We Were So Happy

“We were so happy,” she said as I hugged her and felt her tears fall on my shoulder.

It is a moment and a feeling I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

There are plenty of things I know nothing about, but one thing I know is love. Whenever I saw this couple together, I knew one thing: they were in love. I was not part of their ‘inner circle’ but we spent enough time together that I just knew. I could see it and I could feel it in the space they occupied together. There was an ease to the relationship between them and a mutual admiration that was refreshing. Their love was the real deal.

It was a second marriage for both, and as I know quite well myself, second marriages come along with a lot of complicated history. I do not presume to know anything about their relationship beyond what I, and others, could clearly see. All I can say is they shared similar interests and passions, and if I saw one, I was sure to see the other. Always together. Always smiling.

He passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, in his 40s.

All I could offer was, “He loved you so much.”  She confirmed what I knew, “We were so happy.” While I know she wanted to try to be strong and focus on how fortunate they were to have each other, that was something I could not bear.

“It’s not fucking fair,” I told her. Words I never allowed myself to think about my own plight as I faced pancreatic cancer….except when I thought about my own marriage. My second marriage. The one I came to later in life. The one I brought my broken self and my own baggage to. The one I felt loved in and cared for every day. When I found out I had pancreatic cancer and did not dare to think I might survive it, I thought about our love and thought, “It isn’t fair. We haven’t had enough time together!”

How many people can truthfully say about their ownn marriages, ‘We are so happy!’?

Many times over the 15.5 years Stephen and I have been together, I have thought, “I hope I die before my husband does, because I don’t know how I would ever make it through life without him by my side.” I did not know if long-term happiness in a marriage was even possible when we got together, but all of these years later, I know it is. I am still crazy about my husband.

Over the years, I have also frequently spent time feeling guilty about my divorce. I have analyzed what I contributed to the failure of my first marriage many times since we officially split. I have felt badly about our daughter not getting to grow up with both biological parents in the same house. While my second marriage has been a blessing, I have spent too much time anazlying my own ‘failures’ as a human being.

Stephen and I have faced a lot of hardship together. We have faced things together which would have torn many couples apart. But, yes, we are still happy together. We are happy in a different way from when we first met years ago, of course, but we still choose to spend our time together. We still make each other laugh. We still have the intimacy of a couple ‘in love’.

The one ‘gift’ of my divorce was that it allowed me to look critically at my own shortcomings as a human being and figure out how I could be a better partner the second time around. I express my needs clearly. If there is a problem or an issue, I will not allow it to fester. I probably drive my husband nuts at times, but I don’t want to waste time being angry at each other. We resolve problems quickly or just decide maybe the ‘problem’ isn’t worth spending energy on. Move on. Let the anger go.

While divorce is painful and difficult for all involved, I learned something from mine which, I hope, makes me a better person and a better spouse today.

Are you happy?

Life is hard. There are times when the world is going to hand you a lot of really challenging stuff you have to face. You may not always love your job, but you should always love your partner. Home should be the place where you are loved and cared for no matter what else is going on in the cruel, harsh world.

If you aren’t happy in your relationship, why not? Do you feel valued and respected? Do you make your spouse feel valued and respected? What can you BOTH do to improve your relationship? Is it fixable? Or is there too much anger for either of you to move beyond? Maybe what you wanted at 20 is just not what you realize you need at 40 or 50?

Either figure out a way to fix things or move on.

Before anyone accuses me of being cavalier about marriage, I assure you I am not. However, there is a point where everyone involved is losing, including the kids. I have witnessed many people going through the motions in their own marriages. I have also seen people stick it out even though it is clear everyone involved is miserable.

And I have seen a whole lot of happiness the second time around.

If I die tomorrow, I hope my husband tells everyone ‘We were so happy’. And I hope he tells people he was happy because I made him laugh, and took him on crazy adventures, and made him feel loved and sexy, and teased him about how obsessed he was with getting the garbage out on time, but that’s because I knew that was part of how he showed our family love…and I sincerely appreciated it.

And I know for the last few days, I have thought often about this couple who was so happy and I have cried and thought a million times about how my heart aches for her. I know many, many people will miss her husband, but none as much as she will. I hope everyone who knows her allows to her to be sad, and angry, and to say it isn’t fucking fair, because it isn’t. I hope she feels free to cry, scream, stomp her feet, break things or do whatever she needs to do to get through each day.

Because in a world where there is so much unhappiness, I cannot make any sense of why a couple who was so happy together has been denied the many more years of joy they should have had ahead of them. They were in love. They were happy. They made each other better people that second time around, because that’s what love does. It makes you better together.

Celebrate love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saying Goodbye

Today we said good-bye to a member of our family. Our beloved 11.5-year-old Bullmastiff, Greta had to be put to sleep today.

She came to us many years ago. I had two young kids and I wanted a low maintenance dog who would be good with children. Greta was all of that but she was so much more. She was a tiny puppy who became a larger-than-life companion.

Riley was 6 and Peyton was 1 when we brought Greta home.. Peyton has no memories of life without Greta and Riley has few. We got her from Goldbars Kennel in Holyoke, CO.

Greta's litter. Her mama, Maddie, from Goldbars kennel

Greta’s litter. Her mama, Maddie, from Goldbars kennel

Maddie

Maddie

Greta's daddy Alden

Greta’s daddy Alden

Greta as a tiny puppy

Greta as a tiny puppy

Peyton & Riley with Greta the day we brought her home

Peyton & Riley with Greta the day we brought her home

Riley holding Greta

Riley holding Greta

Peyton loving her new puppy

Peyton loving her new puppy

Riley content to snuggle

Riley content to snuggle

One member of our family was less than thrilled with the addition of a new puppy.

One member of our family was less than thrilled with the addition of a new puppy.

Peyton and Greta really grew up together. Greta quickly demonstrated that she had the patience of a saint. She also LOVED children. She loved everyone, but she had a special place in her heart for kids. We could not walk by a playground without her tail practically wagging off of her body. She would give kisses that would completely drench a child’s face. This was either met with amusement or horror.

Peyton & Greta

Peyton & Greta

Peyton & Greta spent many lazy weekend mornings together.

Peyton & Greta spent many lazy weekend mornings together.

She had a lot of personality

She had a lot of personality

She always wanted to be with us.

She always wanted to be with us.

Greta sometimes (Ok, often) got into mischief. Her appetite was legendary. At the age of 8 months, she ate the side of our love seat. As she got older, she ate tennis balls, packages of balloons, Peyton’s tooth that was packaged for the tooth fairy, children’s vitamins that contained iron (she had to get her stomach pumped), a tampon, Peyton’s birthday cake, an easter basket full of candy, multiple barbie dolls, an avocado seed, plastic bags, silly band bracelets (rainbow poop as evidence), entire loaves of bread, my friend’s tooth-brush, headphones, and part of the kitchen floor among other things. When she first started eating random objects, I used to panic and call the emergency vet. After hearing several times, “Due to her size, she should pass that OK”, I learned to relax a bit. She was honestly very lucky to survive her culinary adventures.

Her love of Barbies was legendary

Her love of Barbies was legendary

greta barbie help

the living room often looked like a crime scene.

the living room often looked like a crime scene.

Friends even brought Barbies to Greta as peace offerings.

Friends even brought Barbies to Greta as peace offerings.

She was a natural beauty

She was a natural beauty

But when I think of Greta, I think of that stuff with a wistful smile. I remember her for being a gentle giant who was always full of love. Despite her large size, she had a sweet and loving disposition. She was welcoming of everyone who came to our home. She loved my children. She adored their friends.

And a lap dog.

And a lap dog.

And a lounge lizard.

And a lounge lizard.

No one could relax like she could.

No one could relax like she could.

There was that day last winter when she decided to dismantle the Christmas Tree.

There was that day last winter when she decided to dismantle the Christmas Tree.

In 2014

In 2014

greta bone

She has helped me raise my kids over these last 11.5 years. She helped me when I mourned the loss of our German Shepherd, Klondike, and my cat, Tribble. When I was diagnosed with cancer, she was a source of constant love, comfort and companionship. She was always up for snuggling on the couch or my bed. During my treatments, she started showing real signs of age and wear and tear. I prayed to God that she would survive until I at least finished treatments. She did. She was sometimes naughty, but she was truly an amazingly good and special girl.

And when I went through chemotherapy, she was always by my side.

And when I went through chemotherapy, she was always by my side.

These last couple of weeks, she starting showing significant distress. We tried a few treatments, but the reality is that she was a big girl who had outlived her projected life span. Most Bullmastiffs do not make it to over 11. She could no longer get out to go to the bathroom, among other issues, and we knew it was time. We said goodbye to her this morning. We surrounded her and told her we loved her. The girls cradled her giant head in their laps and we eased her way across to the Rainbow Bridge. As sad as this is for all of us, I am grateful that we could ease her very obvious suffering. I know that during her last night in our home, she was so ill that Steve and I would have done anything to take away her pain.

For now, there are many tears and the emotional toll is hell, but ultimately it is all worth it in the end. That’s part of the bargain when you love a dog: You know that you will have to say good-bye much too soon. It seems so strange that all of the creatures that inhabited our home, our hearts and our lives early on in our marriage are now all gone. It feels like the end of an era in many ways. The little six-year-old girl who carried Greta in her arms all of those years ago will be 18 in days. The other little girl is on the cusp of being a teenager. In many ways, it feels like a lifetime ago that we brought her home.

We loved Greta so deeply but, more than anything, we were so lucky to be loved by our Greta.  Our hearts, our arms and our laps are currently empty but I know that, with time, our memories will become more of a source of comfort and less of a source of tears.

Greta dog jail

“Beating” Cancer

As I went through my cancer treatments, people often said, “You kicked cancer’s ass!” or “You beat cancer!” I always felt a little uncomfortable with these phrases. Frankly, I never felt like I kicked anything’s ass. In fact, during my treatments, I felt like I was getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis. I had no other choice but to keep moving forward, no matter what nasty side effects cancer and my treatments kept throwing at me. Like many people confronting a deadly illness, I would have done anything in the world to get one more day, one more hour, one more minute with my family.

Right now, and hopefully forever, I show no evidence of disease. If it comes back and I am not so lucky the next time around, does that mean that cancer beat me? As I have watched many wonderful, amazing, kind, loving, vibrant human beings die as a result of having had cancer, I never once thought, “Boy, cancer sure beat that person” or “Cancer kicked that person’s ass!” I have only thought how unfair it is that we continue to lose so many wonderful people who fought so fiercely and valiantly for so long.

I know the people who say these things are doing so out of love and kindness. I have appreciated every single person who has been supportive as I have navigated this journey. I just find the language we use in regards to cancer to be interesting. We don’t hear people talking about “kicking ass” in regards to other illnesses. Yet we often talk about cancer in fighting terms. “Warrior”, “fighter” and “battle” are all terms that we use in regards to cancer, and for good reason. The treatments that we undergo to save our lives continue to be nothing short of barbaric. We undergo extreme surgeries and pump toxins into our bodies in order to save our own lives. It is a battle. We are fighting to for our lives.

Where it makes me squirm a bit is when we start talking in terms of winning and losing. The implication when someone says, “You kicked cancer’s ass” is that somehow I was tougher, stronger, or a better fighter than a person who died as a result of their illness. This is simply not true. I would like to think I am a tough person, but I really attribute the fact that I am still here largely to luck. I got lucky. At least this time around. If my cancer comes back and ultimately kills me, I am still the same person. I am still the same fighter. I am still the same “strong” person with human frailties and vulnerabilities who just wanted to live with ever fiber or her being.

I woke up yesterday to the news that Stuart Scott, of ESPN, had passed away. Stuart Scott had fought cancer since 2007. He gave one of the best speeches about living with cancer that I have ever heard. You can listen to it here.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11225895&ex_cid=sportscenterTW

As Stuart Scott says in his speech, “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” I could not agree more. So while I am so saddened that the world has lost Mr. Scott, I never for one minute think cancer beat him. He was an inspiration to so many survivors. He was strong, while not being afraid to express his own human vulnerabilities. He acknowledged that he relied on the support of many people while going through his treatments. I appreciate his honesty about how much we need other people while facing a significant illness, because it is true. He demonstrated that you can be a tough fighter while still needed help from others. He expressed how desperately he wanted to see his children grow up. I can relate to all of the feelings he articulates because I have experienced them myself. Stuart Scott demonstrated how to live a full life in the face of adversity. Cancer did not win. Cancer did not beat Stuart Scott, just as it does not beat any of us who have fought to save our own lives. We will all truly “beat cancer” when we find a cure for the many diseases that fall under the “cancer” umbrella.When we find real cures, then I will rejoice and say, “We really did beat cancer!”