StUcK…

Bet you didn’t expect to see me back again, nearly 8 1/2 months after Joey’s passing. I have been a quiet blogger lately, but my mind and my thoughts have been less than quiet. I feel stuck. I feel stuck between holding onto and honoring the past twelve years with my boyfriend, then fiance, then husband and moving forward to create a new life for myself. The only words that keep coming to my mind are “it isn’t fair”. I know those are juvenile words; what really IS fair in life anyway?? However, I can’t seem to come up with any other phrase that more accurately describes the “pull” I feel in two different directions each and every day.

When it comes down to it, the word “fair” kept forcing it’s way into our marriage over and over again, whether we liked it or not. First, it was “not fair” that we accomplished our dream of starting a family seemingly so quickly, but then just like that it was gone. “Not fair”. Then came the devastating news that Joe had Lymphoma and we would have a long road of recovery ahead of us. Again, “Not Fair”. Still then, my mother was hit by a car in a parking lot after running a quick last minute errand for her daughter’s wedding. Still, “not fair”. Then came the continuous painful blows throughout Joe’s illness; medication after medication failed to work, stem cell transplant cancelled, tumors that grew all over his body with no stopping it, Joey’s emotional and physical health going downhill one day at a time. Definitely, “not fair”.

Our lives were on hold, but we kept on moving, kept on growing, kept on working hard together as a couple and as a whole unit. I felt his pain and he felt mine. We were truly connected, quite possibly the most connected we had been over all of our years together. Who would have thought such a powerful connection would arise out of such a devastating chain of events? Maybe we had a twinge of turning around our thoughts; maybe for once this was “fair”?? Though we were facing insurmountable pain, we were facing it together. We were given a chance to reflect on our relationship and on our marriage and really focus on the things that were most important to us; not an easy feat for many couples who get so bogged down in the business of life and forget to simply sit down and share those small little joys. I cannot give advice in many areas, but I feel compelled to give everyone that very advice- sit down and share that connection with your loved one EVERY SINGLE DAY. Two minutes, five minutes, an hour- whatever you have, make sure your partner knows how much pride and love you put into your lives together. After so many “not fair’s” in our lives we were able to find something we could finally say was “fair”; the fact that we were able to go back to the beginning; to that passionate and undying love for each other, to the days where nothing seemed to get in the way of our love, to the moments we were able to relax and share everything with each other. Every couple should have a chance to do that very same thing. For once, something was “fair”.

From, the very first day Joey passed away I made it my personal mission to make him proud. I knew he wanted me to be okay, I knew he wanted me to continue on with the same life I was always living, I knew he wanted me to be happy. So, I set out to do all of those thing; for him. Time seemed to pass so slowly; first came day one, week one, month one…I was doing it. Summer came and went, I went back to work, I continued on. Somewhere around October, I hit a wall. Things started to turn around from shock, to reality. This was my “new life”. I had not a clue where to begin. Joey’s clothes still hung in his side of the closet, his drawers still left untouched, his tools in the garage right where he left them, his shoes still on the shoe rack, his endless collection of DVDs and Nintendo games still intact. It was almost like I was starting all over from day one.

Next, came the holidays. First Thanksgiving, then Christmas Eve, then Christmas, then New Years Eve- I made it through it all, maybe NOW things would get better?! As we near the end of January, rather than getting easier, the “not fair” attitude seems to be creeping on more and more everyday. Back to the “pull” that I previously mentioned, every morning I wake up stuck. If I smile, does that mean I am forgetting about my sadness? If I am sad, does that mean that I am not moving forward like Joey wanted me to? If I feel like being alone to reflect on my thoughts, does that mean that I am taking a step backwards? If I am proud of my accomplishments, does that mean that I am happy with my “new life”? If I can’t bring myself to clean out Joey’s closet, what does that mean? If I have a hard time accepting offers to attend events with Joey’s friends, does that mean that I am a bad friend; does that mean I am leaving those behind that supported me so much in my time of need? If I am excited about an upcoming event, does that mean I am forgetting about all of the events and memories Joey and I had together? StUCk. Only word to describe it. I am emotionally exhausted; my mind is constantly bouncing back and forth between my previous life, my fantasy world, and my reality.

In a short 3 1/2 months, I will have reached the year milestone. When reflecting back on individual days, time seems to be at a standstill, but when looking at the whole picture I simply cannot believe everything that has happened since May 14th, 2014. Some sad times, some happy times, some comforting times, some angry times, some supportive times, some inspiring times, some sentimental times, some hard times, some joyous times; I have been through a roller-coaster of emotions. No matter how challenging many of those moments have been, they have all been playing a tremendous role in shaping the new life I am now creating for myself. When people ask how I am doing, I find it hard to put into words- I often choose the word “different”. It’s just different, I try to explain. Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but it doesn’t necessarily mean good. It just means different. Back to the “pull”.

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OKAY OKAY, just keep the tissue box near you…

Check out the amazing announcement that was sent out to the entire Henkel community informing them of his passing. Could not be a better tribute of who he was as an employee- 100% dedicated every SINGLE day. Thank you SO much Ali Kiniry for honoring him in such a special way!

We are deeply saddened to report that our dear friend and colleague Joe Fagan lost his courageous battle with cancer early this morning, Wednesday May 14, 2014. Joe joined the Henkel and TCS team in May of 2011. It did not take long for Joe to make a profound impact on our business, and more importantly make an impact on our lives. Joe came to work every day with that always contagious smile on his face, a can-do attitude, and an unbelievable work ethic. There was nothing Joe wouldn’t help out with whether it was for work or home. When it came to work, Joe tackled every challenge presented to him with a positive attitude and with the results to back it up. Joe had a love for Henkel, its culture and the people he worked with in Technical Customer Service, Sales, Laboratory Operations and the other business functions he interacted with.

After joining TCS he was promptly at the top of the pack in terms of output – most lab reports, most customer visits, etc – quickly winning the Division 1 TCS award. The Sales Regions that he supported always had nothing but glowing feedback on his support and professionalism. He always worked to provide them with the best tools and information in order to help them be successful.

Joe was also a great team member and was always the first to help a peer
out when a problem arose. Whether it was to help fix a robot in the
laboratory, back up an Engineer who was traveling or investigating an issue
that wasn’t part of his core job responsibility, Joe did it and with a smile on
his face. Joe was also a huge part of the Henkel Family and a significant
contributor to the Henkel Rocky Hill Culture. He played Softball, he helped
with Bring Your Child to Work Days, he baked cupcakes for Cupcakes for a
Cause, and this list goes on.

Joe had this very same attitude during his battle with cancer. Throughout
Joe’s personal battle with cancer, Joe found solace in sharing his
experiences with his Henkel family and in turn allowed us the cherished
opportunity to provide him comfort during his times of need. Joe Fagan
was a true inspiration to everyone fortunate enough to have known him.
When times became difficult, Joe showed us his true inner strength and
came to work every day with that same smile on his face and positive
attitude. He took every setback along the way that he was faced with and
never let it get him down. Joe emulated the quote “you just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.” Even in the hardest of times, he was still working and still cared about doing a good job at Henkel.

Joe Fagan was truly a loving and caring person who inspired all of us in many ways. We are all better people for having Joe in our lives.

Get some more tissues…

Figured I would share this most special wedding speech with all of you as well. Joe was due to be the Best Man in his best friend Matt Frost’s wedding just days after he passed away. Although he was not able to be there, check out the greatest honor of all time that the “stand in” best man created in Joe’s memory. So touching.

Thank you Gene and Karen for wonderful night at Moo last night and to both parents of the bride and groom for a beautiful ceremony and special day, today.

It’s a challenge getting up here and saying the right thing. You try to avoid being cliché, saying too much, too little, being funny, thoughtful and do your best to help capture the moment for such a deserving couple.

For me it’s all about finding the right inspiration. It would otherwise be a long and painful amount of time staring blankly at a piece of paper. So I decided to do what any good person in sales does. And that is to rip off someone who’s already shown how to do it. So naturally I looked to Gene.

Haha, no, Gene is a very wise man. And I’m not just saying that because he and Karen took me on great vacations my whole childhood. He gave a very heartfelt and memorable speech at the engagement party. You could feel just how much love he has for his son Matt and his lovely wife. Someone as passionate and dedicated to his friends and family is the kind of guy I look towards when searching for that inspiration. But I found it somewhere else on this occasion.

I wasn’t supposed to be the one up here speaking today. For those of you who don’t know Joe Fagan, he knew Matt long before I met him in high school. And when Joe and I were introduced, while I was confused by Joe’s sports rooting interests (as a guy who grew up in CT he followed Kentucky basketball, the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Indians. Try to make sense of that.

I didn’t care though b/c he was so damn funny and was a blast to be around. As a sports fanatic myself, I also loved the guy b/c he was such a good athlete. Joe threw over a 90mph fastball in high school. And while some may argue it’s not a real sport, he and I did win 11 straight games of beer pong together at a high school party riding Joe’s hot hand alone.

Joe is so funny he was affectionately nicknamed “The Bastard”. And true to form, he would have gotten up here, said something that Matt probably doesn’t want anyone to know, COMPLETELY embarrassed him in the meantime and yet still find a way to come off as endearing in the end to Matt, his lovely new wife and everyone else in the room.

Joe is not getting that chance today though. And that’s because Joe lost a long, hard fought battle with Cancer on Wednesday.

But Joe is a guy who competed, who laughed and who loved his wife more than he was physically able to use the words to describe in his last days. On his wife Jessica’s blog recently she copied down a text from Joe that read, “Love you sweet Jessica. If I could only speak more, I would say it more and more as the minutes go on”.

I read this not to force tears across the room as it did for my wife and me. But rather to use this as an opportunity to do what we came here today to do. And just as importantly, what Joe would want more than anything in this world. And that is to use this special day we have to get together as friends and family and celebrate Matt and Liz.

My wife Katie and I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time and nights out with Matt and Liz. Do you know what I love about them the most? They have their favorite spots in Boston that they always go to. We got Picco, Parrish Cafe, Mr. Dooley’s and Moo, which of course we went to last night. And it was phenomenal as always, thank you again Gene.

But here’s why I love that about them. They’re unpretentious, genuine and they absolutely love to laugh. For them it’s about the company, enjoying any moment they get to spend with their friends, their family and, more than anything, each other. I know we’re going to have a blast every time we go out with them: consistently great food spots, tons of laughs annnnd they like to get to bed at a reasonable hour so there is rarely a bad hangover.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a large group of truly special family and friends. Matt is someone who has always stuck out from the crowd though. Not just because we shared the same bed on Frost family trips. But b/c amongst all the friends so many of us have simply because we share common interests, Matt is someone who has an unwavering loyalty to the people he surrounds himself with. He’s taught me the true meaning of friendship. And if you’re in this room, it’s because he and Liz feel that same way towards each of you.

So yes, while finding the right words and inspiration is a big challenge for a moment like this one, I found solace in the most passionate and dedicated woman in Jessica Fagan who shares an amazing story of love and loyalty in the face of nightmarish circumstances. It’s no surprise these two couples are best of friends.

When Joe’s wife, Jessica, described in her writing her reaction to Joe’s text message, she summed everything up for me. “When life gives you 100 reasons to cry, show life that you have 1000 reasons to smile.”

Matt and Liz give me, my wife and everyone else around them 1000 reasons to smile. And that’s why we’re all here to celebrate a marriage that will last a lifetime. So let’s eat, drink and dance the night away in celebration of that. And use every chance you get to tell your significant other just how much you love them.

And with that, please raise a glass to the groom and bride, Mr and Mrs. Matthew Frost

Incase anyone has time and a tissue at hand…

So, I decided to read the story my sister wrote about mine and Joe’s journey together for the first time since she wrote it just days after he passed. Don’t know what I was thinking! Literally balling over here. But, it is such a special story of love that I wanted to make sure I shared it with all of you. This literally encompasses our life together. Make sure you have a tissue, well probably multiple tissues, on hand! Here we go….

I have a fairly old computer at home. Every single time I open that computer to get something done, I fight with the old outdated instant messenger program. It insists on opening automatically about 10 times as I sit there continuously closing it over and over again. For about 5 minutes, I try to keep my patience until it stops trying to open again. Finally, it seems, I can go about with what I was originally trying to accomplish.
Well, starting precisely on Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 at 4 am, my instant messenger icon would forever have a different meaning. It turns out that instant messenger could actually be responsible for the “writing” one of the greatest love stories, friendships, and brotherhoods I will ever know.

It all started back in the summer 2002. Jess fresh from Cheshire High School graduation, and Joe enjoying summer of his freshman year back in the old “shire”. Although they’d gone to the same high school for 4 years, had countless overlap in friends and activities, Jessica Fryc and Joe Fagan had never really connected until this very summer. A late summer party would be the first conversation between the two.
So, back to instant messenger… Where it all really began. Jess finds herself at our parent’s house preparing for her freshman year of college and constantly on the computer talking with friends. There, suddenly a message pops up from who else, but yeoldbush (Joe’s funny screen name)-remember those?? NSD63 (Jess’ screen name!), responds, and the conversation begins!!
That fateful summer came and went. Jess and Joe found themselves back to school…Jess a freshman at Merrimack in MA, and Joe a sophomore at University of NH. Jess recalls the endless late night instant messenger conversations between the two where they would catch-up, talk about fun times, and keep each other company as each others’ roommates would seem to find boyfriends or girlfriends and disappear from the “party scene.” That instant message from yeoldbush was always the anticipated note that jess needed to comfort her and get through the stress of the day.
A thanksgiving break home during that same year would really solidify the relationship. For those of you who grew up in Cheshire, you wouldn’t have a hard time recalling the amazing blowout parties we used to have when we’d all get together over the holiday breaks. Well this night was where history began. So much so that the same weekend would find my poor father driving aimlessly around town just to be sure his daughter was safe at 4 am when she had not yet returned home for the evening. Yep, indeed she was. Her car was parked right outside Joe Fagan’s house. Jess had been out with friends celebrating, and decided she wanted to go hangout with a hard working Joe who was actually home studying for finals! Now, yes, she certainly should’ve called home…but then the story also wouldn’t explain that true connection they had immediately and the risk they were willing to take just to spend some quality time together. Maybe realizing it at that point and maybe not.

College years brought about endless memories of Joe borrowing his roommate Neil’s car to visit Jess, and Jess borrowing her roommate Sheila’s car to visit Joe. Thankfully they weren’t too far, and could easily arrange these visits to spend time together. Summers brought about fun times in Cheshire with friends. Always an excuse to get together and party.
I regret that during those years that our distance kept us from spending less time together than I would’ve liked. I do recall though visiting all of those first few apartments that Joe had after graduating school. A big huge fish tank always on the wall, and the endless DVD’s and Nintendo games that kept us entertainment during our time together. Crazy neighbors and some really scary neighborhoods always gave us a good laugh. Even back then, Joe was an entertainer. The food spread wasn’t quite as intricate, but I do remember the early cakes Joe baked just to make sure Jess’ birthdays were as special as possible! My sister and Joe’s love grew deeply over these years.
I always admired his engineering degree and thought, “wow, he is such a smart guy!” A million times more so than I’ll ever be. I never did quite know what he did, but I knew it was pretty technical. We would be sure to see quite how smart and amazing he was as he continued on to build an amazing career for himself…and win awards that even his boss would quote, “people a year into the company just don’t win those type of awards!”
It had to be about the time that I met my now husband, Keith, that we really started to make some amazing memories together. Some good, some sad. But these were the true first times that we would see Joe’s undying sincere love for my sister show. And also his dire need to support those around him in their times of need. It was about this time that Jess’ best friend Val would come to the end of a 5+ year battle with cancer. Joe had just taken a bus all the way to Canada for upcoming work meetings. The minute Joe got word of the news, he would immediately rent a car, turn around, and drive immediately back to CT to be by my sister’s side through one of the toughest times in her entire life. Losing her best friend was an amazing tragedy…one she most likely wouldn’t have gotten through quite so gracefully without her “rock” by her side.
About 7 years ago some really great adventures also began for “us”. Jess, Joe, Keith & I. I had moved to NYC, and Jess & Joe became frequent visitors. Joe was game for almost anything!! I’d always been so nervous about entertaining visitors, but Jess and Joe were different. They were so fun and so laid back. They were easy and fun to be with. We created amazing memories no matter what we were up to- I have to say Wings and titans games were usually on the docket for at least part of the weekend. Joe would always remind us of his first time hanging out with Keith. Keith had one too many and ended up on the side of the street in the Meatpacking district. Joe was right there to pick him up- literally…and laugh hysterically the entire time while doing so. A friendship that wouldn’t end.
It was about 5 years ago when we knew things had changed. Jess and Joe had long been dating and we could all tell they were ready to take their relationship to that next stage. Geez, how funny was it when my mom came home to my very very nervous dad pacing around the kitchen surrounded by 2 empty bottles of wine. After some prodding and poking, he let it all out…Joe had been there! He had been there to ask for Jess’ hand in marriage! Woo hoo! The ring came shortly thereafter..around a pretty kitty called Bella’s neck. Bella short for wedding bells..so special. Just another odd thing that didn’t necessarily have deeper meaning back then…but today…oh, so different. Pretty Bella still prancing around the home to keep Jess safe and sound in the silence of Joe’s memory. What could be more meaningful…I’m not sure.
The wedding came…and again, Joe and Jess throwing an amazing amazing party! Joe’s love of potato chips ANY flavor showing strong at that amazing after party late in the evening hours of their hotel room. All of us- celebrating an amazing moment of life and love. Jess in her wedding dress, until the wee hours of the morning. The wedding is celebrated by their desire to do 2 things; buy a home together and have babies. Well, that dream of a home happened shortly thereafter.
I’m pretty sure everyone that’s visited has been blown away by the feeling they get as they walk in 29 Kingswood. Jess and Joe worked tirelessly to decorate and make it their own. Recently, Joe even going back to a “garbage pile” of windows and old doors because Jess decided they could make a beautiful craft for the home- and they did! The endless parties continue. Jess & I seem to wear a crown, boa, props for each and every one of them- our guys by our side to support us. Joe was the food master! Our most recent and amazing party was Jess’ 30th.
We had been sad to find out that Joe might have missed Jess’ 30th as he was due for his transplant during that time in NYC. We had planned a girl’s night for Jess. Immediately upon the awful news that the transplant had been postponed, Joe once again took what could be an awful sadness and turned it to happiness! We decided we’d host a party for Jess at her home. This is where we could be our best! Full reign over food, props, games, etc. And oh…did we! Joe and I fought almost daily…not your typical fight…but more because as sick as he was, he wouldn’t let me do anything to prepare! He took my ideas and implemented each and every one. We ended up with a candy bar, martini bar, Nintendo station on the porch, a photo booth, and endless amazing food! It was a party for the records. Joe’s final menu that I have on my facebook message to this day includes, but is not limited to: garlic bread cocktail hot dogs, buffalo chicken dip with Snyder chips, asian cocktail meatballs, sushi-“gonna get a spread from a local place” he said, assorted cheeses/ grapes/ meat platter/ bagel chips/ crackers, cooked shrimp cocktail to be served in the giant martini glass from their wedding, and a few pizzas that “he would cut into small slices and nobody would know they were ordered.” Those would be served with dipping sauces with a selection of bbq/ buffalo blue, ranch and other dips…because only Joe serves pizza with dip! There would also be sweet potato fries which would be cinnamon dusted with dip, pierogies, carrots in horseradish mix from a deli in West Hartford, sliced steak with A1, lobster salad, and assorted chips & nuts. WOW!
Somewhere in between these amazing memories and Joe’s constant battle with lymphoma, tragedy struck. My mom was hit by a car. This particular memory of Joe will sit in the front of my mind forever, and ever. While prepping for our wedding 2 days away, we received the call. The one you never want to get. Keith and I raced as quickly as we could from NYC to St. Mary’s hospital in Waterbury- in total silence. Joe and Jess greeted us at the door in the emergency room. Although I’m not quite sure how they were actually still standing, they told us, “She will not make it through the night.” The next few minutes lapse in my mind…although I remember one thing vividly. Joe, as sick as he was from the chemo he had received that very morning, comforted all of us…Jess, Keith, and I. And we all just cried…and cried…and cried in pain. We could not have lived through that moment without him. Joe fought his and our pain through the night until he crashed on the bed next door to my mom’s room to get the much needed sleep a cancer patient could not function without. Well, my mom lived. It was a miracle. Joe’s mentality throughout the battle was what I believed helped us get through. Joe constantly telling my mom, “take care of yourself and stay strong”…and my mom responding, “you too Joe”. Both of them suffering, yet both of them encouraging each other day by day until the very end.
Keith and I finally got married, one year later. Our wedding was not the same without Joe there. We needed him to build that ramp at the church that we needed for my mom’s wheelchair (when we found it wasn’t handicap accessible he told us not to tell my parents because they would worry. We would all figure it out together). We needed him to hangout with the “guys” in prep for the wedding…he was the brother Keith never had. We needed him there to help us order that late night pizza and help me figure out what to do when I was locked out of my hotel room at about 4 am. We missed him, but he was in our every thought. And again, the greatest memory…as sick as Joe was…he would never think twice about pushing Jess to do things.
He wanted her to work during his chemo and stem cell, attend our wedding (every single activity), hold yet another bachelorette for me at their home while he was up in bed, and be there for other numerous occasions in her life that he knew were important to her. Although not easy for her to leave his side, he made sure she knew that he would be OK!
Over the last few months, looking back…we can really start to remember more and more times that Joe pushed himself to make amazing memories and be there for all of us, although sometimes not feeling his best. He was there for my Dad’s birthday at Sliders in Wallingford. He felt bad that he had missed a few things in the recent weeks so he wanted to be there for our family, but also wanted to see March Madness with his best friends. He managed to turn it into the biggest birthday bash Sliders has probably ever seen. I’m pretty sure the cake lasted 30 seconds because half of the restaurant shared it. It was a great memory for us all-and especially special for my dad who’s wife was in a coma the year before during his birthday. We were all together.
Keith and I left for our honeymoon-sitting daily and thinking about what we were missing back at home…and how everyone was doing. Joe managed to make it out to Easter dinner with the family during that time. From all accounts, feeling awful, but being there because he knew everyone wanted to be with him.
Fast forward a couple weeks. Keith and I arrive back from our 30+ hour flight and need to think a few minutes before we make that call. Scared and worried about Joe’s situation, we call. The news is not good. We wander the streets for the following 2 days while we attend work feeling like zombies. We cry together at night over a cocktail thinking about what might be going on in CT. Friday finally comes and we start our drive home to CT to be with our family and Joe. Finally here…we see Joe. He doesn’t look like himself, but it’s so awesome to see him! He manages a smile and says he loves us! We are all together…and we can hopefully be of some comfort during this time.
Jess and Joe’s family didn’t leave his side throughout his entire stay in the hospital those last 2 weeks. Truly amazing. After days of thinking how she will address some really important questions…Jess has the opportunity to finally ask. Jess has talked about it multiple times in the last few days…one of the last few moments they got to spend. And boy, did Joe not disappoint. Yet again, true and total selflessness. They talked about everything including how Joe wishes for Jess to continue a relationship with his family, wishes for his ashes to be spread out over the water off of Provincetown in the Cape, and the fact that he was actually ok with having a big funeral (because he knew that’s what Jess would want). And, what sticks out biggest to me. If you recall, 2 dreams they had together. A home and family. Well, they achieved the first. Now, the second. Joe shares that his dreams for Jess are to find love, be married again, and have the children she’s longed for.
Suffering an amazing loss over the last week is hard to describe. We laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve been everywhere in between. That being said, we’ve done it as a family. All of us together. Up until that very last moment, Joe was truly a fighter, a remarkable person who seemed to be the best at every single thing he did, and a truly selfless person who always cared about the well being of everyone around him first. Joe, you will be missed. You will be missed dearly. You have forever changed our lives and will continue to shape our decisions for the future in such positive ways. You’ve made a mark on us we will never forget, and have been the inspiration for any battle we will fight. We love you dearly. You never got my last postcard but it said this. “I always tell my sis that she is my favorite sis in the world. She says she is my only sister. I tell her that doesn’t matter, she still is the best. Well, Joe, it’s the same for you. You are my favorite brother in law in the world. Yes, my only…but still my favorite!”
And I promise Joe, I will never get mad at my Instant Messenger again. XO

Two Months

I apologize for my lack of writing lately. I have been busy trying to keep myself busy. I took an amazing trip to Mexico with one of my greatest friends, I have enjoyed countless lunches, dinners, happy hours, and homecooked meals, I took a trip to Boston, I joined a bootcamp which I have been really enjoying, I have spent time with my family, I bought a new car, I hired someone to paint my exterior doors and front stairs for a nice refresh of my house, I am planning for a girls trip to Club Getaway in Kent, CT this weekend, I am looking forward to my trip to Montreal in the beginning of August for a bachelorette party. I have probably been more busy than I ever have in my entire life, but somehow these two months have seemed like a millennium. I wake up every morning planning my day to include the least amount of downtime possible, because downtime is the time when I unravel. When I actually allow myself to think about where I am and where I am going. When it all settles into reality. I know this isn’t reality. I know I can’t continue to stay so busy forever. I know I need to sit down and relax for a minute to gather my thoughts. I know I need to find a balance. I know all of this, but yet it is so hard to do. I said from the very beginning that the hardest part would be not having someone by my side to do nothing at all with. That could not be more true. Now, I always need a plan. When Joey was here it was okay to wake up on a Saturday or a Sunday with no plan in site, lounge around for a while, and see what the day and evening would bring. I can’t bring myself to do that anymore. Now that I am off work for the summer, I have so much more time to fill and it has become that much harder to keep myself busy, which has been both good and bad. I am happy that I have some time off to gather my thoughts and try to get things back in order, but also it has forced me to settle into the fact that this is now my new life. I have to rebuild, I have to start anew. I have to be okay with the fact that there is no going back to what my life, OUR life, used to be. So, with that I forge on. I remember the happy times. I remember that giant smile that Joey always had. I remember our constant laughs together. I remember the times we made spur of the moment plans and had the best times. I remember the way he hugged me and told me everything would be alright. I remember his comforting words of support and encouragement. I remember him as my venting ground, my rock, my strength. I remember him as the one person I shared everything with for the past 12 years of my life. Those memories will not fade, rather they will help to push me forward and shape me into the “new” person I have now become. They have defined me. They have made my story. I saw this quote and thought it was perfect” Everybody has a unique story, but it is how you react to it that defines you”. I am still trying to figure out how to react to mine. Each day brings a new challenge, but I know that all I can do is take each challenge as it comes and react the best way I know how.

Pomp and Circumstance

Last night, as I sat and watched my fifth class of seniors graduate from Watertown High School I had mixed emotions.  I was thrilled they were reaching the next chapter, I was grateful for the time I got to spend with them, I was feeling blessed by the relationships I formed with all of them over the past four years.  It was a bittersweet goodbye to some of those very special ones…although I like to say I don’t have favorites, there are definitely a few that have made a forever mark on my life.  For that I say thank you and best of luck in all you do. 

As I sat and listened to all of the speeches I reflected upon all of the typical well wishes; “follow your dreams”, “demonstrate determination”, “make a mark on the world”, “keep your friends and families close”, “do what makes you happy”, “make a plan for yourself”, etc., etc. etc.  I wondered what each and every one of these kids would be doing in five, even ten years from now.  Then it hit me.  What I thought I would be doing in five, even ten years from the day I sat in a very similar position at my own high school graduation was MUCH different from what my reality is now.  One of the well wishes hit me hard and it went something like this “make good choices, because in the end your choices make up who you are.” I thought to myself, well I certainly didn’t CHOOSE this life.  But, somehow it HAS become me now; my new identity.  A tinge of anger hit me for a moment.  After-all, I had sat in that same position in 2002 as I graduated from Cheshire High School, in 2006 as I graduated from Merrimack College, and in 2009 when I graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with my Masters in School Counseling.  I sat and listened to those very similar words.  As I sat out in my chair at each different phase in my education, adorned with my cap and gown, I was so excited to imagine what my future would hold.  Looking back, that imagination never, ever included what I have now found to be my life.  My reality. 

I looked out into the crowd at all of the young students I had helped along the way.  There were undoubtedly some budding doctors, teachers, engineers, artists, psychologists, entrepreneurs, etc. There were others who would be moving onto a trade school, work, or to the armed forces.  And, there were still others that were timid and unsure of where their path would take them in life.  Each individual in that graduating class last night thought they had a plan for the future, no matter how whole or defined it was, but my mind kept wandering to the fact that not all plans work out.  I know this because I am living it right now.  My plan at my graduation in 2002 from Cheshire High School has made a drastic turn from what I imagined it would be, but I have accomplished everything I set out to do from that very day.  I went on to become a school counselor, which I was lucky enough to have known was my one true passion right from that very graduation day.  I met the love of my life whom I spent twelve years with.  I made everlasting friendships over the years.  I became even closer with my family.  I made a new, loving connection with Joey’s family.  All was great.  All was right.  All was according to plan.  Until it changed. 

So, let me go back to the line about “making good choices, because those choices will define who you are”.  After the tinge of anger passed, I came to reality and thought to myself “Ok, even though I didn’t choose this life, I DO have choices now”.  I have made a choice EVERY day throughout Joey’s illness and EVERY day since.  I have made the choice, although sometimes impossible to bear, to get up, get moving, and face the world head on.  I have made the choice to inspire others with my smile and positive attitude in the face of such adversity.  I have made the choice to do what makes me happy and to live out Joey’s legacy with grace and poise.  I have made the choice to allow myself to feel my emotions as they come; anger, sadness, hurt, denial, happiness in memories; whatever it is I share it with the world and with all of you.  That helps me heal. 

As I looked out into the sea of caps and gowns as they were about to turn their tassels and officially become graduates of the Watertown High School Class of 2014, I had one wish for them.  I could only hope and pray that if one day their plans changed just as mine did that they would be blessed with the unmatched strength, optimism, and positivity as I have.  This situation could have been extremely different for me if it wasn’t for all of my life experiences leading up to this point.  Again, back to CHOICES.  It was in fact those choices I made leading through my life that allowed me to become the person I am.  I am proud and I could not thank my family and friends enough for giving me the opportunity to choose such great experiences.  Love you all so very much.

 

 

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One month since my life changed forever

*** I apologize this is a day late…I started it yesterday, but didn’t get to finish***

One month.  Second Saturday waking up alone.  I have really grown to despise Saturdays….as written in my last post; usually a day chalk full of time spent together.  Nothing but Jessie and Joey time.  That is no longer the case.  No matter what I do to keep myself busy, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Today I got a manicure, I got a haircut, I sat outside in the sun, I cleaned out my entire closet, I wrote thank you notes, I watched a Lifetime Movie, I made a pasta salad for the BBQ I am going to tonight, I wandered around in thought.  Sounds like an extremely busy day, but the day has seemed endless.  With each hour comes more pain and more sadness, and excuse my negativity (coming from the eternal optimist!) but I can’t seem to push away my anger.  I am angry not as much for me as I am for Joe.  I am angry that he can’t be here anymore to do everything he is supposed to be doing; making a mark for himself at his career he had so much passion for, hanging out and texting back and forth with his many, many friends (I can still hear his text message buzzer constantly going off from the group text messages that never seemed to cease between him and his best friends), spending the summer on Cape Cod with me and his family, spending hours on end on the Rebel Scum (did I get that right??!) website deciding on which Star Wars collectables to purchase, enjoying date nights with me (complete with a couple cocktails, dinner, and always the best laughs and ridiculous antics together), working on my endless project ideas around our house, playing on his all-star softball team at work, fishing, golfing, scuba diving, driving around in that god-awful car that he refused to get rid of!, buying out every store of every chip that was ever made, playing Nintendo and watching his endless movie collection, watching every sport you could ever imagine (guess I will save money on cable now since I will no longer need the special premium sports packages!), the list goes on and on and on. I am angry for him. He had so much to do in his life, so much to look forward to. He could not wait to have a family of his own to share all of these pasttimes with, but that chance was ripped from him. The chance to create a family with my best friend and with the man who I know would have been the most exceptional father was ripped from me. Happy Father’s Day to all you dad’s out there (especially my father and my father-in-law!), and a special shout out to my husband; the man who I know would have been the most kindhearted, gentle, loving father there is!

In honor of Father’s Day, check out this pic of Alicia and I with the best dad ever!
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One month ago, my life was changed for good. One month ago, I told my best friend how much I loved him one last time. One month ago, I watched as my husband took his last breath. One month ago, I walked out of that hospital terrified of what was to come. I still haven’t quite figured out what is to come, but I have been trying my very hardest to follow the most perfect saying that we chose to be included on Joey’s mass card:

“You can shed tears that he is gone, or you can smile because he lived. You can close your eyes and pray that he will come home, or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left. Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him, or you can be full of the love you shared. You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday. You can remember him and only that he’s gone, or you can cherish his memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, or you can do what he would want: Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”

My love, my life; gone, but never forgotten. Please continue to give me the strength and courage to keep going.

First Saturday

I said it from the day Joey died.  I was right.  I knew that first Saturday morning waking up alone was going to be the toughest.  I knew I was going to desperately miss waking up next to each other, usually reminiscing about the events the night before, snuggled up in blankets watching the Food Network.  We would watch and watch until we finally got so hungry that we ventured downstairs to cook some breakfast together…or to go out to breakfast and eat piles of “greasy spoon” food to be extra sinful.  Then we decided on a plan for the day.  My plan usually included something dramatic like taking a drive to the shore and stopping at all the antique stores along the way, spending a day at a local vineyard, or tackling a house project that I had been stewing up in my mind.  His plan usually included something less exciting, like sitting on the couch with a beer in hand watching sports and maybe ordering pizza from Joey’s for dinner.  Yet, somehow our plans always seemed to mesh and we were always able to come up with something that worked for the both of us.  That was the beauty of our relationship; the very important art of compromise was always hard at work with us.  As I sit here watching “The Pioneer Women” on the Food Network, it just isn’t the same.  I could just hear Joe mimicking her voice, always laughing about her signature dish “egg in the hole”.

I think I planned wrong.  The night before I was due to wake up alone on Saturday, I decided it was a good idea to finally venture into the coveted “man cave” with his brothers by my side.  I have not had the courage to face those steps yet, the steps that lead to his all of his greatest passions.  Joe was certainly a man of passions.  Sports, Star Wars, Nintendo, Playstation, Sega, DVDs, collectable figures…you name it, Joe had a spot for it in the Man Cave.  I just couldn’t get myself up there.  But, last night I did.  With each step I took to get up there, a rush of emotions came over me.  I was so happy that he had such great passion for life.  I was thrilled that collecting Star Wars items was a huge part of what got him through his illness.  I was excited that I got to look at one room that really tells the story of Joe and who he was as a person.  I was sad that he could no longer enjoy his most special place.  I was angry that everything he spent so long collecting and organizing so perfectly was now just sitting there collecting dust.  I was upset that in the past couple of months he had such a hard time maneuvering the stairs that he couldn’t even make it up there to take one last look.  I have mixed emotions now that I finally took that step; I feel proud of myself for facing that hurdle and I could not have done it with anyone other than his brothers, his two most special friends.  I feel relief that I finally crossed that line, one that had been causing me so much anxiety.  I feel overwhelmed with what to do with all of that “stuff”.  What does one do with the items that truly solidified a person?  Joe’s brothers assured me that it wasn’t in fact the “stuff” that Joey truly loved so much, it was in fact me; his one true passion.  I would like to agree with that, but rather it was the “stuff” that helped to build our relationship; it was his passionate personality and his love for life that helped to create our lives together.  His “stuff” really is a metaphor for our love for each other. 

And while I am hard at work jumping over all of these hurdles in such a short time, I guess it is time to return to work on Monday.  I am terrified.  I am terrified of returning to the one place that to me seems like a symbol of “returning to my old life” .  I left my office for April break and I haven’t been back since.  If I only knew.  Though I am overwhelmed with anxiety, I know that I need to return to a structured schedule; although I have to admit I have enjoyed my “Real Housewife” lifestyle for the past few weeks.  I will remain at work for the next three weeks until it is time for summer break, back to my Real Housewife lifestyle, complete with friends, family, fun, and many vacations!  Anyone would be envious about the amazing plans I have for this summer, but none of them matter without my husband and my best friend at my side.  I am going to continue to push on and carry out all of the things we always wanted to do together hunny, but there is always going be a piece of me missing.  My sidekick, my partner in crime, my venting ground, my love is no longer galavanting through life by my side, but I must push on for him.  I must carry on his legacy.  I must do it for you Joey.

Check out some of the things I have been doing to stay busy in the past few weeks:

Jess and Dom’s Wedding!!  So happy I was there to share in the most special day!!!

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Barcelona with the girls, ordered my “own” heat lamp!

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Watertown High School love!

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A visit from Sheila, one of my most special friends

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My sister and I trying out the top loader Nintendo

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RELAY FOR LIFE, Team Henkel One.  #1 out of 31 teams!  We raised over $15,500.00 for American Cancer Society!!

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My New Life

I cannot believe I have mustered up the courage to return to this blog just a week and two days after Joey’s passing.  I do it not for me, but for Joey.  I do it to honor his courageous fight, his strength in the face of adversity, and his undying love for me up until even his very last minutes.  Ironic that the last post was titled “our old lives” and this post is titled “my new life”.  My role as a caregiver has now changed; instead of caring for Joey day in and day out I must now turn things in a different direction by caring for myself.  I must restart, renew, and refresh.  People consistently tell me that they are amazed how strong and resilient I have been and that they are shocked I have even been able to peel myself from my couch and try to maintain a “semi-regular” life.  The answer to why I am able to forge on is simple.  JOEY.  We have walked this extremely tough battle together since December 2012 and during that time we shared every single emotion; love, courage, praise, anger, excitement, sadness- the list goes on.  Now, I will be continuing the same walk everyday without my life partner by my side.  I must continue to forge on.  I told my sister last night that I need to do everything possible to get back on my feet because “I have to be okay, I refuse to not be okay”.  Really, that Is Joey talking, not me.  He refuses for me to not be okay.  I know this because he told me.  I know this because we were blessed to have spent just about every minute together for the two and a half weeks I spent by his side in the hospital.    I know this because after sitting there for the first few days reviewing in my head what I wanted to say to him, I finally knew that one day it would be too late and I had to use all of my strength to start the extremely difficult conversations.  Who wants to talk to their spouse, their life partner, the love of their life about the word “death”?  Who has the courage to bring up such a term? Who is able to sit in a hospital room and say everything that they ever wanted to say?  The answer is me.  The answer is me, because of Joey’s love.  I wanted to have no regrets and I wanted Joey to feel comfortable in the fact that all of his wishes were being met.  So, our two and a half weeks of conversations began.  We talked about our favorite memories, we talked about the funniest times we have had, we talked about the best times we have had, we talked about the love for our West Hartford home, we talked about how much we missed our cat Bella, we talked about the undying support we have had from friends and family, we talked about our favorite foods, we talked about our best vacations, we talked about our wedding day, we talked about the day we received the crushing news that we had miscarried, we talked about his star wars collection and my passion for decorating our home, we talked about the best parties we had been to, we talked about our LOVE and DEVOTION for one another, we talked about his wishes for me, his family, his friends, and himself.  We talked about life and love.  We talked about where our journey began and where it was potentially going to end.  No word was left unsaid.  No regrets.  Saturday morning I mustered up all my courage to have one final conversation, one final moment to profess my thanks and gratitude for all he did for me.  That afternoon the doctor came in and said he may not make it until 6 PM that evening.  He was at peace.  He was ready.  He felt comfort in knowing that I would be okay.  He had given me the best thing I could have ever asked for- his blessing for me to move on to have the happy life that we had always wanted together. He said everything he needed to say.  By Monday morning he asked for me one last time, and we sat together alone in his hospital room as I said every last thing I had ever wanted.  He did not respond.  He never spoke again.  He was finally ready.

Wednesday, May 14th 2014 was the hardest day I may ever have to face in my life.  Joey passed away just after 4 am with his family at his side.  I am committed to inspiring others with my personal journey.  I am committed to living out Joey’s legacy.  I am committed to carrying out every last wish that he shared with me in the hospital room.  I am committed to feeling so proud that I had the courage to start those extremely difficult conversations.  I am committed to feeling a sense of empowerment.  I am committed to realizing that even in Joey’s last moments on earth, I could look back and say that we truly have no regrets.  No stones were left unturned.  Not many people get to say that.  That courage and strength that Joey allowed me to have will always be a part of me.

To the family and friends that have been staying with me and sticking by me during this extremely dark time, I am eternally grateful.  To Joey’s family, you are now forever my family.  I know that because Joey told me.  I know that because he said you all love me so much and it is extremely important to him that we keep that connection going.  I promise to carry out his wish.

After a Reiki session in the hospital, I asked Joey how he felt.  He simply said “I could feel it in my heart”.  I said “Really, why?”.  He said “Because you were there”.  I am always there hunny.  Right there in your heart.  I love you so very much.

Our “Old Lives”

It is hard to remember our “old lives”. I often find myself trying to force those memories, as if somehow that will help us to return to those carefree times.  I reminisce about the days in college where we had not a care in the world, where we spent days together imagining what our future would hold one day.  Though years ago, I always seem to remember the one summer where Joey was an intern and I was a lifeguard and when the work day was over, it was time for fun.  There was no work to take home, no job duties to stress about, nothing to think about until the next day when our alarms went off and it was time to do it all over again.  That summer we had the best time; we went to just about every concert we could afford, we spent nights together watching movies, we made aquarium visits (Joey’s favorite!), and ultimately we just enjoyed our time together.  What I would give to return to those moments.

I push to the forefront the year that Joey lived out of state and I lived at home in CT while I started my master’s degree; surely a test of the strength of our relationship, but the times we did get to see each other were that much more memorable. 

Amongst the best of our memories together include Cape Cod summers with Joey’s family.  AH, what I would give to return there.  The upcoming Memorial Day holiday would be our first visit of the season; a time of reconnecting with family, galavanting through sun-filled days, and checking out the many special spots on the Cape by night.  Last Memorial Day we had so much to celebrate; Joe had recently finished his first round of chemotherapy and was declared in remission!  Could we really be that lucky??!  One and done!  We’ll take it!  Off we went to celebrate on the Cape for our first visit if the season!  Check out the picture I took from the car on the way there.

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You know, one would imagine that it would be those MOST special times that have been trying to force themselves into my memory; those times that everyone has as a couple:  Our first date, Valentine’s Day, Engagement, Wedding, Anniversaries, Purchasing our home, etc.  Ironically, it is not those “grand” moments that find themselves popping into my memory, rather it is the simple times that we spent together doing nothing at all.  The times in college where we had about 5 dollars to our names and we would spend date nights either at the dining hall, Burger King, or once in a while (for very special occasions!) walking to the Bertucci’s across from my campus for dinner. The times we spent all day inside watching TV marathons and ordering takeout.  The times we laughed until we cried while we created many inside jokes and special moments between us.  Our special Monday Nights, where we had cocktails and ordered Sargent Pepperoni’s Pizza for dinner (probably amongst the greasiest pizza I have ever had, but we couldn’t beat the $8 Monday pick up special!).  The Saturdays where we would walk over to the field on our street and pass the lacrosse ball to each other.  The times we would email back and forth at work complaining about our days and ultimately decide to come home, forget about all of our worries, and go out to dinner or happy hour to spend some special time together.  It’s the small things that seem to be the hardest: driving past our favorite restaurants and imagining us inside talking and laughing and sharing a meal together, seeing Joey’s favorite foods and drinks in the aisles of the grocery store (he has a variety, due to the many different cravings he has done through during his illness!), turning the channel to one of his favorite shows or sporting events on TV, seeing pictures of us with giant smiles having the time of our lives.  It’s the small things. 

No matter how much I try to push my thoughts to the happy times, I find my memories keep containing themselves to the past year and a half of devastating blows we have faced one after the next.  At times, it is hard to even remember the life we had prior to all of this.  It is hard to imagine walking hand in hand together through life without having the faintest idea what our future would hold.  If we knew, maybe we could prepare?  Prepare?  What could we have possibly done to prepare?  On the other hand, if we knew what was to come we would have spent everyday living in fear and we wouldn’t have the time or energy to enjoy those very special moments.  Knowing, or not knowing? 

Now that we know where things stand and where they may go in the future, we don’t want to miss any of those special moments together.  I have spent every day and night by Joe’s side since he was admitted to the hospital a week and a half ago.  He has his ups and downs and his moments of feeling like talking or not, but I don’t want to miss any of those moments, good or bad.  Now, instead of enjoying the nice weather and walking to the center for some quality time together, we are facing this journey side by side in a hospital room.  We are quiet when we feel like being quiet, and we have small conversations when we feel like talking.  All that matters is that we are together, talking or not.  It’s those small moments that I love the most, the moments that give me a glimpse back to our “old lives”.  Joey hasn’t felt up to using his phone much since he has been admitted, but yesterday to my surprise I received this text when I stepped out for a moment: “Love you sweet Jessica.  If I could only speak more, I would say it more and more as the minutes go on”.  This makes my heart smile.  When life gives you 100 reasons to cry, show life that you have 1000 reasons to smile.  Simply put.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”  A HERO is my husband.  I love you.