been a special day. I’m in Los Angeles celebrating Christmas with Jessica’s family. While life is screaming busy as they are finishing up a house renovation project (putting on the finishing touches before the big family Christmas Day), Jessica and I still managed to slip away this afternoon to the beach for a little walk to think about, commemorate, and honor Dana. Yes, my mind has been on the minute-by-minute countdown of this day two years ago (although the West Coast time has kept me a bit messed up) since I woke up this morning. Actually the countdown began a couple days ago, remembering the special visits from friends in those last days, and recalling how Dana and I finished reading the book of Revelation on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

As Jessica and I walked the beach, reflecting on the journey and talking about Dana, it should have been no surprise what we saw in the water. The picture is at the top of this post. You may need to zoom in; those are dolphin fins you’ll see. If you need a refresher on the significance of dolphins, you can search this blog for “dolphins.” For now, we can take assurance that ...

…the God stamps continue.

Many prayers and thanks, and Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Love Is A Gift

I want to talk about love for a minute.

Love is a gift.

I’ve learned that some people, sadly, never get to experience love in its best form in this life. And others of us seem to have more than our fair share. I’ve long realized how blessed I am with a loving family—from my parents all the way down to cousins five times removed.

Plus, I have had great marriage love. In fact, Top Five all-time, as Dana and I would say. And then, of course, I’ve lost that love.

There are things that I have learned about love ONLY because I have lost great love. That, to me, is a cosmic perplexity.

The last post was about a recent, unexpected turn in the journey, appropriately titled, “A Turn in the Journey.”

And it’s recently become an even bigger turn. As of just two weeks ago, Jessica and I became engaged. I am getting to experience a love that I never thought I’d see again. Since December 2009 I’ve told myself that I will hold out for nothing less than what I’ve experienced before. I was sure that that vow would keep me single for life.

Until now.

I’m a blessed man.

You learn a lot from losing love. And now, I am getting to apply what I’ve learned, as well as experience an entirely new and different love. I appreciate being able to share with you about this turn. It’s made me realize something about this journey. It’s not about me (although most posts are Bear-centric). It’s not about Dana. It’s about God. It’s about His love for us. It’s about His merciful stamps assuring all of us that He is near and in this process.

And now for the bigger turn.

Jessica and I are getting married, in a small, private ceremony convenient for us (given our schedules and travel, especially Jessica’s), and then a full-on celebration with our friends and family down the calendar pike. Within a couple days of our engagement, which happened in Montana at the end of August, we began to explore scenarios and dates of how we would marry. As we considered options, we began to channel a line that Dana used for our somewhat-quick engagement: When you know what the rest of your life is going to be, you might as well get started.

The wedding date? My birthday, September 13.

Yep, I know. On paper, it looks crazy. I’ve seen people move this fast before and thought “How can they know what they’re doing???” Maybe those folks did or didn’t know what they were doing. I know what love is. Jessica knows what love is…and what it isn’t. We’ve been in a constant state of “oh wow” regarding how we’ve seemingly been custom-journeyed for each other.

I know this news is a surprise. And so many wonderful people in our lives deserve a personal call or lunch or breakfast or cup of coffee to share this news. But that obviously isn’t feasible.

Jessica and I are excitedly and adventurously committed to entering into the next era of our relationship: a covenant relationship that builds on the love we’ve already developed; a relationship that gives us both a chance to be the first to sacrifice for the other; a relationship that gives each of us an opportunity to develop a love that casts out fear; a relationship that gives me a chance to love her as Christ loves the church, and a chance for her to experience that level of love.

In my last post I briefly mentioned some God stamp moments in this journey. The first week that Jessica and I met we were driving on a short trip and within 10 minutes we saw a deer and a rainbow. Jessica knew both stories and we glanced at each other curiously, sort of saying, “Let’s not over-interpret here, but that was wild.”

And then after a couple weeks of knowing that we were onto something special, we looked up in the sky and saw the cloud you see at the top of this blog. That is not a photo-shopped image.

There is still much to mine out from my journey of loss and grief. God is up to something. We’re eager to explore what that might be.

And if I might make one more comment. We’ve had some beautiful conversations with Mama Sue and Dana’s family over the past weeks. We all share a deep love for each other. I know that this kind of step brings reminders of the permanence of Dana’s death. For me it’s a permanence I’ve dealt with minute-by-minute since 9:10 a.m., December 23, 2009. For others of us the permanence comes in waves or stages, and I know the news of this blog will be a big wave.

When a permanence settles in, we seem to open ourselves up to a new level of recovery (or more grieving). I hope to explore that, and many other facets, in the coming months of this journey.

Much love and gratitude,


Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Turn in the Journey

The journey has taken a surprising turn.

In short,

I’ve met someone.

Yes, it’s that kind of “met” and that kind of “someone.” It’s not a cloaking euphemism with a surprise meaning. It’s as in, a relationship. And yes, it’s unexpected. Out of the blue. From the blind side. And it’s a beautiful, wonderful thing.

Let me pause for a moment to let you get used to the idea.

Actually, this whole post may be a pause to let you get used to the idea. No pictures. No detailed story. In fact, I’M still getting used to the idea.

I’m not sure exactly how to bring you up to speed. So, let me start with Dana. A few posts ago I posed the question: What does the best loved man in the world do when he’s lost the source of that love? My knee-jerk reaction to that question has simply been: He curls up into a fetal position and stays there. It’s that simple. Luckily, that was only a knee-jerk reaction and not the more seasoned response that came rather quickly. While I think there are several answers to that question, the one that came to me early on, and seems to have some staying power, is simply this: I will love well. I know what it feels like to be gloriously loved. I know what it feels like to love deeply. I will take that knowledge, that growth, that insight, and I will infuse it with any relationship of love I experience, whether romantic, family, friends, or pet (Pud is looking over my shoulder; of course, “pet” would be included anyway ).

As Dana and I navigated the waters of recurrent breast cancer, we chose to keep our little boat floating in the current of hope. Some folks take the approach of writing goodbye letters to loved ones (ala, Elizabeth Edwards) and preparing for the end game. We chose the route of hope: either that God would do some wild and crazy thing or that we would skate through on the tiny statistical sliver that recurrent breast cancer offers as a tease. We knew the odds were against us and that we’d be battling this for life for however long; but we let hope rule the day. It’s not a bad way to travel and I must say, we did not miss one lick of life through the battle.

With that in mind, you can get a sense of the gravity of the most serious conversation Dana and I had regarding life without her. It went something like this:

Dane: Bear, if anything happens to me, I would want you to be happy. And I know that means love. And I know that means marriage. And I want you to be happy.
Bear: Same here. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. And I would want you to be happy.

We reflected. We cried. We basked in the beautiful, glorious love that we had. We couldn’t imagine that it would ever end.

As we all know, the relationship has ended. But the love never will.

That conversation haunted me since the moment it was over. But no more. It makes me smile. And I’m happy.

This past May a good friend of Dana’s and mine, Lois Bock, sent me an email saying she had a friend, Jessica Rivera, who was an opera soprano and would be rehearsing and performing with the Cincinnati Opera in the month of June. Lois, who lost her dear husband Fred 13 years ago this past July, suggested that I might enjoy coffee with Jessica and that she could probably get me a ticket to the opera. Because there is a high level of trust between widows and widowers, I knew this wasn’t a “set up” and felt comfortable about the connection. Lois even back-channeled to Mama Sue that this definitely was NOT a set up--but an opportunity for me to get out of the house and add some opera culture to this journey of mine. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Jessica was cute (opera sopranos have websites!). So, I was game.

Within a few days of Jessica arriving in Cincinnati, we met for supper.

And then we met for June.

We both obviously felt very safe with each other, which may have been the soft soil that let feelings take root. I knew that Jessica was committed to her singing career, and in our first supper conversation she joked about turning off the “husband search” switch a few years ago and comfortably accepting who she is and what she is able to do. I shared about living off the love of Dane for the rest of my life and being very okay with that. Since I had such a high standard of love, I was sure I’d never experience it again.

Over the course of the few days after that first supper, we looked for times when our free time overlapped. And after a week of overlapping free time (which included baking a cake for my mom’s birthday!), we knew there was something good going on.

Once we acknowledged to each other, almost in unison, that “this is good,” we morphed from casually pursuing free time to intentionally pursuing relationship. Or at least I was pursuing her, and she was running slowly. In fact, her forward movement was imperceptible, she would admit.

When you have loved and lost, you learn things about love that you would not have learned otherwise. Obviously, I’d rather not learn those things. But since I’m here, I might as well take advantage of my position. And to be honest, I’ve been content to learn those things about love and just sit on them, not knowing if they would ever see the light of day.

They are seeing light. And it’s rather radiant.

Some of you “busted me out” from my last post, reading between the lines of “Is ‘Moving On’ Overrated?” For some it was a post that made you go “hmmm…” Others of you pinged me with, “So, anything you need to tell me?” Some of you thought it’s now a matter of time. I am blessed with smart, discerning friends!

I’m actually quite blown away at the concurrence of entertaining thoughts about “moving” or “repurposing” (I’m still running the contest to replace the phrase “moving on”) and the budding of relationship. Yes, my June had already happened when I posted, but the “moving” thoughts had been bubbling up for a couple months. Maybe the presence of someone in my life gave me the resolve to embrace “moving”? Or maybe my embryonic resolve of “moving” made room for the presence of someone in my life? Who knows? (God, of course, knows. In fact, I think that God, along with Dana, are having a private joke. I have evidence to prove it...more on that as we blog along this journey.)

This may be enough for now. There’s something, though, that I want to add. Some may say, “Okay, Barry’s met someone, he’s taken care of. Time to quit following the blog. I can take him off my prayer list.” To which I would respond: Please don’t. The journey continues. I am still mining out all that God wants to teach me about love, loss, and living through that loss. I am still collecting God stamps. I, along with you, am still remembering and honoring Dana. I am still probing my journey for how it may help others. I am exploring how best to live out 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 which says:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of
compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so
that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive
from God.

I can honestly say that I have received more than my fair share of comfort in my troubles. It is my personal act of obedience, then, to comfort those in their trouble. This, I think, is the ultimate “pay it forward.” I covet your prayers for this. I may need you now more than ever in observing this journey.

Thank you!


P.S. By the way, as you might expect, it's a little strange sharing this kind of personal information in an impersonal blog post. I feel I should be having face-to-face conversations with all who might be reading. But I'm glad we have this channel, and this is all certainly a part of the journey. Feel free to drop me a note!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is "Moving On" Overrated?

Many months ago I found myself candidly asking the question: Is moving on overrated? I found myself thinking things like: What’s the big deal about moving on? Isn’t that just a value judgment on someone’s journey? (namely, MY journey?) I mean think about it: what’s the worst that could come of you if you didn’t “move on”? You could still function in society, you could appear normal, and you would have the benefit of missing the pain involved with moving on. You could relish in the deep love of your past relationship, even explore its many facets in greater detail. You could explore loss and gain rich perspective. Maybe even write a book and be famously known as “The One Who Did Not Move On.”

In fact, I don’t even think one could come up with a spiritual reason behind the value of moving on. Perhaps if staying put meant being stuck in anger and bitterness, then you do run the risk of grieving as one who has no hope, which doesn’t speak well of faith. But there is no spiritual discipline called “moving on” and there is no commandment that says “thou shalt move on after thou hast lost a loved one.”

And what makes a “mover on-er” more noble than a “stayer put-er”? These are simply honest questions one has in the journey.


A few weeks ago I had an image pop into my head that somewhat describes what I’m feeling these days. I saw my feet firmly planted in the Dana/Barry era, with the next era just on the other side of a line. I then took one foot and barely touched the top of the grass on the other side of that line, just enough to bend the grass blades…and then I snapped my foot right back to its comfortable spot in the Dana/Barry era. This is what my mind and my heart have been doing.

I think, with that mental image, I have begun to process ever so slightly the emotional, spiritual and even physical aspects of what “moving on” might look like.

[Side note: we need a better phrase for “moving on.” …maybe moving through, or journeying on, or journeying through. Or re-hatching, or emerging, or re-purposing. Something. Anything besides “moving on.” That phrase seems so flippant to me; yet there is not one ounce of flippancy in the actual act of “moving on.” Maybe a new phrase could be a windfall contribution to society out of this journey.]

In processing the emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of moving on, I’ve been hit with the thought that “moving on” does not come naturally. There will always be some element of inertia to overcome, an intentional step that is to be taken. Thankfully, God seems to be nudging me a bit, and maybe that’s what I’ve needed. Somewhere in my journey over the past few months, and I can’t pinpoint exactly when, I had the gracious moment of having words injected into my mind that seemed to come directly from God. And the words were this:

“Recover well.”

Obviously when you think you’re getting some words from God you’d like to get a little more detail than that. But this is all I got. And in God’s infinite wisdom, it’s obviously all I need.

There is hope in those words. You can hear God saying, “There will be life after recovery. You will be used. You need to recover well.”

So what does “recovering well” look like? Here’s what I have so far:

a. I will take all that I am to become, all that Dana built into me, and let myself be molded into a healthy vibrant soul. I will not let one facet of our relationship go unused, not let one thread of our love left dangling. Everything will continue to build into who and what I’m becoming.

b. I will keep bitterness and anger at bay. Thankfully, I feel I’ve done “better than the average bear” on this. And that’s a God thing. On paper, I have good reason to be bitter. But, in reality, I’m not. Regarding anger: I’m not angry at God. That has somehow, mercifully, eluded me. What I do find myself getting angry at: gas pumps that don’t give me a receipt, my vacuum cleaner when it gets hung up in the closet, my keys when I can’t find them. It’s more the emotional load that tends to bubble to the top, not specific anger toward God. And I’m getting better at handling that emotional load (the local gas mart cashiers seem to appreciate that).

c. I will explore the strata that this journey has taken me to. Loss takes you places you do not want to go. But here’s the thing: you might as well take advantage or your perspective while you’re there. Yes, I would have preferred no loss. But I did have loss. So, I will touch the deep geology of this journey that I see, geology that I would not have seen otherwise, and I will take advantage of what I see. I am committed to learning what I’m to learn, and to teach what I learn.

I feel that at times I’ve had glimpses of what “moving on” looks like. At first glance, it looks hard, but rich. Unnerving, but invigorating. Risky, but peaceable. Difficult, but necessary.

I see it as necessary in this respect: All that I am becoming because of this journey needs a place to play out. I will love deeper. I will laugh harder. I will cherish greater. I will care. I will enjoy. I will laugh.

I was at my folks' house this past Fourth of July and I noticed a medium-sized tree smack in the middle of the front yard. It's a tree that's hard to miss. Yet I hadn't remembered seeing it before. Then I pictured how big it would have been five years ago, when this journey really got started. It would have been small enough then to miss. Now I'm seeing it. I think I'm waking up.

And so, maybe “journeying through” (my first go at a new phrase; I also like “re-purposing”) isn’t overrated. Perhaps it does have value. But that is not for me to judge.

Thank you for your continued prayers and help with this journey.

Monday, May 30, 2011

I don't know what I'm doing, but...

I’m in the process of going through Dana’s main Bible (as opposed to her Bible study notebooks and her emergency backup Bibles); it’s not a note by note, underline by underline process (that will come some day) but more a sweep-through to make sure I’m not missing a verse she might have noted in the margin “good headstone verse.” Yes, embarrassingly, I’m still working on the headstone project. And it seems like Memorial Day is a good day to confess that.

As I’m leafing through I am noting a few things that stand out here and there; in that vein I ran across a verse she had underlined in 2 Chronicles (20:12, to be exact). It was a prayer from God’s people to God. They had enemies all around them ready to attack and they had few weapons for defense. Things looked bleak and here is what they prayed:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

I was so struck by that prayer from many directions but what caught me the most was the fact that just a couple days earlier I had spoken the following thought out loud to myself (and to Pud…again, I’m turning into the Garfield comic strip):

“I bet I say at least 10 times a day, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’”

And it’s usually around time number seven or eight that I cave. At least half of the 10 instances of not knowing what to do are normal exclamations of frustration: tax questions, yard restoration, computer glitches, golf (I’ve reverted to first-year level of play for some reason). But when I mix in a few that have to do with this journey the best response is a good old fashioned cave in.

I think what has struck me is the fact that I focus, maybe obsess, over the first half of the statement, “We do not know what to do.” Of course, any of us can find ourselves in a predicament of not knowing what to do. It is not unique to loss or grief, and so maybe my observations in this little twist might have some wider application.

Here goes.

There is a strange calm that comes over me when I imagine myself keeping my eyes on God in the middle of action ignorance or paralysis (aka, not knowing what to do). The prayer from 2 Chronicles tells me that it’s actually okay that I don’t know what to do. What’s not okay is when I let that confusion or anxiety define who I am or make me nervous about the future. There can be a certain amount (maybe a huge amount) of confusion and anxiety that churns underneath the line of sight between God and me.

But as long as I have that line of sight clear, the confusion and anxiety will eventually thin out and things will become clear. Admittedly, I’m still in the “research and development” stage of this truth, still trying to figure out what “keeping my eyes on God” looks like on a day-to-day basis. I think I might be stumbling on to something, and it is tied in to Memorial Day (perhaps in a contrived sort of way, but it’s working for me right now).

The image at the top of this post is the grave and monument of a Union soldier from Preble County who was killed at Gettysburg. The grave is in Dana’s cemetery. I didn’t learn of this soldier’s burial until just before Memorial Day last year, nearly five months after laying Dana’s “jar of clay” in that same cemetery. My hope is that she has already found this guy in heaven and they’ve made their cemetery connection (I’m all about connections!). Dana and I were Civil War enthusiasts, even visited Gettysburg at our peak enthusiasm. We of course joked that the Mason-Dixon line actually passed right through the middle of our bedroom; having grown up in the south (and taught about the “war of Northern aggression”), Dana loved her southern boys.

This picture was taken on Memorial Day last year. My whole family made a run to the cemetery to pay a visit to Dana and to locate this Gettysburg soldier. What’s significant about that visit is that it was the first time I visited the cemetery with anyone. When I’m there I simply feel nothing but sad and to ask anyone to join me is just an invitation to come watch me cry. Not fun. And I’m an ugly crier. But as you might expect, it ends up being an invitation for all of us to cry together. And this, I think, is a very roundabout way, or perhaps a very small baby step, to keeping my eyes on God when I don’t know what to do.

God did not wire us to cry alone. I think that when we face unknowns, or are racked with paralysis from not knowing what to do, or are anxious about the future for whatever reason, if we surround ourselves with people who cry with us, love us, pray for us, speak light and life into us, then we are well on our way to keeping our eyes on God. It’s this input and encouragement that helps keep the line of sight clear between God and me.

And then, not knowing what to do isn’t so scary.

More to come on this subject.

I leave you with the image below of my dad, a U.S. Army vet, tending to the Gettysburg soldier’s insignia of Union Civil War vets (G.A.R., Grand Army of the Republic). There is something artful, poetic and patriotic about that image.

Love to all,

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Heroes

I need to write about two sets of heroes who are playing prominently in my life right now.

The first set, as I type, is on a beach in Maui. They can watch some of the world’s most beautiful sunsets over the world’s biggest ocean from their window. They’ve been there for a few days and they’re just now beginning to notice what’s around them.

Chuck and Sue Bost, my first set of heroes, are on their official decompression trip. It’s a trip they probably didn’t really want to take. It’s the we-don’t-know-how-we’re-doing-it-but-we’re-doing-it trip to Hawaii they’ve promised themselves for the last 10 years. It’s been the teeniest, tiniest, babiest carrot at the end of a big, arduous stick.

But a stick full of love.

In December 2000 Chuck and Sue gave birth to the beautiful Natalie Catherine. But before she would turn one year old, she would be diagnosed with a brain disease (Canavan, a leukodystrophy so rare my speller doesn’t recognize either of those words) that usually claims life before one year. Natalie lived past 10, to April 8, 2011. Chuck and Sue left for their decompression trip eight days later.

Over these 10 years I have had a front row seat to action-packed unconditional love. I watched Chuck and Sue tend to every need. I watched grandparents, the blessed Jim and Billie and the blessed Chuck and Betty, nurture and love. I watched the body of Christ mobilize to form Team Chuck and Sue, a team that took many forms over the decade. I watched the Bost and Harrison family navigate, in inspiring ways, the pain that you have to navigate when you realize that you’re not going to get a textbook child-rearing story.

I watched countless friends, nursery workers, family, Tuesday-group people, and nurses care for Natalie.

And I watched Dana hold Natalie.

And there is my second set of heroes.

I need to be completely honest here. After Dana and I began battling recurrent breast cancer, and we knew the outcome could be iffy, photos like the one at the top of this blog spooked me, be it ever so slightly. Seeing those two framed by the edge of a picture would send me into a little tail spin. I would think to myself that I never wanted to be looking at a picture of those two someday with both of them gone.

And here we are.

And they are heroes. They went yard on any curve ball that was thrown their way. They made the finger-tip, last-second grab in the end zone. They put the rest of us at ease while we tried to make sense of it all. And they’ve taken the brave bold steps to the Other side.

Now that photo at the top of this blog is like a giant picture window into heaven. It is a picture of resurrection. It is a picture of The Resurrection. It’s The Resurrection that tells me, and Chuck, and Sue, and Jim and Billie, and Chuck and Betty, and anybody else who held Natalie or knew Dana that there is more to this life!

Thank God.

And now back to Chuck and Sue. Before they left I wanted to give them a two-week supply of t-shirts that said, “Heroes!”--- T-shirts they could wear every day so that people would inquire of their story and then, of course, ask for their autographs. They really are 9/11-NYC-Firefighter-grade heroes. They are the most famous people on any airplane they’ll be on, any site-seeing excursion they’ll take. I know they plan to visit Pearl Harbor while in Hawaii. Their heroism is on the same scale as those who dove into oily, fiery water to save crewmates on December 7, 1941. The National Parks Department should seat Chuck and Sue behind the little table where they’ll have a couple Pearl Harbor survivors.

When I was at Pearl Harbor myself last December I met four survivors of that attack. Truly, you could gain the same wisdom on sacrifice and bravery from those four men as you could Chuck and Sue and their parents. And funny thing: I’ve heard all of them, battle survivors and care-giver survivors, say, “You just do what you’ve got do.”

It’s the hero’s refrain.

In the story of Chuck and Sue and their families, what they had to do was love. They did that heroically.

And if I might make a feeble attempt at tying it all together: Sue was the person in our Bible study on that September 2006 evening on my and Dana’s chemo eve who said, “tomorrow I’m going to look for a rainbow.” Thus began our first round of God stamps. Natalie was a girl Dane and I sort of adopted as our own, especially since our first round of chemo, which came just before Natalie’s birth, took away our ability to have kids. And on the day of Natalie’s passing I drove through a neighborhood where I, for the first time ever in this neighborhood, saw five deer.

(And here are refreshers on rainbows and deer in our story to help that last paragraph make sense.)

As a side, I think I’m actually starting a new collection: heroes. As I think of everyone mentioned above, I’m also realizing all the other heroic people in my life who have withstood, and are withstanding, near-insurmountable circumstances.

It seems only fitting, especially during this Holy Week, that I close with a reminder that Chuck and I have been shooting back and forth since long before either of us were dealing with Canavans or breast cancer: The Power of Christ’s Resurrection is in You. Which is to say (from Ephesians 1), that same power that God used to raise Jesus is able to be unleashed in our lives: on our hurt, our pain, our anxieties, our frustrations, our directions or lack thereof.

Or in reminder-speak: tpoCriiy

In my inbox this morning was an e-mail from Chuck with a picture of a sunset view from their window. I’ve posted it below. Maybe breathe deep as you look at it and say a pray for Chuck and Sue, and any other heroes you have in your life.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Dana Challenge and A Brave Heart

I thought that today, the day of Final Four March Madness, would be a good day to give a quick update on what I’ve called “The Dana Challenge.” Off the top of my head…

Shrimp salad has been made for friends on the beach. (Beautifully pictured above. Thanks for making and sending the pic Pammy!)
A mascot bracket has been completed for March Madness (and it’s not last in its competition!)
Snow skiing has been attempted FOR THE FIRST TIME.
Ski lessons have been bought for someone.
A puz with cuzz’s was puzzed just becuz.
Donations have been made to a healthcare foundation and a ministry.
Knitting has happened.
Bravery has happened.

And it’s on that last one that I want to comment. This past week I had a conversation with the director of the foundation of the Atrium Medical Center (our local hospital), a great group of folks with whom Dana worked (and loved working with). Mike, the director, said that just recently he was walking down a hallway in the hospital and passed a visitor who is battling cancer. She was carrying a copy of the foundation’s newsletter that contained a tribute to Dana. As she passed Mike she asked, “Didn’t you work with Dana?” Mike warmly responded that he did. And then the visitor said, “Dana taught me how to be brave.”

I can’t type that phrase without crying. And I can’t cry without getting up and walking. And I can’t walk without clenching my fists. And I can’t clench my fists without having some kind of resolve overwhelm me and compel me to say, “Yes! She!…Was!…Brave!” And I can’t re-read those words without clapping. And this is coming from the caregiver husband who saw her at her few “unbravest” moments, moments that would still be at the top of any normal bravery scale.

These days my mind bounces around my and Dana’s life together in no particular order. I go from the dating months to the unrequited love years (that would be MY unrequited love, another story for another time) to the first battle with breast cancer to the college years to the second battle with breast cancer to the first years of marriage to the hospice months. When I land on the second-battle scenes of chemo or the hospice months, it’s Dane’s bravery that emerges as the dominant trait of those scenes.

And I’m not sure what fuels bravery or what it is we see in each other that looks like bravery. Dana and I certainly had our anxious and fearful moments. I think what the visitor in the hospital saw, and what everyone saw who was around Dane in the battling years, was how she insisted on embracing life. Disease robs you of enough as it is, there were certain things that Dane and I were not going to be robbed of. Things like: enjoying people, mountains, the ocean, sunsets, our front porch, knitting, biking, ballroom dancing (yes, we had taken lessons for several years!). And I think bravery, especially in Dana’s case, shows up when you have to overcome obstacles to enjoy what you want to enjoy.

It’s more difficult to enjoy mountains when it’s hard to walk; but we still did. It’s more difficult to knit when your fingers are numb from a side effect, but Dana still did. It’s harder to ski when you are chemo tired, but Dana still did. It’s harder to enjoy dancing when your feet are numb as a side effect, but Dana still did. It’s harder to enjoy an ocean sunset when you’re entertaining thoughts that you won’t see as many as you thought you would. But Dana still did.

We kept embracing life.

In fact, it was in March of 2008 that Dana and I filled out our first online bracket as a couple, a time when we were certainly deep in the slog of the cancer battle. Yet I will never forget how much we laughed that night as we processed how one mascot would beat another. Yes, the slog gave us its challenges, but we NEVER let it rob us of each other.

I think the encouragement that comes from these thoughts is simply this: we all have sources of strength that can build into courage and bravery. Faith, family and friends immediately come to mind. Dana and I have been blessed with the best in all of those areas. And I guess that since we really don’t know when we’ll need to muster up bravery, we should be diligent in keeping those sources up-to-date and nurture them as best we know how. It’s just a thought.

I leave you with a lighter thought, the criteria I’ve been “publishing” as official Dana Mascot Bracketology, and the notes I made from filling out a bracket this year using nothing but mascotology. You will notice that my Buckeye reasoning left me high and dry.

But before I go, we must apply Dana’s mascotology to the Final Four, which begins tonight:
1. First we have a ram (VCU) vs. a bulldog (Butler); wow, that’s a toughee. Since I’m picturing a big horn ram, I’m thinking a bulldog would have a hard time getting around those big horns. Rams it is.
2. Then we have a Husky (UConn) vs. a wildcat (Kentucky). A classic cat vs. dog. Cats always win (a combo of ferocity and Dana’s sentimentality toward cats, even though we are also dog lovers).
3. Which sets up the match between a wildcat and a ram. Even though those rams are tough, cats always win.

So, in humble honor to my Kentucky fans: Go Cats.
Love to all,

Dana’s Mascotolgy:
1. anything with a rebel mascot (as in the South) was always a win;
2. devils/demons were always losers;
3. after a rebel, any kind of cat was a win;
4. real animals trumped cartoon animals (like the Kansas Jayhawk).
5. Birds were usually losers unless it was a bird of prey;
6. in case of a draw regarding criteria, it might come down to school colors (her preference).

Barry’s notes on using Mascotology this year in completing a bracket at the start of the tournament:
• Bulldogs vs. Huskies (the majesty of a Husky won out)
• Wildcat vs. Tiger (my first cat on cat match up, went with the higher seed Wildcat on this one)
• Orangeman vs. a Sycamore (How tough can a man be named after a color? Had to go with the sturdy tree)
• Long Horn vs. a Grizzly (Nice wild west animal match up, but had to go with the Griz, especially with respect to our Montana friends)
• Bearcat vs. Tiger (Again, cat on cat, but went with the local fave, Bearcat)
• Patriot (Bucknel) vs. a Husky (U Conn) (went with the sentimental on the Patriot)
• Temple Owl vs. Penn St. Nittany Lion (Even though the word “Nittany” defangs the lion a good bit, still, it’s a classic cat vs. a bird matchup)
• Jayhawk vs. Terrier (broke the “cartoon” rule here; even a cartoon Jayhawk can take a Terrier; a Terrier??)
• The Eagle takes the Cardinal
• The St. Peter’s Peacocks…really? A peacock? No match for a Boilermaker.
• “The Irish” is so general, but in deference to upcoming St. Pats day, they take a Zip
• Panther (Pitt) vs. Bulldog…cat beats the dog.
• Chanticleer?? What is THAT?? They didn’t make the tourney, but were given a mention in some match up copy (Costal Carolina, for those scoring at home, and it appears to be a bird of prey). Just thought I’d mention.
• Bulldog (Butler) over a Monarch (Old Dominion) every day, although beating a butterfly would be like chasing a knuckleball.
• A Bruin vs. a Spartan is an interesting matchup. Went with the Spartan.
• Almost picked the Gauchos (UC Santa Barbara) just because; and Dana would have said, So their mascot is a pair of pants?”…but they’re up against a Seminole…gotta go with the native.

• Pirate vs. a Volunteer…now THAT’s a toughee…went with the Volunteer…in a nod to TENNESSEE!
• Lion vs. Bear…(Penn St vs. No. Col.)wow, that’s a match up of biblical proportion…went with the cat.
• The Seminole beat the Irish and the Boilermaker
• A Rebel vs. a Seminole (UNLV vs. Fl State) is an interesting match up; but the rebel always wins.
• Had lots of cat on cat…had to go with the bigger cat when I could;
• Had a classic match up of a rebel vs. a big cat…in that case, the cat takes the rebel. [Editor’s note: I actually mistook here and should have picked the rebel]
• Had a Volunteer up against a big cat; almost went with the Volunteer in this case since, I think, he always carries a gun; but, cats win in Dane’s rules.

• Lore has it that half a buckeye is poisonous…and the only species smart enough to know which half is the squirrel. Since there are no squirrel mascots, and all other foes have only a 50-50 chance of choosing the non-poisonous half, the Buckeye takes the tourney.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Firsts and Milestones

One thing I’ve learned, now three months past the one-year mark: the “firsts” don’t really stop. Yes, I’ve gone through the cycle of calendar firsts, but the life journey keeps offering up the non-calendar firsts, like baby buzzins, Packer Super Bowl wins, and 100-year birthdays—all events (with an element of “first”) I would love to be sharing with Dane.

So here, then, is where these “firsts,” or better yet, “milestones” have taken me: they’re helping me choose what kind of person I want to become as a result of this journey. And yes, “choose” is a strong word, but I think it’s the right word.

First, new baby buzzin:
This of course, is August Christopher, new son of buzzin Cara and her husband Aaron. For those new to the blog, “buzzin” is the blended result of “beloved cousin” and is the moniker worn by Dana’s cousins Cara and her sister Kirby. On the first weekend in February I ran down to Nashville to behold this new sight. And I must say, holding him for the first time felt like some kind of convergence of the heavenlies…my mind channeled Simeon in the Bible who, when he held Jesus for the first time commented to God “my eyes have seen your salvation…light to the Gentiles…glory of Israel.” I just felt like I needed something big to say. And I had nothin’. I think I said, “wow.” And then it hit…my mind began running this experience through the filter of experiencing it with Dana. It’s impossible not to do this, so you make the best of it and try to turn it into a strength.

Here’s how that’s going:

In the post about August's arrival “It’s Not All Subtraction” I mentioned how, with the help of Dana’s knitter friends, we were able to have Dana’s knitting be a part of this “first baby” experience. Not only did the knitters knit a hat, booties and a baby bag/wrap for August, but we found a pair of booties that Dane had actually knit! They were for a class and they’re noted on Dane’s Ravelry web page (a knitter’s paradise website) as simply, “a gift.” She had planned to give them away, but did not know to whom. The knitters knitted a hat out of the same yarn. So, on this trip to Nashville I gave those booties and hat to Cara, Aaron and August, but with a twist: these booties and hat will travel from baby to baby in my and Dane’s families. (As I say that, I don’t want to put any undo pressure or expectations on any family members for babies; remember, Dane and I had no babies so this is a no-pressure thing.) This will give opportunity for Dana to be a part of these milestones--to give her "gift." The image at the top of this post is aforementioned August and booties.

Which gets me to the kind of person I want to be out of this journey, as seen through the filter of a new buzzin milestone. I want to think of the thoughtful, meaningful ways to commemorate, to honor, to celebrate. I am historically not a terribly thoughtful person. I am very much “a guy” when it comes to being creatively thoughtful. I learned this about myself a few years ago when I gave my mom a “Mom” mug for Mother’s Day. When I went to get a coffee cup after dinner I saw about five “Mom” mugs I had given in previous years, stacked together in the cabinet. Insightful and convicting. I don’t want to be that way. And I’ve realized that many of my deep moments for the rest of my life will be deep simply because I’ve lost Dane. I want to transfer that deep emotion into meaningful and thoughtful action.

And then there’s the matter of the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

When Dane and I got married in 1993, the Packers had a 25-year dry spell going (barely any winning seasons, let alone any play-off appearances). Dane was encouraged by my loyalty to the Packers, saying it didn’t matter what kind of wife she’d be, it appears that I’d stay a loyal husband. She was a great supporter of my Packer enthusiasm (although occasionally, foregoing the loyalty thing, suggesting that I might want to choose another team); we even got to go to a game at vaunted Lambeau Field in Green Bay in 1995. We did get to enjoy together their Super Bowl win in 1996. So when the Packers beat the Bears for the trip to this year’s Super Bowl I did what most Packer fans did across the country: I cried. It was a happy-sad combo.

And then I sprung into action—showing my Green Bay colors to the world, not only with a new van decal (I’ve never done that before) but also a Facebook profile pix of some personal Packer items in a “Packer Memorabilia” still life. As I collected my items, I began to realize how many autographed Packer treasures I have…and then I realized that except for a Bart Starr and Jerry Kramer autograph, all items had been tracked down and given to me by other people. From Cogswell, a Ray Nitschke photo; from Bob, an NFL football signed by Bart Starr; from Randy, a mini-Packer helmet signed by Bart Starr; from David, a signed Brett Favre poster; from Bill, a jersey signed by current Packer linebacker A.J. Hawk; and the newest from Sue, a signed card from current Packer punter Tim Masthay. Even the Bart Starr autograph I tracked down came through an opportunity provided by Dane’s parents, Wayne and Mama Sue.

And then there are the countless special Packer items given to me over the years—I think of my “second parents” Weezie and Arkie (Eloise and Arnold Haubach) who kept me fully equipped in the elementary and junior high days; I think of my ordination reception which happened just prior to our trip to Green Bay--it was actually a Lambeau send-off party (spearheaded by Bruce and David I believe) with all the appropriate gear.

Even the Lambeau experience came from friend Dottie working some family magic in Green Bay. And then of course, my fan-ship was initiated from a football helmet I had as a kid, from Dad, with the signature “Bart Starr” machine-etched on the back. I’ll never forget asking Dad, as a third-ish grader, “who’s Bart Starr?” And now here we are. What I realized just a few years ago was that the reason I had that helmet: Dad was already a Packer fan.

I’m moved by how many people have poured into my Packer journey; and I’m taken by the parallel this serves for my loss journey, and my life journey. I have more than my fair share of special people encouraging me, supporting me, inspiring me, challenging me, sitting with me, standing with me, praying for me, walking with me, crying with me. In Dane’s celebration service I used the “Verizon Network” as an image analogy of what I need. I think I’ve experienced those commercials as literally as they can be experienced. I want to walk in gratitude for this special support force. And on the flipside, I want to be this kind of person in the journeys of others.

And then there is my Grandma turning 100 years old.

We had a wonderful birthday party with about 500 family and friends this past Saturday. We had a wonderful party to celebrate a wonderful grandma (and mom, and great-grandma, and great-great grandma, and aunt, and friend). It was fun doing this with all family on hand. I have an awesome family. This milestone has struck me at several points. First off, it blows my theory that I have only 30 more years to tough it out! I guess I better get my act together—it could be longer. Then there’s the obvious contrast of my grandma hitting 100 but my wife only getting to 48. That darker thought was certainly not the prevailing thought throughout celebrating Grandma’s 100th, in fact it was pretty fleeting; but it is instructive in this way: it represents the kind of person I do not want to be in this journey. I don’t want to compare and contrast my life experiences with others. I want to rejoice with those who rejoice. I want to celebrate healing, longevity, advances in cancer treatment and ultimately, the cure. I want to celebrate God’s hand in miracles. I will avoid “elk envy” (a phrase from our dear friend Kay, another story for another time). I want to do this with minimal “why not us?” thoughts (and I’ll settle for “minimal”; I think “none” is too much to ask). And on the flipside of joy, I want to weep with those who weep; I will choose not to avoid someone’s sadness even if it reminds me of my own.

As I reflect on the impact of these three milestones, helping me choose to be the kind of person I want to be out of this journey, I’m seeing that these are all traits I should have been striving for all along: thoughtful, supportive, and sincerely empathetic (entering into the good and the bad). Maybe it’s the emotional shake up of loss that makes one more receptive to, or appreciative of these things. Whatever the case, I will not waste the experience.

Bring on more milestones. Ohio State winning the NCAA Championship would be a nice next.

I leave you with a few pix of the aforementioned events: obviously August and his hat; the family pix (my folks, my sister and fam, and Grandma) was spontaneously taken just after the big party; Grandma was tired, but not as tired as she might look here. There are more photos to come. And of course you'll see the Packer items, along with Pud, who thinks he's a Packer item (and he's pretty sure the Packers were named after cat food packers; was meat packers).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Heard the Bells on Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is one date I don’t struggle with too much. Dana and I put that one in the “Hallmark marketing” category; plus, she was usually playing the harp, and while we weren’t sappy about it, we liked to think that every day had some Valentine’s Day element to it. Still, I think about the love when this date rolls around (jewelry companies make sure of that).

On Valentine’s Day evening I took a little neighborhood walk at about 6 p.m. and heard the church bells (to see why I would call them the church bells, you may want to check out this post, The Deer Story). I decided to let myself listen to what they were pealing, to let the hymns encourage me. Hymn 1: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” You cannot get more resolute than that! And there’s something about “a bulwark never failing” echoing across a quiet neighborhood to give you some needed assurance. And then Hymn 2: “God of our Fathers,” which, as strange as it may sound, could not have been a more appropriate Valentine’s Day song for me.

Dane, one to eschew tradition when it’s just for the sake of tradition, planned a few things in our wedding ceremony that diverted from expected wedding ceremony paths, one of which, using a hymn for a wedding march. The church where we were married, Vine Street Christian, in Nashville, had an incredible pipe organ and we had an incredible organist, Carol Tornquist. Those elements needed to be featured. And while Dane was the bride and the one in white, she wanted to be sure that God was the star of the show. We actually had two “congregational” hymn sings (since then, whenever we heard “Joyful Joyful” anywhere we’d look longingly at each other and say, “Ahhh, they’re playing our song.”) And the wedding march? “God of our Fathers.”

It was all as big and majestic as you could imagine.

So here I am taking a walk on Valentine’s Day, listening to our wedding march being chimed out on the bells that ministered so deeply to Dana in her cancer battle, the bells that gave me the “deer God stamp” that has ministered to all of us. I’m thinking there must be something to this, besides making me cry in front of my neighbors.

I’m still not to the point where thoughts of our wedding or memories of other special life events generate warm feelings of gratitude. They will someday but right now those thoughts still bring on a pretty tough emotional ride. However, I have begun to process this question: What is a best-loved guy to do after he’s lost the source of that love, and lost the object of his great love? I think there will be a nice list of good answers as I continue to process that question. I get the sense that that question is a seed for resolve and perspective. As the seed takes root and the resolve and perspective form I will begin to see who and what I am to be as a person as a result of having loved greatly and lost greatly. For now I will hold to one of the verses of that great hymn. I think that’s the “something” that I’m to hold to from this brief Valentine’s Day God Stamp:

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

This verse captures the essence of this journey so far, with particular regard to the God Stamps. There have been a couple things I can say with assurance about this journey: it is a toilsome way; God has been near from night to day; He has filled my life with love and grace divine.

I’m eager to share a couple experiences over these past couple weeks. I’m planning to post them soon: I am currently in a “run to the fire” experience, skiing in Montana with our friends Kay and Randy Creech which included our second annual “Dine and Ski” event in honor of Dana; also, I have now seen and held new “buzzin’” August Christopher Chaney; and of course, there's the matter of the Super Bowl champs, the Green Bay Packers. More to share soon.
With much love and gratitude,