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...