Sunday, January 9, 2022

Orphaned at 50

     The title of this post seems strange to write, and is probably even stranger to read.  But that is my reality right now.  I lost my first parent in 2003 when I was 32 and I lost my last parent in 2021 when I was 50.  When my Dad died in 2003, it came as a bit of a surprise.  We had just come home from a birthday party for my nephew and niece and Mom called to say that she needed help getting Dad back in bed.  It seems he tried to get up and fell down. I started driving to her house, a good 25 minutes away, and when I arrived on her street I saw a fire truck.  I thought she must have called the fire department to help.  When I opened the door I saw a body lying on the floor under a sheet.  Dad had a coronary event and died.  That came as a bit of a surprise.

    When Mom died in 2021, it did not come as a surprise.  She had been sick for 6 years and had really started to go down hill after breaking her hip in April, 2021.  By the time that she reposed, everyone had made time to spend with her and there were no surprise..or so I thought.  After taking care of all the funeral arrangements, the church Divine Liturgy and inurnment, there was one last thing that needed to take place.  That was getting rid of her car that was leased through Honda Finance.  That simple act smacked me in the face and forced me to stare reality in the face.  After 50 years on this earth I was alone.  

    The death of the last parent is an end of an era, the final goodbye to our childhood.  Writing that seems ridiculous as my high school graduation was 35 years ago, but it still is an end of an era.  The two people who remembered first steps, taught you to drive, watched you get married, watched you bury your spouse and watched you get remarried are gone.  The two people who witnessed your life, who gave you a cushion of unconditional love, are forever gone.

    In the span of 5 years I had a spouse of 21 years die within 10 months of receiving a cancer diagnosis almost one year after my mom received her initial diagnosis.  When Theresa died, a large part of my adult life died with her.  I had known her since high school and married her at the age of 24.  We grew up together, we learned how to be married together, and we learned how to be parents together.  She had a horrendous home life when she was a child and we had nothing to do with her worthless parents after she moved out.  So I did not have any in-laws to deals with on a go-forward basis after her death.  In some respect that made things easier to deal with.  No awkward gatherings, no sideways glances for choices that I made on getting married a second time.

    However, the one stark reality of losing a spouse is you realize that any familial ties you have to your spouses family do not necessarily survive after their death.  When Theresa died I still had my Mom who was living and that provided some sense of normalcy.  After Mom died in June, the reality of my situation hit home.  I am alone for the first time in nearly 51 years.  I married Jennifer and have been "taken in" by her family but I know that is only a temporary existence until death or other life issues do us part. At times it seems like Ryan and I are just outsiders who have been taken in; grafted into a family tree because there was some space available.  I see what happened to Jennie's relationship with her ex-husbands parents who have a tie to her children.  They are really non-existent in the kids life and Jennie has no tie to them whatsoever. If something were to happen to Jennie or something were to happen to our marriage, that familial tie that was forged through marriage would disappear given that we have no children born from our marriage. This is really no ones fault, it is just the way things work in this world.

     The ultimate reality sets in after losing both parents.  There is no longer an "invisible" safe zone between you and the grim reaper.  It was merely an illusion anyway, children sometimes die before their parents, but the buffer felt real.  As long as my parents were alive, I wasn't next in line for death.  I remember sitting with my Dad at the funeral of his brother Tom.  Dad looked up as the casket and said, "Well, I guess I'm next to go."  And it turned out that he was the next to go.  The illusion that as long as I was someones child, I could live as though I was still young and nearly immortal.  It really is hell to get old. 


Monday, December 20, 2021

Time Doesn't Stop, Why Should I?


    Today was the first quarter parent-teacher conference for Ryan.  He is off to a great start continuing where he left off at the end of 9th grade.  Everyone said the same things about him.  He is a class leader, shows great empathy for his fellow students, goes above and beyond what is expected of him on his class projects.  One of the instructors has been teaching time management/planning using the Tony Robbins method.  He shared with me a Date With Destiny/Goal Sheet that Ryan created during the first week.  

    As parents we are never quite sure our kids listen to anything that we tell them.  When he gave me a copy of the sheet, right in the middle, was the phrase I used over and over again after Theresa died.  I would tell Ryan as humans we can't go backwards and we can't stay where we are.  Time doesn't stop, it keeps moving forward.  He put down, "Time doesn't stop, why should I".  Along with those phrases he listed some of the things he's driving towards and some of the things that are pushing him forward.

  • He had a picture of Theresa with her date of death 4/18/16.
  • Next to that picture he had one of Nana with her date of death 6/20/21.
  • He put an emblem down for his school, Gateway Academy, which he started after moving to Phoenix
  • Next to his school he put up a fiery Phoenix because he is a Phoenecian now
  • He put a screen capture of his favorite video game
  • He put up a basketball picture as that has become his game of choice during lunch
  • He put up a picture of Phoenix Children's Hospital for the time he spent there working through some emotional issues
  • He put up the date of his high school graduation, 5/25/24
  • He put up a picture and expected start date for Northern Arizona University.

    I have to say that I had quite the lump in my throat looking at all the things he put down that he has pushed through, that motivate him and where he wants to go. As parents we sometimes think we are talking to a brick wall, but those things we say do bear fruit.

    Last week was the 2nd quarter conference (I started writing this a few months ago and never finished it, so now it's quarter 2).  All of his teachers had great things to say about Ryan and the positive changes that he continues to show on his high school journey.  One of my favorites was how all of his teachers said that Ryan has shown tremendous growth in listening to the opinion of others, expressing his different opinion, and accepting that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  While this may not seem like much, for a kid on the autism spectrum, this is an incredible break-through.  

    Every day my boy inspires me with his intellectual and emotional growth.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The First Feast of the Church New Year

     "More honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, you the Theotokos, we magnify."

    September 8th marks the first feast day of the Eastern church new year which began on September 1st.  It also happens to be a date that has a special significance in my life.  September 8, 2003 was the day my Dad was born into eternity.  September 8, 2014 was the day my Mom came into full communion with the Catholic Church.  September 8, 2021  was the day we placed my Mom's cremains into the niche that she is sharing with Theresa.  The last event date was picked by me in large part due to the other two events that took place outside of my control.  I just liked how they all lined up.


    Today was the 8th day of the month and was also the 80th day of Mom being born into eternity.  The number 8 in Catholic theology is also an important number.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week."  Because it is the first day, the day of Christ's resurrection recalls the first creation.  Because it is the 8th day following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ's resurrection.  The 8th day reminds us that when we walk into church for the Divine Liturgy, we are glimpsing our first day in heaven.  The 8th day serves to remind us that before we even open the doors to the church we are to prepare ourselves to experience heaven in the person and real presence of Christ.

    The Divine Liturgy that took place this morning for the Nativity of the Theotokos.  From Matins of the Feast we sing:  "O marvelous wonder!  The Source of life is born of the barren one and grace begins to bear its glorious fruits.  Rejoice, O Joachim at the birth of the Theotokos.  No earthly father is the same as you, for through divine inspiration the Virgin is given to us; she is the dwelling place of God, the divine."  In the Vespers for the Feast we sing:  "Today Anna, the barren one, gives birth to the maiden of God who had been chosen from all the human generations to become the dwelling place of the Creator, Christ our God and the King of all.  In her he fulfilled his divine plan through which our human nature was renewed and by which we were to be transferred from corruption to eternal life."

    After the Divine Liturgy was over, Jennie and I processed out to the columbarium behind Fr. Diodoro Mendoza who was incensing the path from the Church to the final resting spot.  .  After Theresa was born into eternity we placed her cremains into the St. Nicholas columbarium on May 14, 2016 which happened to be the 5th All Souls Liturgy of 2016.  After the niche was opened, Fr. Diodoro sprinkled dirt onto the top of the container and it was placed into the niche and sealed with the words:  "This niche is sealed until the Second Coming of Christ in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.     Several months before she died Mom said that she wanted to be placed in the same niche as Theresa.  Today the simple granite stone was removed, the niche unsealed and the earthly remains of Irene Cullen were placed inside the niche first occupied by her daughter in law 1,943 days ago.  After the stone had been removed I caught my first look at the box containing the earthly remains of my first wife, Theresa. While it has been several years I was immediately taken back to that 5th All Souls Liturgy of 2016 when I last saw the contents of the niche.  There was still a pain in my stomach seeing the box with the label:  Theresa R Cullen, 1971 - 2016.  For all the time that has passed there is still a part of me that was ripped away in 2016 and a scar remains.  We humans cannot go backwards and we cannot stay where we are.  The only path is to move forward and forward we have moved.  I love the life that has come after the pain of loss in 2016 and am thankful for that every day.  But like a scar reminds us of an event, seeing the contents of the niche served as a reminder that our life is but a few years on earth, but an eternity in the afterlife.

 When speaking of a loved one who has died we like to say they were born into eternity.  Today marks the 6,575th day since Robert Cullen was born into eternity.  Today marks the 1,969th day since Theresa Cullen was born into eternity.  And today marks the 80th day since Irene Cullen was born into eternity. On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos we celebrate the birth of the one who would give birth to the One that opened paradise and restored us from our fallen state.  Looking into the niche which holds 2 peoples earthly remains, there is in a sense a "barren" spot as what remains is merely ashes.  . But today also is the "the beginning of our salvation, O people; for behold the Mother and Virgin who was chosen from all generations to be the habitation of God is born and comes forth from the barren one."   Let us celebrate the birth of the Theotokos some 2,035 years ago which brought forth the one who bore Christ in her womb allowing us to celebrate the 18th, 5th and 1st years of my family members being born into eternity.

"This niche is sealed until the Second coming of Christ, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

    "With the souls of the just brought to perfection, give rest O Savior to the souls of your servants.  Keeping them for the blessed life with You for You love us all.  In your place of rest O Lord, where all Your saints repose, give rest to the souls of Your servants for you alone love us all."

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Only Constant Is Change

 "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice;  you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy."

    Today the Phoenix Field Office leadership brought in a Catholic priest from Oakland, CA who serves as a chaplain for the Oakland Fire Department as well as the Oakland Field Office of the FBI.  The past 24 months have been months unlike any I have experienced in my 17.5 years in the Phoenix Field Office.  In the past 24 months we have had the following things happen:

  • May 2019 - Intelligence Analyst Sean Sego collapsed in the stairwell and died
  • Nov 2019 - Special Agent Dave Williams went out for a morning jog before work and died during his run
  • Apr 2020 - A man fired shots into the FBI Building in Phoenix
  • Jul 2020 - Agent involved shooting leaving 2 agents injured, subject dead
  • Oct 2020 - Jennie's father died suddenly of a blood clot
  • Dec 2020 - Agent involved shooting leaving subject dead
  • Feb 2021 - Special Agent Jimmie Daniels found dead at home 
  • Apr 2021 - Special Agent Geoffrey Young found dead at home

    SA Young died on the same day that Theresa did 5 years ago.  One big difference between his repose and that of Theresa's was the suddenness of it.  I knew for some time that things were going to end and in a rather short order.  SA Young's family did not have the luxury of knowing when his last day was going to be.  When I heard about SA Daniels and SA Young I thought of how this was going to affect their spouses and children.  I know the path that they are being forced to walk.  I'm not going to sugar coat it, it sucks.  It is like walking through a minefield, not knowing where the next blowup is going to come from.  It is a year of firsts without your spouse, without your children's parent, that always has the potential to blow up.  It is getting through the first year to realize that the second year might be more difficult than the first.  It is a journey of sad times, good times and many stops along the way.

    As I listened to Fr. Jayson this morning, he said one thing that stood out to me.  He laughed, pointed to his collar and said because I wear this I will say this.  In my tradition we know the cycle of sadness that turns to joy.  You get the joy of Easter Sunday only after the sadness of Good Friday.  That really does sum up our short journey in this life.  We experience intense sadness at times as well as intense happiness at other times.  And in between that continuum of sadness and joy we experience many spots along the way.  As the title says, the only constant is change.

    I was reminded of that as I rode the elevator this morning with a fellow employee, Pete.  He and I both were in Tucson for a period of time before he transferred to the El Paso office.  He and I share the sadness of having lost a spouse at a young age.  In May 2015 he and his family set out for a roadtrip in Texas.  They experienced a tire blowout which caused their SUV to roll over at freeway speed.  Killed in the accident were his 38yo wife and 3 kids 18, 14 and 11.  Pete woke up in a hospital to find 4 family members dead with one 6yo child surviving.  5 years ago, not yet a full year after this tragedy, he came to the funeral Divine Liturgy we had for Theresa.  I don't know how he did it but he did.  When I moved to Phoenix I realized that he had transferred back to Phoenix and had married again.  As we rode the elevator today I asked him how his wife was doing since she is about to give birth to a child.  The cycle of intense sadness and intense joy is played out in his life.  He smiled and said she was doing well and that her due date was in June.  The only constant is change.

    At some point in the past few years Jennie and I merged our Google Photo account and we see pictures of our lives, before we met and after we met.  Yesterday the photo memories that popped up for me had pictures from Theresa's funeral.  On the same day, albeit a different year, the photo memories were of a beach vacation Jennie and I took.  We have experienced that cycle of joy and sadness many times during our lives together.  We had the joy of being married and visiting France, followed shortly by a change in my Mom's health.  We went through the joy of Jennie and the girls spending the day with her dad at a pumpkin farm followed shortly the sadness of his sudden death.  This ebb and flow of good and bad reminds us that the only constant is change.

    For anyone reading this who may be about to walk the journey I have walked or is currently walking that journey, remember that we experience good times and bad times in our lives.  It is the natural rhythm of life.  One of the things that helped me get through that journey was my faith life.  When Theresa reposed my  "grace tank" was full.  I completely depleted that reserve and went into a grace deficit.  As time marched on, I have gradually been able to refill that tank through all the good times in my new families life which has helped me to get through the bad times.  Now is the time to work on building up your reserves.  As the past 24 months have shown, bad things happen all the time and usually happen unexpectedly and rapidly.  

    In your kindness please pray for the souls of all the people mentioned above and for their families who are walking this journey.  They are moving forward because the only way to go is forward.  Pray that they will receive the graces needed to find joy and happiness despite the tragedy they have experienced.

Christ is Risen!


Sunday, April 11, 2021

A Lifetime of Change in 5 Years

 "Love endures everything, love is stronger than death, love fears nothing." Sr. Faustina

    Last week was Holy Week for Catholics around the world.  The triumphant entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday led believers on a wave of emotions from joy to disbelief to sadness and finally to joy.  Five years ago Holy Week fell a little earlier in the year, March 20th to March 27th.  I remember that Holy Week like none other before it.  It was the last week where Theresa was able to have a rational conversation and the first Pascha for us spent in a hospital.

    In a blog post dated March 28, 2016, I wrote about how impressed I was with Ryan when he told me he was taking the $5 he received in his Easter basket and buying his Mom some chocolate to enjoy with our Easter dinner in her hospital room.  I took many photos during that Holy Week but this one was one of my favorites from the week.  My boy climbed up in the bed with his Mom and shared some of the Easter goodies with her.  Little did we know that she had just 20 days remaining on her earthly journey.

    Today we spent another few hours on a Sunday in another hospital room keeping my Mom company for a little while.  On Friday I received a call from Jennie that Mom had fallen on the tile floor and thought her hip was broken.  We called Phoenix Fire and had her taken to the hospital where they confirmed that she did have a broken hip.  The surgeon scheduled her for Saturday morning and they repaired the fractured hip by driving a rod into her femur and screwing it into the bone that goes into the hip joint.  When we picked Ryan up from the bus stop on Friday he knew something was up as both Jennie & I were in the car.  When I told him what had happened he got really quiet and wanted to go see her.  We were able to spend sometime with her on Friday.  Before leaving he asked for a few minutes alone with her and we left after that.

    We went to visit Mom again today after attending the Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday.  They put her in the intensive care unit because her blood pressure was really low and her heart was experiencing bouts of atrial fibrillation.  We grabbed some lunch before going to the hospital at a pizza place called Barro's.  There is a drink they have at Barro's called Stubbon Agave Cream soda that both Ryan and Mom like.  When we got to her room, Ryan took the refill he had gotten and gave it to his Grandma saying this is the cream soda we both really like.  What a flashback moment I had sitting in that room.  Instead of taking his $5 and getting something for his Mom, he took his favorite drink and gave it to his Grandma.

    We sat with her for a little over one hour and he just sat by her side to keep her company.  It gave me time to reflect on just how much Ryan has grown in 5 years since his world was turned upside down.  By no means has this been an easy journey.  We moved twice, once to Oro Valley and ultimately to Cave Creek.  Ryan started middle school in a new city and ended up in a different school for the second half of 6th grade where he remains today.  He saw his Dad get married again, bringing a whole new dynamic of stepmom and stepsisters to his world.  He has watched his Grandma go through 5 more years of cancer treatment with all the ups and downs that entails.  And all of this taking place as he grows into a man and all the hormonal challenges that come with that.  And through all of this he has finally found his stride and is doing well in school and life.   One of my phrases that I repeated again and again to him was "as humans we can not go backwards and we can not stay stuck in today.  The only way for us to move is to go forward."  
    The Second Sunday of Easter is known as Thomas Sunday in the Eastern church and Divine Mercy Sunday in the Western church.  It is called Thomas Sunday because the Gospel of John is read where Thomas was not present when Christ appeared to the 10 Apostles after his Resurrection.  Thomas said that he would not believe it was the Lord until he put his hands in the wounds of Jesus.  8 days later Christ appeared again to the 11 Apostles and told Thomas to put his hands into the wounds.  Thomas responded with a profound statement, "my Lord and my God".   Jesus said to Thomas, "You have believed because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe"

    It is called Divine Mercy Sunday in the West because Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina in 2000 on the Second Sunday of Easter and proclaimed that this Sunday would be known as Divine Mercy Sunday.  I have told Ryan the story of John Paul II, how he lost his mother at the age of 8, his brother 4 years later at the age of 12 and his father 9 years later at the age of 21.  No one in this fallen world would have blamed John Paul II had he taken a different path than he did.  He lost every family member of his by the time he was 21 and was growing up under communist oppression in Poland.  He once said that you have two choices when adversity strikes, you can become bitter or you can get better.  Rising through the clerical ranks to assume the Chair of St. Peter and remain there for more than 27 years, clearly he took the better, not bitter route.

    These two Sunday's came together today watching Ryan sit with his Grandma.  Just like Thomas, there was much doubt in his mind when we talked about the future and that things would get better.  I know for many months and maybe a couple of years he didn't believe that going forward was going to be a good route.  Through all that doubt he has chosen to become better, not bitter, and it shows with how well he has handled his Grandma's hospitalization.  For the first time in almost 5 years, I am not as concerned about how he will handle the anniversary of his Mom being born into eternity.  Glory to Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

There Is No Rewind Button



    I posted before about hearing the news that one of my co-workers had reposed on February 1, 2021.  He went to sleep on the night of January 31st and did not wake up.  His memorial service is tomorrow and I learned today of a page that his family set up to keep all their memories.  One of the things included on that page was a video that his wife made talking about their life together.  She spoke of how they were made for each other and he was her left to her right.  The video can be found here:

    "Life doesn't give you do-overs; it doesn't let you hit rewind; it doesn't warn you when you are approaching a cliff; our world although tightly intermingled and wrapped in love, had lost its way.  The job had taken its toll on Jimmie and he spent many of his evenings physically present, but emotionally checked out."  "That facade of separation prevented us from making changes in our own lives.  It wasn't enough to shift our priorities."..."He left the work he loved to heal the wounds he didn't know he had until it was too late.  When you shine light into a dark world, it can consume you."  "We thought we had more time".

    He was one of the best agents I knew who worked child exploitation matters.  The consensus in our forensic lab was he was the last person on earth you would want tracking you down.  For as long as I knew him, he worked child exploitation cases.  When he stepped away from that violation last year, none of us knew why he stepped away.  In listening to his wife's from the heart video, it seems that he did so for his family and his own well being.

    In my little world, of the last 5 people that I knew from work or from a family tie who died, 4 died suddenly and without warning.   Jennie's dad died suddenly in his living room; an intelligence analyst died in the stairwell at work on his way upstairs for work; an agent died while out for a morning jog; an agent went to sleep on January 31 and never woke up.  Only one, my first wife Theresa, knew it was coming and had time to prepare.  As Christians we all know that we are not guaranteed one more breath in our life.  In my little bubble, 80% of the people did not know that they would be called home suddenly and without warning.

    "We all have things we put off until later. Until there is a better time.  Until we finish that one last project, that one last case, answer that one last phone call, respond to that one last email.  Life brings us many purposes, but the biggest purpose of all is connection and love.  It is more important than all the noise in our chaotic life."  "It is too easy to get lost in the daily grind of life.  To be together, and yet be so far apart.  To be lost in a parallel existence of iPads, cell phones and work."

    One of the things that came out of the death of Theresa at such a young age was that I lost any preconceived notions that I had that life will go according to my plan.  That there will always be another day to be "in the moment".  That there will be another chance to tell someone how I feel about them.  Theresa died on a Monday morning.  The next day I had an appointment to visit the mortuary to finalize the business of dying.  I woke up around 4:30am and decided to go for a walk on the back trails.  As the sun started to rise and more people came outside, people were going on with their lives.  They were walking in groups, talking, laughing, smiling.  I wanted to scream at them that my world had just blown up and they were laughing.  It was such a strange feeling and experience.  The reality that quickly came over me was life goes on, with or without you.

    JJD also died on a Monday.  Two days later, his supervisor and a co-worker were going through all of his things looking for "accountable property" that belonged to the FBI but was assigned to him.  I had the same strange feeling that I had on April 19, 2016.  I wanted to scream at them, "the body is not even cold yet and you are scavenging for stuff".  Yet, the same reality came to me that day too.  Life goes on, with or without you.  Our society has allowed work and noise to permeate all parts of our day.  With many people now working from home, the line has been further blurred.  However, at the end of the day, each of us will die and all that will remain for our family are memories.  I might be the most successful forensic examiner in all the FBI, but when I retire, or repose, someone else will pick up the ball and move it down the field.  Do not fool yourself.  Despite what some may say at memorial services, we are all replaceable.  At work that is.

    I am coming up on the 5 year anniversary of Theresa falling asleep in the Lord.  At her funeral Divine Liturgy our parish priest talked about how competent she was in all the tasks that she undertook, in her work life and in her volunteer work at the parish.  He was absolutely spot on in that assessment.  Yet, I don't remember her for how good she was with spreadsheets, balance sheets and other financial tasks.  I remember the vacations we took; the quiet times we had before Ryan was born; the absolute joy in her voice when she woke me up to tell me that she was pregnant; the fun times of watching Ryan grow up all too fast; the sad times that we endured as a couple (the death of my dad, the loss of a baby to miscarriage, the death of her mother whom she was estranged from, the heartbreaking news that all the treatment she undertook was for naught). 

    I am far from being a perfect husband.  However, I often tell Jennie that she got a better husband at the start of our marriage than Theresa had.  I am a better husband because I know what matters in life and it is not spending all my time on work related things.  I sent the video above to Jennie and told her that it was a tough one to watch. That JJD knew what needed to be done, that he needed to focus more time on his family and that time was cut short.  Jennie asked me a simple question in our exchange:  "What is something you would be sad we didn't do or finish if I were to die suddenly?"  I responded with "that we would not have a long marriage".  Jennie countered with, "But anything you've wanted to do with me that we just haven't made time for..I know travel is limited obviously."  My response was a simple but profound, "not really".  I said, "Mrs. Cullen getting sentimental.  Jennie responded with this gem:

    All of the sadness and trauma that came from having a spouse die at 44 years old, or a father who died suddenly at 67,  has changed  both Jennie and I in one profound way.  We know what matters in life and it is the connection with your close family and the memories that you make.   Everything else is really just window dressing. JJD's wife ended her video with the following words:

    "We all have a gift.  We all have love and connections in our lives.  How often do we nurture those connections?  How often do we carve away time to just be present, to just be in the moment with those we love? How often do we let go of the burdens the weigh us down in order to dance to the beat that life has always been playing for us?  My hope for you is that you strain your ears and find that beat, because in all reality that is truly why we are all here."

    One of the best messages I received came from Fr. John Petro, a co-director of the Deacon Formation Program, on the evening of 4/18/2016.  "There are some journeys in life, Patrick, that we must walk alone.  And this is one of them for you.  Others may offer their support, their prayers and their help in many wonderful way, but, at the end of the day, it is a journey that only you can walk.  No one can enter that sacred place the defined your relationship with Theresa.  And, no one can ever take it away from you either.  Please treasure that sacred place as Theresa's lasting gift to you." 

    Focus your time and energies on things that matter, the people in your life.  Don't waste an opportunity to tell them how you feel, don't go to bed angry, don't leave the house angry.  The last thing you say to someone will one day truly be the last thing you say.  In your charity, say a prayer for the soul of JJD and for peace for his family that can only come from above.  We pray in our tradition, "Great peace to your world, to your churches, to the priests, to our government, and to all your people. For all generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from you, the Father of Lights; and we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever."



Thursday, February 4, 2021

What the F*&K Are You Even Talking About

    What the F*&K are you even talking about?  This is something that has come to my mind recently, along with several other key times in my life over the past 5 years.  Sometimes we don’t what to say.  Two things usually happen in this situation.  First, we don’t say anything.  Second, our mouth opens up and says what it wants to say.  Some of the events that caused this reaction were:

    February 2, 2016 when a reconstructive surgeon told Theresa and I that he believed all of the issues she was seeing on her skin was inflammatory breast cancer.  What the F*&K  are you talking about Doc?  We have been undergoing the gold standard breast cancer treatment over the past 6 months.  What?

    February 19, 2016 when a phone call from Theresa told me that the PET scan revealed multiple hepatic and osseous lesions indicative of metastatic disease.  What the F*&K are you talking about?  How did we go from good margins with no lymph node involvement to metastatic breast cancer with spreading to the chest, femur and brain? What?

    October 22, 2019 when my cell phone rang while running on a treadmill with my wife telling me that I needed to come home, her dad is dead.  What the F*&K are you talking about?  You saw him 3 days prior, he was perfectly healthy and was did not have any known underlying disease. What?

    February 1, 2021 when a co-worker and I returned from an errand out of the office and another agent told us that Jimmie was found dead that morning.  What the F*&K are you taking about?  I just talked to him on Friday.  He was the same, obnoxious, funny, person that we all knew.  What?

    February 2, 2021 when that same co-worker asked me if I had heard the news out of Florida.  Two FBI Special Agents were shot and killed during the execution of a federal search warrant for Violent Crimes Against Children.  What the F*&K are you talking about?  I’ve been on many of these types of warrants and made it out alive.  What?

    I have written many times about the problem of why bad things happen to good people.  Why is it that some really bad people seem to hit the gene lottery and live well into their 80’s or 90’s, all the while being “shit-heads”, while other people seem to be losers in the gene lottery, dying of some unknown reason at 42, metastatic breast cancer at 44 or heart disease at 67.  It truly rattles your nerves when you see good, moral people, dying at a young age.  How do you even begin to process things when death comes calling for your person?

    The events of this week stirred up some things in me that had been lying dormant for a while.  3 FBI agents dead leaving 3 spouse and 6 children to pick up the pieces and move forward.  Why move forward?  Because that is the only thing that humans get to do.  We do not get to go backwards and we can not stay where we are, especially when there are 6 children that need to move forward and will look to the serving spouse for guidance.  In the case of the agents killed, I had an intense desire, a near rage, to want to serve justice and vengeance on their killer.  

    3 young spouses who are going to have to navigate the world of being a young widow.  It truly is not for the faint of heart.  In a world where divorced people are kind of like "a dime a dozen”, they just entered into a pretty exclusive and crappy club.  If and when they choose to embrace someone new, they will all face that scrutiny that they aren’t doing it right; they are moving on too fast; they must not have loved their former spouse that much since they are already moving on.  They will find themselves in this strange world where the person they choose to move forward with, or just date, doesn’t have any frame of reference to their world and sometimes can not deal with it all.

They will find people who are not secure enough to be the one that comes after.  They will meet people who can’t understand how a person can still love their first spouse and yet give themselves totally to their new spouse.  This comes from the divorce culture we live in.  You see, our marriages ended because God said so and took our spouses.  Their marriages ended because one or both just stopped loving each other.  Even when we find the right person, there are many issues that will come up, primarily driven by the way the divorced spouse was wronged in their marriage.  

We widows come from good experiences in our marriage.  When it is all said and done, the divorced spouse has a harder time in a second marriage than the widowed spouse.  I had a great marriage and would be working on 26 years if God had not taken my first wife. Yet, one of my insecurities comes when Jennie goes on a road trip alone. I have this irrational fear that I will get a call that she is gone.  It is left over baggage from my past trauma and it is just something that I’ve had to learn to live with.

    On the other hand, Jennie had a terrible marriage with a jackass spouse who brought so much insecurity to her life. She also has irrational fears, albeit different ones than me.  That I will eventually stop loving her and choose to check out of the marriage.  Just like my irrational fear, this is leftover from her first marriage and is something she has had to learn to live with.  Add to this that she still has to see her first spouse, deal with him in the joint raising of children and see the same manipulative, narcissistic tendencies come out while dealing with the children.  

    This is why the news this week hit me so hard.  3 spouses having to go through the pain of burying a young spouse; having to walk a treacherous path with their children and try to bring some semblance of normalcy to their broken world; having to deal with the fact that regardless of just how much people say they are going to help you and be there for you, it all goes away in a fairly short amount of time.  3 spouses, if they choose the path of remarriage, who will have to deal with all the sideways glances, murmurs, questions about just how much they loved their first spouse, comments that you are moving on too soon, comments that you need to move on with your life.  They will have to learn how to navigate the world of broken marriages and broken spouses who have a hard time understanding how they can still love their first spouse.  They will have to learn to “bite their tongue” when the biological parent makes their new spouse miserable and the kids suffer for it.  

    Having walked this crazy, and pardon my French, shitty path, there is an aching in my soul for what they are enduring right now and will continue to endure for months and years to come. As I have said before, I will say it again.  If you have not walked in the shoes of these young widows you would be best served just to keep your mouth shut.  Rather to be thought a fool and jackass than to open your mouth and confirm those suspicions. 

    What I would tell each of those spouses about the road they are going to travel is that it will get better.  Follow your instincts when it comes to helping your kids navigate this road.  Take time to listen to them, but also take time to listen to yourself.  You will know if and when the time is right to consider opening up to someone new.  Do not let others influence you or make you feel bad about any decisions you make.  I can promise you when the right person comes along, you will know it and you will feel like you have been given a new lease on life.

Orphaned at 50

      The title of this post seems strange to write, and is probably even stranger to read.  But that is my reality right now.  I lost my fi...