Preserving Memories: Hard Work But Necessary

It’s been almost 2 years since our sister Colleen died, and we still feel like we can hear what she would say if we could call her up to tell her some piece of news from our lives. But recently, in gathering some memories of her, at first we had a hard time coming up with stories and remembering specifics. The inability to bring up vivid memories induced panic. It’s only been 2 years, what will happen 5, 10 years from now? What if we have already forgotten or continue to forget funny stories from growing up or some piece of wisdom she gave us? We wanted to know more about how to preserve her memory. Our set of shared experiences is now closed. There is no chance to make new memories.

There seems to be some belief tied to the idea of “moving on” that it is natural and maybe a few feel that it is even necessary to forget the deceased somewhat. But most people continue to have some kind of relationship with the person they lost, and want to keep that person’s memory alive. Figuring out a new relationship with them can be empowering and lead to happiness. In our experience, the pressure to move on comes at the same time that the too short sympathy period ends, and when the condolences dry up, so do the stories that other people share with you about your loved one. Then it can feel like not only do you have “grief brain” - or the distracted, everyday forgetfulness that comes with grief - but your memories that include your loved one seem to be slipping away as well.  

We began searching for ideas and, initially, we came up with the obvious: talk about your loved one often and share stories with others. If you’re like us, memory gets fuzzier as we get older, and repetition helps us to remember stories. We also find that pictures help to recall details, so looking back through photo albums - hard copies or online - can restore memories. We ordered extra copies of a photo book we made for our sister and enjoy looking through it whenever we miss her. Another approach is to write down memories as they come up in a journal or create a memory jar of stories and pictures that you can pick out to view any time.  

In “Passed and Present”, author Allison Gilbert talks about the task of remembering as part of grief and reminds us that “[w]hen it comes to keeping the memory of our loved ones alive, that work is up to us.” She offers unique, concrete strategies for doing so. Some of our favorites among her suggestions include using social media to invite stories about your loved one, such as posting on Facebook on an anniversary and requesting others to comment with their memories, making a playlist of songs that remind you of your loved one, keeping their recipes with an anecdote about them, and making a memory game with family pictures that include deceased relatives to help your children remember them (we were excited to see Shutterfly offers these personalized games!)

{Shane} I have some pieces of jewelry and clothes of my sister’s that remind me of her whenever I see or wear them. I love getting compliments on them because it makes me think of her and what good sense of style she had, and sometimes I imagine telling her what so-and-so said about her fabulous necklace. I treasure gifts she gave me or my daughter. I also have a few things that I gave to her, which came back to me after she died. Some were nice gifts I gave to her as an adult, like a pretty gold tray, and others were gifts I gave to her when we were children that bring back funny memories to me whenever I see them, like the scrapbook of quotes and poems I made for her in high school. I loved making crafts as a kid and since Colleen was my cool, older sister, I often made them for her. She didn’t always want them, like the poor ugly teddy bear I sewed for her thirteenth birthday when she was too old for teddy bears. But she must have appreciated my efforts if it still exists to this day. I wish we could still talk and laugh about all my arts and crafts.

Recently, a fleece sweatshirt of hers that I loved to wear was ruined by my dog. I was so mad at myself for leaving it out, and at the dog for chewing a hole in it - really, what dog mistakes a sweatshirt for a chew toy? I realized then that some of the tangible objects I have that remind me of Colleen will inevitably get ruined or lost or maybe fall out of style and wind up in the back of my closet. That doesn’t mean I want to stop wearing them or using them now, but it does mean I need to think through making concerted efforts to preserve her memory on several fronts, with and without tangible things.

{Jessica} I often find myself holding and rubbing a necklace that Colleen gave me. Sometimes, I reflexively do it and other times when I am thinking of Colleen. I wear the necklace often because if I wear it, then I feel like she is with me. When she gave us all this necklace, she was very sick and knew that she was dying. Some of the thoughts of her bring me back to this time, to her looking so ill and frail and to a very painful time. I get frustrated that I can so easily bring myself back to those terrible memories, yet have to rack my brain to remember that time as children when Colleen snuck dessert into our shared bedroom after I had gotten in trouble and lost my treat. Perhaps it is easiest to remember the sad parts as they are my most recent memories, but I want my memory to only go to the happy times and to the image of Colleen as the beautiful, strong  sister that I miss. I like to look at pictures of her when she is having fun and remember all of those good times. My hope is that I can erase that sickly image of her.

It is hard work to think of old memories and I’d rather just be able to call my sister. I recently found myself having some very sad days when I wanted to call Colleen and get her advice on something but was unable to. I realized in those days that I will go through most of my adult life without her and would come across moments like this often. I decided to just talk to her and imagine what she would tell me and it helped me to move on. I continue to talk to my children about her because I don’t want them to grow up without feeling like they knew her. That is my big fear, that we will get too comfortable in going on without her. I want her to always be with us and on our minds.

Friends and family can help to preserve memories. It is always nice to hear others speak fondly of our sister and we are always looking for new stories and new ways to have her on our mind.  Share funny stories, send along pictures that you come across, or a note that you find. Consider asking specific questions about a deceased loved one to help spark memories. There are parts of their history that only you may know and that are worth sharing. We encourage everyone to be a part of preserving memories of those that have died. And if you have lost someone and want to do more to preserve your memory of them or maintain a connection with them, don’t be afraid to be proactive - whether that means making one of the memory projects mentioned here or simply talking more about your loved one and asking others to share memories with you.

Tell us in the comments section below - What do you do to preserve the memory of lost loved ones?

Essential

The timing of this important guest is perfect as we look forward to Thanksgiving and reflect about what we are grateful for. We are thrilled to introduce our very special family friend, Ellen St. Germain, as a guest blogger. We have known Ellen and her fabulous family for our entire lives and they are basically part of our extended family. We are blessed to have them in our lives and our sister, Colleen, was very thankful for this wonderful friendship. They have provided us tremendous support and comfort after Colleen’s death. This week, Ellen, talks about the unique bond that she and Colleen shared and how Colleen continues to be part of her life.

Little did I know how essential Colleen was in my life, until this past year.  Colleen and I knew each other before we were born – little twinkles in the sky – as our Dads went to medical school together.  Colleen and I are both the oldest children – Colleen with her four sisters, and I have two sisters and one brother.  We grew up together living long distance from one another, as “pen pals” back when “snail mail” was the normal mode of communication, and taking our annual ski trips with the nine kids and four parents.  Those ski trips to places like Vail, Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte are some of the most fun memories of my childhood.  I idolized Colleen.  I could not wait to have a ski vacation and get to be with her for a week.  I thought she was just perfect in every way – so academically smart, so athletically coordinated, so beautiful, such a great sister and daughter, and the list goes on.  Colleen could do no wrong in my eyes.  I always aspired to be just like her.  There was so much that I could learn from her on how to be a better person.  The November before Colleen died, she wrote to me about how hard it is to explain our relationship “to say we are just friends seems so simple and trite.”  That is just it, hard to explain.  

Drawn by Ellen in 1985

Drawn by Ellen in 1985

Colleen and I both went to the University of Notre Dame for undergrad (Go Irish!!).  I loved having her so close, and got to spend many holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter back with her family in Michigan.  Our senior year, there were many times when I crashed at her apartment after a night out.  Colleen always went out of her way to do kind things while we were in college together – like make cookies or meet up for meals or organize get-togethers when our parents were in town.  Colleen always put other people first, she made everyone feel special and unique.  That was just her nature.  It was a great four years where I grew even closer to her, since we were physically in the same location at a time before social media was king.  When we graduated, she gave me the poem below.  “With every goodbye you learn” – I am not really sure that at that time, I would understand what that could mean to me.     

Right after Colleen passed away in February of 2015, my sister noticed that my youngest son had something on his eye ball.  Fast forward to this year, and three eye surgeries later under the care of an excellent cornea specialist – praise God and praise Colleen that everything is proceeding normally.  Who would have thought that part of my daily life is now in one of Colleen’s greatest talents – that of a cornea specialist??  I think of Colleen every single day – multiple times a day, when I am putting eye medicine in my youngest son’s eye.  I have found myself standing in Target trying to figure out which Artificial Tears to buy for him, because they all have different ingredients, with tears streaming down my face because I can’t call Colleen on the phone to ask her what to buy.  I find myself talking out loud to Colleen asking her if we need to get another doctor’s opinion, or if we are doing the right thing in his medical care.  Each night, we pray to St. Lucy (patron saint of eyes) and St. Colleen.  There is absolutely no doubt that she is guiding us through this process.  I know that Colleen is helping us to make the best decisions for the next steps in his medical plan, I can “feel” her.  Colleen was a medical doctor, but she was also a Mom!!  I can hear her saying “I am right here, you are not alone.”

Colleen was my first close friend to pass away at a young age.  At the time it happened, I don’t think I really fully processed what was going on and simply suppressed my emotions (minus the funeral mass, where I turned into a sobbing, shaking mess).  Denial seemed the easiest route at the time.  But God has an interesting way of intercepting our lives, to provide us guidance as we take it one step at a time, and this past year, the journey on my son’s eye has really helped me to face my emotions.  As I pray to Colleen so often, she helps me put perspective into the priorities in life – ordered by our Catholic faith, our family and our friends.  I am very thankful that her sisters have started this blog as a resource for our age group.  They have continued Colleen’s mission in being essential to many people’s lives.  I look forward to reading each post and find myself nodding along in things I wish I had known to have been a better friend during the process.  It can be awkward for this age group to try and navigate through the end of life process.  This is not the natural order of how things are supposed to happen.  Yet as I have learned, Colleen remains essential in my life – whether she is here on Earth or up in heaven.  I tell my youngest son how lucky he is to have his own very special guardian angel.  Love you, and thank you, Colleen.

 

Loss, Tragedy, and the Power of Healing

We are excited to share the last installment of a series from a family who dealt with tragic loss. We heard from Amanda and Tyler who shared their perspective on grieving the death of their beloved Ford, a Captain in the United States Marine Corps. This week, we are happy to introduce a guest blogger and friend, Kathryn Tappen, who shares her emotional story of losing several pieces of her puzzle and how she survived such difficult times in her life. We are grateful for this family’s insight into grief and their touching and wise words.

2014 was a year I wanted to forget. After five years of marriage, my husband chose to move on with his life without me. Throughout this difficult time, I relied on the strength of my parents, my sister, and my closest relatives and friends.

I had never experienced pain on that level ever before in my life. Anyone who has ever gone through a divorce knows the debilitating pain, the shame, the embarrassment, the overwhelming feeling of failure, and ultimately, the feeling of death.

I had lost the one person in my life who was supposed to be with me until death do we part, the person who knew me better at times than I knew myself. My best friend.

I had lost a piece to my puzzle.

One of the hardest phone calls I had to make was to my Uncle Tom right before a big family wedding in August 2014 to tell him that my husband wouldn’t be at the wedding, and I had to tell him why. I had kept everything so private and quiet up until I knew that the marriage was over, mostly because I was so ashamed and felt like everyone would view me as a failure. My Uncle Tom, my Dad’s brother, is like a second father to me. From a young age, he treated me as the daughter he never had. I always wanted to make him proud,I followed in his footsteps at Rutgers University, where he was a Hall of Fame football player and standout athlete, and where I carried on the Tappen tradition by competing as a Scarlet Knight in track and field.

That phone call was the first time in my life I had ever heard my big and strong Uncle Tom’s voice quiver. And yet, at the same time, I felt empowered by his words. Uncle Tom had also gone through a divorce at a young age. I guess along with everything else, we had that in common too. He shared valuable words of insight, knowledge, wisdom, and experience with me that I will never forget. I knew I could depend on Uncle Tom to help get me through this difficult time.

Five months later, on January 1, 2015, I lost my dear Uncle Tom to cancer.

Another puzzle piece, lost.

At this same time, my career was taking off. I had to smile triumphantly in the public eye, and yet I was dealing with so much personal heartache and pain behind closed doors. I wondered how I was supposed to get through each day.

A few weeks after Uncle Tom’s death, my cousin Ford, my Mom’s sister’s son and also a Marine, called me. Ford is like a brother to me. We grew up just miles from one another in New Jersey, and spent every waking moment together as kids. We would have cousin sleepovers, family barbeques, holidays, and everything else in between together. Those who aren’t close to their extended family may not understand, but in my family, these cousins are my siblings. I remember sitting on my balcony at the Marriott hotel in Charleston, South Carolina talking to Ford for the better part of almost two hours.

Ford, being from my Mom’s side of the family, called me that day to talk about the loss of Uncle Tom. While he only met Uncle Tom a few times, he had so much respect for him as a fellow Marine, and knew how close we all were to him. The conversation then went to my struggle with the loss of my marriage. Ford always has a way of being the rock in your life. He said something I’ll never forget: “Kathryn, on a scale of 1-to-10, you’re a 12. And anybody who is going to try to be with you in the future is going to have to get approval from me first, because no one is good enough to be with you.” At the time, I needed that. I felt so much better knowing that Ford had my back. We had the best conversation of our lives that day. We shared things with each other that no one else knew. We made plans to see one another later in March at my parent’s house in South Carolina.

Less than two months after our phone conversation, on March 10, 2015, Ford was killed. The Black Hawk helicopter operated by four members of the Louisiana National Guard and carrying Ford and six of his teammates in the Marine Corps Special Ops Command (MARSOC) forces crashed off the coast of the Florida Panhandle during a training mission. Three tours of active duty overseas, and Ford was gone on our own American soil. Ford was Captain of the elite MARSOC and a proud Naval Academy graduate. Basically, Ford was a bad ass American hero with three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a Bronze Medal Recipient. But to me, he was my Ford, my cousin who gave the biggest hugs, had the loudest laugh in the room, the best sense of humor, and the guy who was going to protect me like a brother.

A third piece of the puzzle, lost.

I could write for days and pen thousands of words on how my life following Ford’s tragic death has changed. I’ll never be the same. No one in my family every will. The vivid images ingrained in my mind of burying an American Hero is tragic, ceremonious, regal, devastating, and beautiful, all at the same time. It pains me that so many families, like ours, have to bear this heavy cross.

I think about Ford’s parents and his brother every single day. I don’t know how my Auntie Mo, Uncle Wo, and cousin Tyler possibly get through a moment in time. But we are a resilient, strong family, and we continue to power along.

I have always been strong with my Faith and rely on prayer and God’s strength to help me through difficult times. At age 35, I can confidently say I’ve maxed out my calling minutes to the man upstairs!

Just last week, it was a beautiful warm, Spring day. I drove to the cemetery where Ford is laid to rest. I lay down on the grass above where he is buried, and cried. I talked to him for a long time. The birds were singing, the sky was crystal clear. I wanted to be close to him. I always do.

Anyone who has experienced great loss or tragedy in his or her life has undoubtedly asked “Why? Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?”

I did the same.

Until I realized the power and strength of healing.

Life goes on.

There was a good stretch of two years of my life that was absolutely horrendous. However, I’ve come out on the other side of pain, tragedy, and heartache. I have learned so much more about myself, what my mind and spirit are capable of handling, and how resilient and strong I am.

I have also learned that leaning on the people around me is imperative. I have learned so much more about my parents, my sister, my family, and my dear friends through this tragic time. Opening up about the many great losses in my life and the obstacles and challenges I have faced, has brought me closer to people around me, whether they are confidants of mine, or complete strangers who hear my story for the first time.

I will never forget the sad, tragic, and overwhelming events of the past two years of my life.

However, they will not define me. Life, and I, must go on. Ford, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. He would be so mad at me if I didn’t laugh the way I used to, smile my big smile, and carry on his great hugs with every new person I meet. Uncle Tom, would be so disappointed in me if I sat and sulked, if I thought, “I can’t, or I won’t” even just once. Unfortunately, we all lose a piece, or pieces of our puzzle. Life, changes in an instant. I look for the signs from God every single day to make sure I realize how precious life is. I never want to lose that perspective.

Living with Acceptance

We have the next installment of our series from a wonderful family that lost a hero, a Special Operations Marine, and a brother, cousin and friend. We are proud to introduce Tyler, the brother of Captain Stanford H. Shaw III, who discusses sibling loss in a genuine way and allows us in on his experience of an acute loss, subsequent grief, and journey towards acceptance.

This is not a happy post. I just want to get that out of the way. Yes, despite the crushing loss of my brother, I am a genuinely happy person, but sometimes the oppressive weight of his absence brings me, metaphorically, to my knees. And that’s ok.

So that’s the perspective from which I write today—from down on the ground, gasping for breath; from my pulled-over car as the tears come so heavily that my windshield wiper eyelids can’t blink them away fast enough; from that broken person who sees the first post about “National Sibling Day,” and knows to avoid social media for 48 hours, because even after 24, Newsfeed will catch you up on everything you’ve missed, and it’s just too painful to see all your friends smiling next to their still-living siblings. And that’s ok.

Today I write, not for hope or encouragement, but for permission.  Permission to feel whatever you need to feel, without apologies of excuses. My name is Tyler. I’m 30 years old, I work in elementary special education, and for 29 years, I had an awesome older brother—a Special Operations Marine, Captain Stanford H Shaw III. To me, he was my big brother, Ford.  Ford died on March 10, 2015, when his helicopter went down in a night training mission.  He was killed alongside six fellow Marines and four Army National Guardsmen, in what was a highly publicized crash.

Tyler's dear brother, Ford

Tyler's dear brother, Ford

We heard the news on the internet, but names were being withheld. My mother called every person she could, trying to find out if Ford was on that helicopter. I went to work, because I couldn’t sit around and worry. Worry changes nothing and besides, I had students who depend on me. Take care of those you lead. Complete the mission, right? I told my coworkers I needed to have my phone on that day. My mother called at 10am to tell me it was confirmed that Ford was on the helicopter, but it hadn’t been located (it crashed in water). It was officially still a “search and rescue.”

All my cousins, aunts, uncles, etc, were at my house. I stayed at work because…what else was I going to do? Sit, wait, worry?  My students have behavior disabilities.  I can solve their problems. My problem had no solution. 

Everyone was hopeful they would find seven Marines treading water. Not me. I’ve always been a pragmatist. The second it was confirmed that Ford was on-board I started mourning my brother. People told me to hope. I wanted to strangle them.  Don’t. TELL.  Me.  How. To. FEEL!

At noon, my mother called again. “The Marines are here. You’re a designated next of kin. They have to inform you in person that Ford is missing. You can come here, or they’ll come see you at work.” Well, that was out of the question. Tell me in front of my kindergarteners and first graders that my brother was likely just killed? Absolutely not. Shield them from the desperation and anguish of death. Protect their innocence. They come first. I left work.

That was the last time I was a whole person.

They told me Ford was missing. Eventually, they left. My extended family smothered us with messages of hope. I remember saying, “We have to start accepting the fact that Ford isn’t coming home. My brother is dead.” “Don’t say that!  He’s a strong swimmer. If anyone has a chance of surviving, he does,” someone countermanded. I deadpanned, “We need to stop clinging to a false hope.  I’m mourning my brother.” I quickly learned that some people have a really big problem if you don’t mourn the way they expect you to. To hell with them.

The Marines returned at 1am to deliver the confirmation that Ford was killed. By this time, his fiancé, also a Marine, had arrived from North Carolina where two weeks before, she had moved in with Ford for the first time in their 10-year relationship, as they were finally stationed together. We all knew he was dead, but hearing official word gave us the right to start properly mourning. Everyone else could back off with their damnable false hope. That’s when I started learning about myself.

I am an extremely social person. Truly extroverted. I draw my energy from crowds.  I’m “on” as long as there are two or more people in the room. I pack every day with work and social obligations. It’s trite to say that a rolling stone gathers no moss, but I’m rubbed smooth by constant rolling. If my plans are canceled, I’ve replaced them with new ones before texting, “No worries.” I know what I’m doing every day of the month, and I book my next get-together or catch-up six to eight weeks out. I have always been this way, and my friends and acquaintances are constantly in awe of how much I’m able to pack into non-work hours.

Then my brother died. I wanted everyone OUT. The irony of this, of course, is that my house immediately became Central Command. Family kept pouring in; friends from everywhere came out of the woodwork; military personnel constantly in and out with sensitive information; family members sometimes had to be told, “You need to leave.  This is a private meeting.”  Neighbors with food; family with food; coworkers with food. Gift cards, fruit baskets, flower arrangements, delivery men, news vans (the WORST). For the next ten days, as we fought to recover Ford’s remains and arrange services, my house was a drop-kicked hornets nest, and all I wanted to do was stand up and scream, “GET OUT! GET THE F*** OUT OF MY HOUSE! GO!  LEAVE!  TAKE YOUR S*** AND GO! NOW!!!” I wanted every well-intentioned but overbearing relation out. I was shocked at myself—the only people I wanted around were three Marines who knew Ford best, and his fiancé. They were the only comfort, these three Marines whom I hardly knew, and my supposed-to-be sister-in-law.

The beautiful Shaw Family

The beautiful Shaw Family

Of course, what I needed didn’t matter. Everyone else had his or her own needs, and each person’s needs were paramount. I confided in my mother, how I couldn’t  stand the constant crowd, and she wisely stated what I knew but couldn’t verbalize: “I know. But they need to be here. For themselves.”  Well forget what I need. I’m just his brother. I only just lost the one person on the planet that’s known me through every childhood experience that shaped the man I’ve become. The one person I could always rely on to know who I am, and to be there for my entire life, as we started our own families. I only lost half of myself, but please, everyone, tell me how I can entertain you, instead of crafting a eulogy for the brother I will never have again. I finished that eulogy the morning of his wake, when my parents and his fiancé drove to Delaware under police escort, to bring Ford home. I had to miss that. Because I was just his brother.  And everyone else had needs.

Ford’s services were incredible. The 500-something people who attended, the community that lined the streets, the Marines, the friends, the family—I will never forget the tragic beauty of it all. But then I had to return to my life.

I returned to work, and my students were so happy to see me after more than a week of being away. Their parents had told them what happened, despite my wanting to shield them from such tragedy. One particularly dear-to-my-heart kindergartener gave me a picture he drew of a small, green man. Saint Patrick’s Day had passed while I was gone, so I asked, “Aw!  Is that the leprechaun that visited while I was away?” “No,” he explained, “That’s your brother, the soldier.  Do you miss him?” The lump in my throat was impossible to speak around, so I just nodded and mouthed, “Yes,” before burying my face in the closet to “find some supplies.”

That was the only time I cried that day. In the year and a half since, I have felt guilty every day because, while I still put 100% of my heart into my students and their continued success, 100% of my shriveled, withered, dying heart can only fill a bucket. It used to fill oceans. I love my job, my coworkers, and my students. I don’t think any of them see a difference, but I feel it. The crushing weight of emptiness has reduced the sun of my heart to the glimmer of a firefly, but I will continue to shine as bright as a firefly can, until I burn out.

This “not-being-enough-ness” is far worse personally, than professionally. Ask any surviving sibling what it feels like on Mother’s Day. Ford and I were two halves of a whole.  Now I’m just a half. With the exception of Ford’s birthday and death day, Mother’s and Father’s Day are now two of the worst days of the year. It is an excruciating pain to hug your mother on a day that celebrates her, and know you alone are not enough. To see in her eyes that she feels like half a mother—because half of her identity as such is gone—and to know that you will never be enough (because how could you be?), but you can’t fault her for feeling that way so you just have to love, knowing your love is inadequate, is to know the burden of a surviving sibling.

Father’s Day is no better.  Thanksgiving? Drink. Easter? Drink. Christmas?  Forget it.  Decorating the tree with all the homemade picture ornaments from when he was in preschool? Chip a chunk off my frozen heart to chill your drink. Hang a stocking that will remain empty? My heart just sank the Titanic. Holidays are always the worst after a death because they’re filled with memory and absence. I would bet anyone reading this already knows that. Holidays are about traditions, the past, and memory. That’s hard, but what about the future? What about all the lost possibilities?  What about all the things that will never be?

Ford was engaged, and after a decade with his awesome fiancé, there were definitely going to be nieces and/or nephews in my future. I’m a gay man, and while adoption and/or surrogacy are options, having a child is going to be extremely difficult for me. I love children, and I’m pretty sure I would have been an awesome uncle. For years, I sort of saw myself as the best uncle my brother’s kids could ask for, and that would be enough for me—I wouldn’t need children of my own, because I would be there for his. That’s off the table now. My parents want grandchildren, and I’m their only hope for that, now. A hope that, as I steamroll into my thirties, I realize may never become a reality. I’m single, and with one four-month exception, I’ve been single for 30 years. I will not have children without a husband. I want to provide my children with the kind of home and family that has been so integral to my identity.

Let’s say I do get married. Ford is my best man. So…I don’t have a best man. Do I leave a space where he should stand? Do I put a picture there? Do I forget it completely and fill his space with someone else? No one can ever fill Ford’s space. My husband will never know Ford. My past and future will never share the present. My life will forever be disconnected. How do we, as surviving siblings, bear this impossible weight?

Finally, as I look towards the future, I can’t help but think about my parents. Some day, hopefully decades from now, they will pass away, too. I will make every decision about their services alone. I will settle their estate alone. I will weep at their graves alone.  In this world, I will be alone. Yes, that is only one of endless possibilities, but it is the one I dread above all else—to be the last one standing from my nuclear family. To know that when my flame gutters out, our line is ended.

This is not a happy post. This post is about living with the weight of existence. Since Ford died, I have said, “Yes,” to everything.  I have pushed myself to new limits—I fear less, risk more. I live harder, knowing that life may not be kind, but I will push that despair away as long as possible, because in spite of everything, there is joy to be found in this world, and I will never stop looking for it. He wouldn’t want me to.

Ford’s life ended too soon, but I am here, and I will live for us both. When I see him again, I’ll have some amazing stories to tell, but in the meantime, I will live, truly and fully. I will live.

Captain H. Stanford Shaw, III

Captain H. Stanford Shaw, III