Friday, December 16, 2011

A New Tree

December has been hard, just like I knew it would be. The Christmas tree, Christmas cards, the awkward man-wrapping of presents. I knew every bit of it would be surreal, rough or both.

Dori always decorated the tree with the kids, not literally of course. Leading that evolution was different, but the kids helped me some and our tree looks nice. The Christmas cards? I'm doing them to honor Dori and to communicate to our friends and family that we will celebrate our Lord's birthday and wish them joy. Who knew the whole thing would take seven hours? I went to five outlets to find the right-sized envelopes, but when the cards didn't fit, I reacted like Animal the Muppet Drummer.

We are counting our blessings. I LOVE our new church. So do the kids. The homilies from the two priests are always stellar. Our nanny is doing a great job. The kids have good grades. I love my family. They have been terrific to the kids and me. I appreciate their patience, love, understanding, advice and kindness, even if sometimes I don't act like it.

I believe I'm doing OK, but some days are too much. So I cry, something I've started doing more frequently the last few weeks. The realization that I was married to the best woman I ever met is hard to process, especially during Christmas and her birthday last week. I'm so sorry for Dori's sister and friends that she's not here to call them and make them feel good.

Lonely but lucky, I'm where I'm supposed to be, I guess. We're going to do a little skiing soon and some rare December Commodore football at the Liberty Bowl. I'm ready to point my skis down the slopes of Steamboat Springs, yell for our school, and encourage my kids to do the same. And hey, KC and the Sunshine Band will be playing at halftime. The forecast for Memphis calls for a slight chance of cheese. Give it up, KC.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lifting of the Fog

When Dori left us, she left behind a tremendous legacy. Next Friday, we will remember her on what would have been her 44th birthday. It will be tremendously painful, just like the October wedding anniversary without her.

Earlier this week, we had a London-like fog in Nashville. It's the same kind of fog our family has been experiencing this year. It didn't want to lift, and we had terrible accidents across town, including one 55-car pileup and a fatality. Around lunchtime, the fog finally abated. The day transformed into a crisp, late autumn day with plenty of sunshine.

My son seems to have experienced something similar this week. A gifted basketball player, his heart wasn't into it this summer and fall. One can understand why. He played a decent first game on Thursday, with smiles scattered throughout the game. His team lost, but he said he had fun. All fall, Will only shot baskets when I challenged him to a game of "horse." Late this week, he began shooting baskets on his own. I sensed a change.



Yesterday, Will played like Will, scoring, rebounding and dishing assists. His team won, 26-17. I wasn't there, as I was at Kathryn's game, but I could see the game in my head as my sister texted me how he was doing. One text: "He's playing like a freakin' NBA player." Parents near me probably wondered why I couldn't stop smiling, as Kathryn's team trailed its arch-rival. I couldn't stop seeing Will drive the ball to the basket with a smile on his face! Thanks to my sister, you have a little visual.

At home, Will recounted key plays, smiling the entire time. He nodded in agreement when I shared that his mother was beaming with pride at his accomplishment. Most of this fall, our family has had a few steps forward, a few steps back. Yesterday was a leap forward, and I couldn't be happier for him and us.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Redemption


This morning, Kathryn, Will and I ran the Boulevard Bolt, a five miler with 8,000 participants. The race benefits the homeless and hungry.

I was hungry for redemption. Last month's disappointing marathon result still lingered. My plan was to run the first mile with the kids, then go. Will hung with me for awhile, but I was hunting for pain. It was time to fight through it, with better results.

My Garmin clocked me at just over 42:30, an 8:30/mile pace. It wasn't a PR for this race (41:48 in 2008), but I'm pleased with the time. Will finished a few minutes behind me and Kathryn a few minutes behind him.

I thought of Dori before, during and after the race. And I'll think of her all day today, too. Thanksgiving without her is mind-numbing and heart-wrenching. Last year's celebration was an occasion her sister Kathy and I will never forget.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and be blessed.

Thanksgiving Day Follow-Up: Some proof we were there ... Apparently this photo is on the front page of the Local News section.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Another Drop

In years past, I could count on my hand the number of times I would drop something over the course of a year. Now, each week, I drop a lot of things - a dish, clothes, food, whatever - sometimes five times or more a week. I haven't destroyed anything big yet, but a homemade artisan pizza I made last week hit the floor. After my expletive, I managed to laugh. My new clumsiness is one of the "little things" I've noticed that's different now.

Many times this fall, I've been told I need to allow people to help me manage the balance I used to have in my life. If only it were that simple. We do have a nanny, which is helpful, and my family is stepping up as well. When there are two parents, it's not too hard to handle the unexpected occurrences. When there's only one, however, it means stopping everything else you're doing and making a flurry of phone calls. It happens often. Managing chaos is a recurring part of life, like it or not. I'm working on welcoming it, though some days it just ain't easy.

The grief process, for the children and me, is about as intense as it's been. Dori's absence is felt every day, sometimes in pulses and sometimes in giant waves. I didn't fully understand her greatness until she was sick. I didn't revere it until she was gone. Her grace and understanding were immeasurable. I think the kids feel the same way.

It's funny. For the most part, the phone calls to help have stopped. Friends, mine and Dori's, don't check in as often. All of that is perfectly OK because fielding those kind calls took time; there's really not much anyone can do, anyway.

I think about Dori more than ever, sometimes constantly, now that some of the shock has subsided. Even though I still have my kids, my job and my health, at times I feel like I'm only half here. I don't have the conversation I loved, the hugs that made my day and the smile that told me everything was going to be alright.

My outlook remains positive, but my soul continues to ache. I want her back, which can't happen. It's a trap I must evade, knowing she's in His hands and I better do my best to earn the right to join her. How's that for frank blogging?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Family Run

I certainly expected to break down emotionally at the end of yesterday's race. I did. But I didn't expect to break down physically during the race.

I haven't talked much about my training the last four months. It went really well. Very good long runs, few aches and sores. Quick recoveries. I entered yesterday's race calm and confident. Three weeks ago, I completed my 22-miler in 3:57 and kicked the last mile. I was going to PR, maybe a 4:40 or better.

Starting Tuesday, my muscles felt achy and I started sleeping hard, nine hours instead of my usual six. One day, I had a splitting headache and scratchy throat. I thought I might have fought off a cold, but I wasn't sure. Yesterday, thankfully, I felt fine at the start.

I had planned to tell the kids at some point before the race that I wasn't just running for their mom, but for them. Throughout my training, I prayed often my kids would see that I was honoring their mother with effort and love, and I hoped they'd find ways to do that all their lives. It dominates my thoughts. So I told them before the gun, "Today is for you guys, and I love you." Off to my PR.

Race conditions weren't the best, but they weren't as bad as we expected. The remnants of an epic Nor'easter, 30 mph winds with 40 mph gusts, were going to make the challenge a little tougher. But a little wind never hurt anyone, so off we went. I ran well for eight miles, cruising a comfortable 10:30/mile pace. I chatted with a nice lady named Linda, running her first marathon in her 50s. She said a few years ago she "freaked out" after her husband left her, so she started running. She looked happy about what she was doing. Good for her.

When I hit the first hill at Mile 8, I felt OK, but not the way I should have felt. This fall, I ran several hilly training runs because the Cape Cod course is challenging. Hmmm. At Mile 10, I felt like I was losing power. The next mile, my stomach cramped. Linda was gone. A few miles later, my legs cramped. Everything ... legs, the arches in my feet, lower back. I could barely run. What the ... !

My legs felt like they were 150 pounds each. I had trouble breathing. So I walked a little, ran a little. I'd never bonked so early. Bonking is supposed to happen at Mile 19 or 20. My mother handed me fig bars and an energy bag at Mile 21. I declined. A race official looked at me funny, like she was going to tell me to stop. I looked at her with red-deviled eyes. She knew what I was thinking. Don't say a word, leave him alone.

I managed to get up the hill at Nobska Lighthouse, but I was done. I'd run less than a half mile, walk, then run again. You probably wouldn't call it running, though. When I neared the town of Falmouth, where the finish line awaited, I saw Kathryn and Will way before the crowd. They were obviously worried, checking on me. I turned for home, finished, got away from the crowd and started crying uncontrollably. The next 15 minutes, I just hugged Kathryn, Will, Mom and Anne. Dori's uncle and aunt drove me home. That was it.

I don't know why yesterday had to be that way, but I don't know why my precious wife is gone. I do know that I have two remarkable children, a wonderful family and many more reasons to live a good life. I love you, Dori, and I always will. I'll see you when I see you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Call From Kanzius

I recently stumbled on this commentary from the director of the Kanzius Cancer Reserach Foundation. He mentions Dori and my upcoming run in honor of her and to raise money for their research.

Last night, a gentleman from KCRF called to ask if they could feature our story in their winter newsletter. Of course I said "yes." I want to raise as much awareness as possible for them and cancer research, in general. The Kanzius folks also are talking about flying down from Pennsylvania to do a meet-and-greet with the many donors who have stepped up for our team.

All of this would make Dori smile.

Someone else I knew died from cancer today. I didn't even know she was sick. She was diagnosed only a few weeks ago, three years after losing her husband to cancer.

Run, donate and pray. That's mostly what I know these days.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fundamentals

What a month.

I love autumn, but this one has been work. The week leading up to October 15, which would have been my 17th year married to Dori, was hard. I was quiet, introverted, and mostly sad.

The morning of the 15th, I ran 12 miles, six with friends and the last six solo. I ran too hard on the return route, but I couldn't stop myself. So much for tapering. Later that day, the kids and I went to watch Vanderbilt play Georgia. Seventeen years ago to the day, Vanderbilt played Georgia hours before our wedding. I watched the game, a great one in fact, but my mind was elsewhere.

"How are the kids?" I hear that question 10 times a week. I answer it the same: "It's hard for them right now." The good news is they're confronting some of their grief. The bad news is their dad has to watch it. Being a parent right now is taking a toll, but we are making progress. We also have a long way to go.

This afternoon on a hike, I asked the kids if they remembered a homily from late summer. The theme - bad things will happen to all of us, if they haven't already - had my attention. He said our response to tragedy or turmoil is most important. I'm not sure if they believe the priest's conclusion, but I am sure they're thinking about it.

We're working on fundamentals around here. Blocking and tackling. We don't have any trick plays and couldn't run any if we tried. We have a lot of weeding to do. Today's talk and hike killed a few weeds, but weeding never ends, which I think the kids are beginning to understand. My plan is to continue with an honest, direct approach.

Thursday night, my friends Tony and Mary Belle hosted a gathering to raise money for a discovery grant, which can lead to some profound discoveries that make a tremendous impact on lives, for the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center. VICC treated Tony's thyroid cancer successfully and Dori's leukemia. To achieve a grant, we needed to raise $35,000. We're at $44,000 and counting and hopefully will raise enough to consider making it two discovery grants. You can give online referencing the Dori Brown Discovery Grant at: http://www.vicc.org/about/help/. If you would like to donate to my run in support of the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation you can honor Dori and still give here. Many cyber-thanks you's.

Last night, a friend asked if anyone was running with me at next Sunday's Cape Cod Marathon. I shared I unsuccessfully tried to recruit a friend, then added, "Dori will be with me the whole run. We're going to kick this race square in the a**."

After all the training, 438 miles to date along with cross-training, I am grateful to be pain free. Yesterday, I cruised eight smooth miles in the hills of Percy Warner Park. I am ready and eager to tie my shoes.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

When The Whistle Blows

For most of my life, I looked forward to the weekend. Most of us have been conditioned to work hard all week, then recreate, chill or socialize starting Friday afternoon. My weekends used to be that way. To some extent, they still are.

Mostly, though, weekends take me and the kids out of the distracting routine of work and school. During the week, we are mostly protected from dealing with our loss. We have had some difficult moments in our home, and most occur on the weekends.

I'm not a mother, but a parent trying to fill two roles. Sometimes, even when I do a good job, it doesn't matter. I don't pretend to be the great mother Dori was; in fact, I ask not to be compared to her. Little events can trigger unexpected responses, and how we phrase things matters, especially when emotions are raw. This reality is hard for me and the kids, no question.

Dori and I would have celebrated our 17th anniversary next Saturday. My heart will ache all week. I will start Saturday morning with a training run, then watch football with the kids that evening. This week will also be filled with the knowledge I had an amazing wife who I still love very dearly. I know she is smiling upon us, and I know we will be together again, which comforts me.

Yesterday morning, I ran 22 miles with my friend Mark. I forgot how long 22 miles is. If you just thought "a long damned way," so did I. It felt like it yesterday. At Mile 15, we came upon our buddies Jim, Carey and Dan. They ran the last seven with us, and a girl named Jenny joined us at Mile 19. Miles 17 through 21 were rough, but Dan kept me on my pace, which I was able to drop the last mile. My finish was good, and I'm recovering fine. Let the tapering begin.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

So Far Away

When I was a teenager, I despised psychology, counselors and the like. It was uncool, probably because it was forced on me. Today, I don't know where my children and I would be without "being equipped."

Like most parents, I am proud of my children. They are two very special people, and I see much of Dori in both of them. That is comforting, to say the least, that I know I still have some of her here on earth.

The kids are doing what they can with the tools they have. My role is to make sure all the tools are in the toolbox and that they use them when they need them. Both have kept an open mind to talking through obvious challenges. Through disease and loss, I've seen some families deny completely what has happened to them; those children are not doing well at all.

When a hurricane hits, you better know what to do. And you better be ready to rebuild. That's what Dori wanted us to do, and I'm doing my darned best to honor that. For the first grading period, the kids had all A's with one B on one report card. That's outstanding, given what they're experiencing. Kathryn, who is very musical, is playing the piano and becoming quite the singer. Will loves his friends, who are some of the most funloving kids on this planet.

Days are going well for all three of us. Mornings can be tough, and evenings even tougher. Work and school are very good. We have a long road ahead of us, but I like that we're on the yellow brick road, with a head start on the oil, heart and brainpower we'll continue to need and use.

When you think you've heard it all, you find something special about a favorite, this time on YouTube. Enjoy, sister Anne, from your distant land.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

'Beautiful Day'

Yesterday was a good day, for many reasons.

At 5:15 a.m., I drove in the dark to put out water, power drinks and food along my planned route, which would start and end at Grassland Park. The route that traverses farms, grassland and the Harpeth River follows Moran Road, Old Natchez Road and Del Rio Pike. Runners World magazine has a photo feature called "Rave Run" in each issue; yesterday's route would qualify.

My solo run began at 5:45 in snappy sub-50 air and with a Dire Straits shuffle on my iPod. I ran through patches of mist, which became increasingly enthralling as the sun slowly rose. On Moran Road, I gazed at horses, silhouettes in the misty dawn framed by barns in the distance. A red-tailed hawk chased a small bird, hoping to conclude the dance with a morning meal. Bluebirds chirped from fences, while mating doves watched them from a higher perch. The sky alternated between rose and sky blue before settling on a dominant azure.


A common sight along Moran Road


I stopped for only a minute at miles 3, 6 and 8.5, simulating the race I'll be running next month. Near Mile 6, my good friend Michael rode alongside on his bike, chatting for a few minutes before continuing his 40-miler to Leipers Fork. He was one of hundreds of bikers I would see; I saw only 10 runners the entire morning. Everyone said hello.

Part of the challenge of running 20 miles is the loneliness as the mileage increases. But I was loving the music, the scenery and cool air. After the Mile 10 turnaround, where my average pace was 10:40/mile, my knees began to ache mildly. As the discomfort gradually increased, I struck up conversations with Dori, as well as Chuck, Sigourney and other friends whose lives were cut short by cancer. Their soothing smiles gently nudged me down the road. The pain faded.

I picked up the pace the last three miles, finishing in three hours, 31 minutes, a 10:33/mile average pace.

Feeling good, I cranked up some U2 and drove to the fuel stops to retrieve my trash. When "Beautiful Day" started, I thought of the irony. That was Dori's favorite song. I shed some tears, something I hadn't done since early August. I thought, "Today is indeed a beautiful day, my love." I knew she was there with me yesterday.

This week's 36 total miles went very well. I have one more really long run, 22 miles, in two weeks. I would love for that run and race day to be similar to yesterday. Spirituality cancels the pain.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When It Rains ...

Sometimes, I wonder if I'm asking friends for too much support for cancer research funds. Then, I have a week like this one.

A few days ago, I read about a prominent attorney who died from AML, the same cancer that took Dori's life. Today, one of my co-workers announced he lost his young brother in his early 40s to non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His brother leaves a wife and two boys, ages 12 and 9. This afternoon, a friend told me about a co-worker who lost his three-year-old to stomach cancer.

I thought today about other obvious reasons I'm running, and the ask becomes easy. So here's the link. Some checks are in the mail, putting the effort at $9,000. Your help is most appreciated. I hope the Kanzius Cancer Research folks think this effort is a good one, and I hope more people do something.

One other thing. I spoke with someone who helped me put in perspective when a friend says something awkward or even unintentionally hurtful. He said maybe I could relate to this: "Other than your husband being shot, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"

Don't worry. I'll only think about that and won't ever say it. Our secret.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Right Again

When Vanderbilt hired football coach James Franklin last December, Dori took notice while I yawned. I had already decided not to renew my two season tickets, frustrated with decades of ineptitude and seeming waste of half my busy weekends. Dori kept chirping all winter, "Jim, I like this coach. You need to support him. He seems a lot like Tim Corbin (Vandy's baseball coach)."

"Give him a chance."

She finally wore me down, and I purchased four tickets, not two.

Yesterday, Vanderbilt smashed Ole Miss, 30-7. After watching the first three games, I see a much better coached, aggressive team. The offense isn't quite there yet, but they are creative and play hard. The defense is amazing. They punish opponents and are trying to score harder than the other team's offense. They've scored at least 23 points the first three games and set up other scores. Special teams? I wouldn't want to return kicks against us.

Yesterday's blowout win was Vandy's largest against an SEC opponent in 40 years. After the game, the coach and players talked about each other, using words like "family," "we," and "each other." The schedule looks daunting, but I'm looking forward to watching these guys play more football.

I left the house yesterday morning at 5:30 to run 13 miles. Armed only with an ipod, yogurt pretzels and water, I ran downtown, around Vandy's campus and back home. The beginning and end of the run weren't easy, but overall I ran fine, a 10:26/mile pace. This week, I ramp up the mileage considerably, running 20 on Saturday.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Got Your Back

My friends are doing everything they can to help. This weekend was no exception.

Yesterday morning, my friend and Team in Training Coach Jim organized a reunion of TNT alumni. He spoke about Dori in a very special way, then presented me a card and heavy envelope, which I didn't open until later. Then he asked everyone to honor Dori by running silently for the first minute of our run. No one spoke for about five minutes. I was deeply moved and motivated to have a great run.

After six miles, I surged ahead, covering 10 miles alone, with only Sammi the Sweeper pulling up in her SUV every 30 minutes to see how I was. At the last water stop at Mile 14, she pulled away. My legs were heavy from Thursday speed work, but I knew I was going to maintain my pace. At Mile 16, a car pulled up, Sammi jumped out, and asked, "Can I run with you?" Heck yea, I said, thrilled to have the company. I finshed 17 miles in three hours, one minute. Later, I opened the card and envelope, which had many generous contributions to the kids' education fund.

After some rest, the kids and I joined my friend Al for some tailgating, then some Vanderbilt football. The Dores upset UConn, 24-21. Last night, I slept like a nursed newborn.

This morning, I hit the road with my friends Caroline and Joe, Julie, Debra, Henry, and three dogs, including Pepper. We hiked Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness, a fairly strenuous nine-miler. I've known Caroline and Julie since high school, and the car ride went by quickly with great conversation, as did the hike. I feel great, after two days of 26 miles of exercise.

I know people are trying to pick me up. They know right now is tough. They know I would do anything to make my kids feel a little better. They are contributing to my fundraising and praying for comfort and peace. I know Dori is watching all this, including her weepy husband yesterday when I read the card that said, "Sorrow isn't forever. Love is."

All of this just makes me want to train harder.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Red Bandanna

People want to help, and many are.

Nearly 50 friends have already given or pledged about $4,000 for the Kanzius fundraising. This isn't the best economy, so I appreciate any contribution. As much as the money for the research, this effort is about locking arms against cancer. Thank you, each and all.

Yesterday's run was hot. My schedule said 17 miles, which I may have been able to do if I had started at 4:30. But I decided to run with the same group as last week, and they start "late" at 6:30. So I ran 12. By the end of the run, it was 85 degrees. I was happy with the 10:30/mile pace. A cold front moves through soon, and I couldn't be more ready for the change. When I retire, I plan to get the hell out of the Deep South for much of the summer.

Other positives include the hummingbird who has graced our backyard feeder the last few weeks and the good return to school and work for the children and me, respectively. I am managing to keep up with lunches, dinners, housework, laundry, bills and other tasks. I hired an afternoon nanny, who is helping me manage the transition from school to dinner. I also traded in one of our vans for a used Nissan Xterra, which the kids are really enjoying. So is their dad.

Sounds great, right? I'm sleeping about five to six hours a night, but waking up fairly often. Apparently, that's enough sleep, because I'm making it through the day. I won't do pills, if you're wondering. I saw enough medication, and their side effects, the last four years. No way.

The hardest thing right now, for me and the kids, is being in the house without her. I'm alone right now, while the kids shop with my sister. The break is nice, but the silence can be deafening. I have music playing to fill some of the gargantuan void. I'm always doing something; today, it was cleaning the gutters, vaccuuming and more laundry. None of it will bring her back, and I know it. So I stay on the move, knowing any extended period of down time would just be too much right now.

A few have said some awkward things in recent weeks. I know they mean well or they're just saying something before they catch themselves. A few asked, "How was your summer?" Some others have said, "I know you'll remarry," which almost made me cry. One of my greatest fears at the moment is being in the presence of another woman at a restaurant or somewhere public. With three or more at a table, I'm cool. Business breakfasts are OK, too. But one-on-one at lunch or dinner, no way. I had an experience earlier this summer, unintentional when a few buddies showed up late, and I was left alone with someone, a very nice person and friend in fact. It didn't matter. I was a mess.

I'm investing all of my energy in a few places - my children, work and running. At some point, I'll have to deal with the rest of my life and pick up the pieces, but now is definitely not the time.

Will and I saw a beautiful story this morning about a young leader, selfless and giving, who saved a dozen people on 9/11. It might make you want to purchase a red bandanna, like one my son is wearing this afternoon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Run Against Cancer

It's time to rumble.

The fine folks at Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation have set up an avenue for people like me to raise money for their breakthrough non-invasive treatment of cancer. KCRF has been featured several times on 60 Minutes. If you've followed this blog for awhile, you know I'm jazzed about what they're doing. It's a big reason I've decided to run the Cape Cod Marathon and raise money for this special effort.



When Dori relapsed this spring, one of the first calls I made was to KCRF to see where human trials are. They're a few years away, and they need funds. They've had great success with their technology on rats, frying cancer cells while leaving the non-cancerous cells intact.

I'm an optimist, but I'm also a realist. I haven't swallowed the kool-aid, but I'm wanting to make some, for everyone. It's one of the ways I can honor Dori, along with raising our children the right way.

You can help with the former. I'd be honored to have your support.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Training

Yesterday morning, I ran 14 miles with a team of 10 who are dedicated to doing something about cancer. The run went very well, six of the 14 in the hills of Percy Warner Park. The air was perfect. Fall is around the corner.

My friend Jim, a lymphoma survivor who loved Dori, invited me to join his group, most of whom were with Team in Training. Jim is kind, unselfish and just a champion individual. I also ran with Sammie, who is there every Saturday to set up water stations and encourage new runners.

I met a lot of nice people yesterday, including Erica, a mother of three, who is running her first half marathon; Teri Ann, who fights through asthma during her training; Emmitt, who organizes area races that help support causes in our community; and other cool folks. That's the thing about running ... You meet a lot of nice people when the sun rises. Glass half full, smiles, can-do ... you know the type.

After 10 miles, I ran solo, adding some mileage to reach my 14. Only at Mile 13 did I feel some discomfort. That's where I talked to Dori, feeling her presence and smile. It was one of the nicest moments I've had with her since her death. It's the same conversation I will have with her on the other long runs and marathon later this fall.

My fundraising page is up, and I'll post it after one final kink is fixed. I'll be inviting you all to join me for the ride. It would be an honor to have you along.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Moved to Action

After a full day of cleaning the house, doing the laundry and running errands, tonight's choice was either to watch pre-season NFL football or blog. Here I am, folks.

Work is good, and the kids are back in school. Routine has returned, and my running is ramping up. Dori is still on my mind constantly, very much so on my training runs for the Cape Cod Marathon. I have completed nearly two months of training for this race, the same one I completed in 2009. Dori adored the Cape, and the kids and I love it, too. We'll honor her in many ways while we are there.

The first break from the heat arrived midweek, and I took full advantage. After a wobbly 10-miler last Saturday, I ran five in mid-60 temps, then another six Friday morning. It was so much easier after suffering through the July-early August oven. Once it cools off more, I'll be running 15s and a few 20s. I'll be fundraising, too. More on that later.

One of Dori's best friends e-mailed me this week to share she has been notified by the Be the Match folks. She may be called soon to donate marrow and save a life. Through mostly Dori's efforts, hundreds of new donors are on the registry. It's not too late to register, just click. If you're into saving a life, I encourage it. Some of you may remember Hans, Dori's donor. Without him, we wouldn't have had her with us for four precious years. Go ahead, click.

Something else moved me this week. A woman I dated seriously before I met Dori shared she's running her first half marathon and will be doing so with Team in Training to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She'll be running for Dori. So many care. It is inspiring, even comforting, to learn what good people are planning to do.

I saw a cartoon earlier this week that hit home about the times we're in. Whatever your political bent, it will make you think and maybe move you to do more for someone who needs you. Someone you may or may not know. The world needs more charity and sacrifice, more than ever, if we're gonna get out of this mess.






Friday, August 5, 2011

The Writings of Lewis

It's hard to blog these days. I don't have much time and often don't know what to say. When I do, it's not worth repeating what the kids and I have experienced that day or week. We've had some very hard days.

How often can one blog about boundless emptiness? We appreciate people consoling us. But their pity, or our seeking it, is not good for the soul.

Obviously, life is very different than it was a few months ago. No one can or ever will replace Dori. Everyone gets that. Most also get it's best just to say something sweet and consoling, listen a little, and then move on to some mundane topic. Most do. A few don't, but no need to rant right now. I've done that with a few friends, and this blog is PG-13.

We're each grieving in different ways. Rather than go into what we're specifically experiencing, I'll share some excerpts I read recently in A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. The book was a gift from the mother of one the kids' friends at school who lost a husband tragically years ago. It was accompanied with a very nice note about her own grieving experience. I brought it on our recent trip to Florida, and I'm glad I did.

Lewis' account of the loss of his wife to cancer is about losing and regaining bearings. In the foreword, Lewis' stepson notes "the greater the love, the greater the grief, and the stronger the faith, the more savagely will Satan storm its fortress." That seized my attention, even before reading the author.

Lewis said, "The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything." OK, he understands.

Then more, "Who thinks there is some device ... that makes pain not pain? It doesn't really matter if you grip the arms of the dentist's chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on."

"What grounds has [her death] given me for doubting all that I believe? I knew that these things, and worse, happened daily. ... I had been warned - I had warned myself - not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. ... The case is too plain. If my house had collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which 'took these things into account' was not faith but imagination.

"[A person] has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover himself."

That's as blunt as it gets. No candyman here. I'll share something personal now. I am still going to church, praying, all those things. But I'm not really praising God very well right now. Singing hymns is especially hard. I shared this with a friend, who said something that made sense: "God knows that, Jim. He knows you're hurting." Give yourself a break.

Back to Lewis, who a little further along in his grief, notes "bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. ... Then comes the tragic figure of the dance in which we must learn to be still taken out of ourselves though the bodily presence is withdrawn, to love the very Her, and not fall back to loving our past, or our memory, or our sorrow, or our relief from sorrow, or our own love."

Simple writing, deep thinking. I wonder if Lewis felt the first two months of grieving was more like 10 years. It does to me. I'm back at work, and school starts soon. The return of the routine has helped some. Time is the other answer, as hundreds have already shared. If that's the case, maybe someone can make it go faster.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Midwest Images

As promised, here are some photos from our trip to Omaha (College World Series) and to South Dakota (Badlands National Park, Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore).


'I'm in Nebraska, you're in Iowa.'





Friendly fish





Omaha zoo





Cheering the Dores





Black Hills train ride





Obligatory Rushmore shot





Badlands hiking





Badlands ladder climbing

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Month Later

I miss her more than I imagined. I miss her more than words can convey.

The gaping hole in our lives is enormous. It seems to be opening, in fact, not closing. But before I talk about us, I want to talk about Dori.

Between her funeral and visitation, we think nearly 1,000 friends and family came to pay tribute. We thank everyone for the support, love and especially prayers. They provide great comfort. Most of our comfort comes from knowing she has no more pain, no more anxiety. Just joy with Him, so richly deserved.

Dori and I were able to talk about her funeral in advance. She wanted violins, so two of the best violinists in the area played beautifully. I wanted elegant, delicate flowers; the arrangements of violet, pink and white were impeccably her. The music was divine, led by the cherubic singing of Hannah, a school teacher of our children. We thank Rebecca at our church and Father Kibby for the wonderful jobs they did.

Deacon Mark Faulkner, my dear friend who knew Dori well, delivered a eulogy for the ages. I will post it at the end here, but the most poignant moment came when he left the pulpit, approached the children and me to within 15 feet, and delivered the last several minutes verbatim with no notes. He spoke of her in a way only a friend can … He knew her well and truly felt our loss, but fought through his own emotions to tell us what we needed to hear. If you were there, you were moved.

What Dori did for us – from the day I met her to the day she died – was give us the best lives ever. Her unselfish, devoted nature carried us every day. Her eulogy and her funeral captured her angelic spirit, her tremendous grace and her greatness. I miss her warm smile and her distinct laugh, which were mentioned prominently in the eulogy. But I also miss her loving, daily hugs. She fit perfectly. I miss holding her cold hands, which always refreshed my always warm hands. I miss her adorable nose freckle, her chestnut brown eyes and her sweet floral-like aroma.

I miss her wise counsel tremendously, but Dori knew what to do about that. A few weeks before she died, she created “Advice for a Happy Life: Love to Kathryn and Will,” a hardback book for the children. Combining family photos and her astute words, the book is a guiding light for our children. I read and quote it often, grateful to have her direction, encouragement and spirit with me in this way as I raise two children on my own. Some of her wise words in the book are also in the eulogy.

That night after the funeral, Vanderbilt played a super-regional opening game, the biggest baseball game probably in the school’s history. Will wanted to go, so we did, watching the Commodores win with ease. Many friends know Coach Tim Corbin has been very supportive of Dori and our family the last four years. He visited her at Vanderbilt hospital, called her in Houston, emailed and texted me from time to time, and most especially has been very supportive of Will and Kathryn.

This busy man, on probably the biggest day of his life, came to her funeral with his wife Maggie. After the win that night, he said he wanted us to be with the team in Omaha at the College World Series, if we were up for it. Before the bus left for the airport a few days later, he presented Will with an authentic baseball jersey. In Omaha, he texted to see how we were doing and to see if he could do anything else. Tim Corbin isn’t just a great baseball coach. He is one of many angels watching over my family. I love him for loving Dori the way he did, for being at her funeral with his soulmate, and for smiling at and supporting my children.

The nine-day trip to Omaha was fun, a true escape. We went to their stellar zoo, enjoyed their Strategic Air Command Museum, their vibrant Old Market, and a water park inside the hotel only 100 yards from the ballpark. Uncle Al, Will’s godfather, was with us the first five days. We cheered loudly for our team, and apparently were on ESPN many times, according to dozens of texts and voicemails from friends. That was how we honored Dori, cheering for a team she loved, a team of young role models worthy of praise and support.

After Vanderbilt was eliminated by Florida after a great run, the kids and I drove to South Dakota. We toured and hiked the Badlands National Park, observed bison herds and prairie dog towns, took a train ride through the Black Hills, scaled Harney Peak (the highest mountain between the Rockies and Alps at 7,200 feet), and visited Mt. Rushmore. Driving the Midwest was therapeutic because we were enjoying God’s creation, something Dori loved very much.

Today, we are struggling. We are home, and our house feels empty in many ways. We’re all doing forms of grief counseling. I started the weekly “Grieving Spouses” group at Gilda’s Club, something Dori wanted me to do. Dori’s sister Kathy and I are told we’ll find a “new normal” at some point. A new normal? How do you package that up and sell it? Time is supposed to help. Remembering Dori’s eternal joy is, too. All I know is things aren’t great right now. I’d be lying if I said they were.

The kids and I are having OK days and bad days. Today, we rode our bikes for more than an hour, which was good. Down time tends to be tougher time. Exercise and activity aren’t a panacea, but they help a lot. I have prepared and posted a marathon training schedule to our refrigerator. Yes, I am running another marathon. More on that later this month. I have reintroduced structure in my life, and am encouraging and doing the same for our kids.

Here’s the eulogy. I’ll post photos of the Midwest trip soon.

FUNERAL for DORI BROWN June 10, 2011
Deacon Mark Faulkner

First Reading Isaiah 40: 28-31
Second Reading Colossians 2: 1-7
Gospel Reading John 16: 19-24

The Gospel reading we just heard was marked in Dori’s Bible as one of her favorites and Jim selected it today for how it poignantly speaks to us TODAY.

Our Lord showed His disciples and He showed us that death is not the end…that grief will one day give way to joy. So many of us prayed for a miracle of healing for Dori…and it happened TWICE… actually 3 times.

Dori did not have good odds when she was diagnosed with AML 4 years ago. The progression of the disease did not look encouraging on several occasions. But with remarkable spirit and resilience and determination, supported by thousands of prayers and the wonderful caring staff at Vanderbilt ministering to her medically, she was restored to good health and became a miracle girl.

When the disease came back and she found herself in Vanderbilt again, things got especially dark and she was given VERY low odds of survival. I remember breaking down while talking to Jim outside her room on a particular Sunday as we discussed how her blood counts and GVH disease dynamics weren’t doing what they need to, and if they didn’t, she probably wouldn’t make it.

And when he next posted on Caring Bridge, it was as if a tsunami of prayers stormed heaven and for little apparent reason, her counts started rising and her situation completely and unexpectedly turned around. She was restored again to good health and became a 2-time miracle girl.

And when this awful disease came back again recently, we all prayed for another miracle…a third one…and consistent with this Gospel, our prayers were answered with the ultimate miracle…Dori was given the ultimate miracle of life…eternal health and happiness.

In November of 2007, I gave a homily on perseverance and spoke about St. John of the Cross and Dori…in his book “Dark Night of the Soul” John of the Cross talks about the dawning of new and transcendent life that comes after living through a very dark time. He reminds us that our God promises that in spite of any current darkness, if we just try to persevere, there will ALWAYS be new and greater light and life following.

And I shared this from Dori who was at the time, persevering as she continued to recover from “round one” of leukemia…….[edited]

Dori wrote: “After having been in the hospital over 2 months this summer, I have now been here again for another month…and this stay has been the most difficult physically. Heavy medications that take their toll, high fevers that saps you, Chemo induced mouth sores and a throat too sore to swallow or talk, exhaustion and pain and nausea and rashes…but…I found a nice quote from the diary of Anne Frank...

“I don't think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that still remains.”

“I wish that I could say I've been fully living according to that inspirational message these past 30 days, but it’s been so tough. I do know that I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and that is so welcome. I can't wait to walk back into our house, to be able to tuck the kids in bed, to sit on chairs that are not vinyl! To just be home.

“After a very dark period, I do sense a light at the end of the tunnel… Thank you for your support and prayers. I didn't realize feeling good felt so good!”

Love to all of you, Dori


Dori’s sense of new life and new light was correct…that is what awaits us both in this world and in the next if we, like her, persevere, …a brighter life after hardship and the BRIGHTEST life of heaven…Dori had an even brighter outlook, a brighter appreciation…after persevering through her hardships. She laughed even more.

Kathy Robson (sister)
More than anything, Kathy loved Dori’s laugh – which was happy and healthy and beautifully hearty. Dori’s infectious laugh even stymied herself at times. When things got too funny, Dori would be laughing so hard she would go silent, and with happy tears in her eyes, would resort to pointing at the person making her laugh. When Dori’s laughter turned to tears of joy, that only made everyone laugh harder.

Kathy loved how Dori always allowed her as the younger sister to tag along with her Vanderbilt friends, like each spring break. Kathy was always welcome in Dori’s world, no questions asked… that’s a theme many others in Dori’s life would come to learn and appreciate.

Dori and Kathy loved each other in the unique way that only sisters can love, which:

• Strengthened their spirits
• Nourished their children
• Soothed and comforted their friends
• And bolstered men like Jim and Nathan (Kathy’s husband who just read the word).

Their sisterly love brightened this world, and will shine on.

Happy (mother)
Dori’s mother Happy was sweetness to Dori’s soul, she was her guiding light to the great woman she became. Happy’s reassurances and consistent love put Dori on the right path and guided her through both good times and challenging times.

Happy was always proud of Dori’s classy choices, including her pick of the perfect wedding dress that captured her elegance.

Happy is most grateful for Dori’s unwavering support for her, like the red carpet treatment on many Mother’s Days. But you could say that the loving, giving, unselfish Dori rolled out the red carpet for everyone in her life.

Happy helped nurture Dori’s love of violins, like the music that fill this holy chamber today – that love was fostered by the many trips Happy and Dori made to hear the Cincinnati Symphony perform the Nutcracker. Dori loved to hear the strings of violins speak and dance, and wanted her friends to experience that joy. Dori wanted us to hear violins today.

Rick Sawyer (Dad)
Dori’s father, Rick, has similarly vivid memories of her love of music. When Dori walked onto the stage at Princeton High School as the Princeton Orchestra's CONCERTMASTER, he knew Dori could do anything she wanted.

Rick fostered Dori’s deep appreciation of the importance of a great education. Never was he more proud than when she was accepted to Vanderbilt. Dori excelled in school and passed on that gene to Kathryn and Will. It certainly didn’t come from Jim…but he’s given them other great genes and gifts.

One of her dad’s fondest recollections was his surprise to learn how strong his diminutive daughter really was. At Kathryn’s birth, Dori’s epidural didn’t take. Dori, experiencing childbirth the way women used to, and she grabbed his hand so hard it hurt him. Dori had girl power.

And many of you know how much Dori loved the outdoors, she loved her hikes at Radnor Lake, by herself and with her family, or at Beersheba Springs with Jim. But that love of nature didn’t come easy. When Dori and Kathy were young, their dad’s navigation skills failed him on a hike in the Colorado Rockies…not a good place to get lost! And on subsequent family hikes, the sisters always were sure to less than joyfully remark, “Ohhh, here we go hiking again”.

Jim, Kathryn and Will
Dori Sawyer Brown was the devoted friend everyone wants. She loved good people all her life, and good people loved her … at Princeton High School, Vanderbilt University, SunTrust Bank, Junior League, St. Bernard Academy, and Nashville Bank & Trust. She was grace and love personified.

And Dori loved Jim’s family – Rachel, Anne and everyone – loved them like she loved her own, and they returned that love in bundles.

And more than anything, she was the loving mother every child should have. Dori took care of her family in a remarkable way. She lived the right way and taught the right values and principles, which will carry on in her remarkably beautiful children.

She taught the things we know we should do, but that sometimes need to be emphasized…

Work hard.
Love and respect yourself and others.
Cherish the outdoors.
Eat and sleep well.
Have fun, smile and laugh.
Ask someone how she is doing.
Be a good friend and you will have good friends.
Your choices have consequences.
Live within your means.
Show your outer and inner beauty.
Look people in the eye.
Be organized.
Marry someone who shares your values.
Above all, love God from whom all blessings flow.

Dori’s smile, along with her laugh, are two things many of you have said you will always remember about her. Jim has always said he married Dori because of her smile. Her friend Ramsay, who was her classmate from first grade through senior year of high school, e-mailed Dori recently and I would like to share part of that e-mail with you:

“When I met Dori, we were both beginning 1st grade. We would meet at the top of Gunny Hill and walk to school together, very much an uphill walk, and we walked all the way home together too. I remember Dori smiling and laughing every day. Through elementary school, middle and high school, as our paths went different ways, I still remember Dori smiling.

“I also remember her working hard in what looked like a very comfortable way and surrounded by people who obviously cared about her and were so attracted to her. She had that calm magnetism and gentle laugh that everyone felt. I felt it again when Erica and I had dinner with Dori a few years ago in Seattle.

“It is obvious from the posts on the CaringBridge site that you have always had this and you have touched so many. I'm sure it is a quality found in your children in the various ways that they have about them. And I imagine that it is why Jim was so attracted to you and is so devoted to you.”


Ramsay captured the essence of Dori Brown. Dori’s love had no end, just like Christ’s boundless love for us. She emulated Our Lord from her earliest years, and as her faith grew, she walked consistently and devotedly with Him every step of the way.

She carried the burden of disease with a grace and strength that has each of us in awe.

When the leukemia reared up the second time, and I pushed the button in the Vanderbilt elevator for the both dreaded and wonderful11th floor, I had a prevailing thought…and I walked into that [unfortunately] familiar room of Dori’s, I looked at her (and pardon the gutteralism) and said “this sucks”…….she said “yeahhhh, this REALLY sucks”.

The room was already adorned with the loving touches of her kids -- Will and Kathryn, your mom loved all your drawings and messages and pictures…and you know she SO loved you…and I know it doesn’t lessen the grief, but she loves you even MORE now.

She loved all the times with you and especially was cherishing this past month, just hanging out with you, life in it’s simple form, on the back patio, smelling the smells, seeing the flowers so lovingly planted by dear friends, hearing the sounds of your backyard, and just talking with you…

She loved talking to you and marveling at the great kids you are…keep doing that…keep talking to her…she will always love that…it’s hard for us to comprehend, but she is closer to you than ever before and she, in oneness with Our Lord will be with you every step of your lives.

She will be quietly, powerfully, positively praying for you and pulling for you. She is still your mom, and Our Lord and she will help guide you. As St. Paul tells us, the communion of saints and angels of heaven are a cloud of witnesses around us…everyone in heaven is a saint…and so now, for you, she is “Saint Mom”…you have your very own patron saint.

Tell her about everything going on…she wants to hear it…she wants you to know she is still a part of your lives.

As we heard Kathryn, when you were born, it was painful, but after your birth, your mom’s pain gave way to infinite joy and love (just like the Gospel tells us). As your mom was born into heaven this past Tuesday, her pain once again gave way to infinite joy and love.

Jim, over the years I have heard you say on more than one occasion that you “married up” – yep! The beautiful thing is, so did Dori. Your loving devotion to her, as reflected in your blogs and posts to Caring Bridge let us all see that Dori also chose well.

You took your vows to Dori Sawyer and gave us an example of living those vows to the depth of and the way those sacred words have their most full and profound meaning.

Jim, you truly took Dori to be your wife…you beautifully fulfilled your promise to be true to her in good times and in bad…you devotedly cared for her in sickness and in health…and with the fullness of your heart you loved her and honored her all the days of her life.

Dori graced us and so have you. Thank you.

Dori, we love you. Thanks for loving us. You were Light and Truth and Love on earth…and as the Gospel said, our tears will someday turn to joy, because in the eternal span of time, it really won’t be that long before we see you and your smile again. Amen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rest in Peace


Dori died the way she wanted this morning, with dignity and her soul ready for final journey. Rest easy, love of my life, and enjoy the peace and eternal love you richly deserve.

Please see below's CaringBridge post for more details. Love, Jim

Hello, friends.

Dori passed away this morning at Alive Hospice. She is now with Him, forever in perfect peace.

Dori’s health changed rapidly the last three days. She felt good last week, and even was shopping Saturday with Kathryn; but she woke up Sunday morning feeling very different. We engaged hospice care in home and then moved to hospice in residence Monday afternoon. She died shortly before 9 this morning. We’re grateful she’s finally free of the suffering she’s endured on this long journey.

Dori tremendously enjoyed the last month at home with family and a few dear friends. She especially loved the serenity of our yard and time with Kathryn and Will. We ate backyard burgers and celebrated things we like doing most as a family.

Without question, Dori felt blessed with time to leave the way she wanted. Her amazing spirit inspired her to do many things we will remember forever. She had no regrets and was ready for New Life, the best life of all.

Our grief is immense, like some of you likely are experiencing. But so is Dori’s legacy. Last night, I told her I’ve never met anyone who deserves to be with Him more than her. She changed thousands of lives through her loving kindness and Christ-like spirit, which lives on in Kathryn, Will, her sister Kathy and many others. Her smile and her laugh changed this world for the better. I will deeply, deeply miss her.

We do have some family requests. We ask you to direct any planned kindness (food, flowers, gift certificates, etc.) to the charity of your choice. Dori would appreciate that, and so would I. We also would like to have the peace and quiet we need in our house these next few days and weeks. We will see many of you at the visitation and funeral and later this summer.

Dori’s obituary is below, along with some of her favorite scripture that comforted her. With His grace, may we all follow her lead, here and beyond.

Love, Jim


OBITUARY
BROWN, Dorothy (Dori) Sawyer
, Age 43 of Nashville, June 7, after a determined four-year battle with leukemia. Born December 9, 1967, in Hanover, N.H.

Survived by husband Jim; daughter Kathryn; son Will; mother Gladys L. Sawyer of Cincinnati; father Richard P. Sawyer Jr. (Carol) of Gulf Breeze, FL; sister Katherine Robson (Nathan) and nephew Parker and niece Claire of Fishersville, VA; uncle Timothy M. Sawyer (Jean) of Bourne, MA; aunt Prudence W. Sawyer of Pocasset, MA; mother-in-law Rachel Blair of Nashville; sister-in-laws Anne Blair Brown (Stephen Woolverton) of Nashville and Elizabeth Light (Tim) and niece Anah of Franklin; and father-in-law James A. Brown (Peggy) of Nashville.

Dori was a light to many, a role model who followed in Christ’s footsteps. Loving, genuine, graceful and kind, Dori immersed herself into improving the lives of those around her, especially her two children, husband, family and dearest friends. She was a member of Cathedral of the Incarnation and enjoyed her roles in banking, most recently with the wonderful team at Nashville Bank & Trust. She loved to hike at Radnor Lake, walk with friends, and gave to the community in many ways. She was a graduate of Princeton High School in Cincinnati and Vanderbilt University. The family thanks the teams at Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic and Alive Hospice for their care.

Visitation will be Thursday, June 9, from 6-8 p.m., and funeral services will be Friday, June 10, at 10 a.m., at Cathedral of the Incarnation, 2015 West End Ave., Nashville, 37203. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to charities of choice or the “Education Funds for Kathryn and Will Brown,” which may be mailed to Nashville Bank & Trust, 4525 Harding Road, Suite 300, Nashville, TN, 37205.

SCRIPTURE
2nd Timothy 4:7
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the Faith.

Numbers 6:24:26
The Lord Bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.

Matthew 11:28-30
Come to Me,
All of you who are weary and find life burdensome;
I will refresh you.
Take My yoke on your shoulders and learn from Me,
For I am gentle and humble of Heart.
You shall find rest because My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Isaiah 40:31
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. The will soar on wings like eagles.

Proverbs 3:5
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding.

1 Peter 5:7
Let Him have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking about and watching everything that concerns you.

Colossians 2:6
And now just as you trusted Christ to save you, trust Him, too, for each day’s problems: live in vital union with Him.

Isaiah 43
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

'What Can We Do?'

Many times each week, we're asked, "What can we do to help?" Folks feel helpless. We get it.

But there is much you can do. Many already have, not only with random acts of kindness to our family but also by supporting the efforts we believe are making a difference. You can always look to the left under Links, but here they are:

Join the Be the Match Registry.
Hundreds of friends and family have already signed up. This is a great way to help someone facing blood cancer, potentially saving a life.

Donate to the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation.
60 Minutes continues to report about this cutting-edge effort
to wipe out cancer. We're optimistic KCRF is on to something special to kill many kinds of cancer cells. You can help these folks, too.

Contribute to Team in Training.
Dori and I support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's mission, and some of our friends continue to run for people like Dori. Our friend and my running buddy Jim Asker is a lymphoma survivor and marathoner. You can help his current fundraising effort as he prepares for the Dublin Marathon, or help our friend Patricia Jempty, a leukemia survivor whose humor, candor and vigor have inspired us. She's running for Dori in the NYC Marathon.

Gilda's Club helps families dealing with cancer.
Even though she didn't get to complete her half marathon this spring, Dori trained hard and was the top fundraiser for this great support group. We continue to support their efforts and hope many of you will, too.

That's just four for you to consider. If you make a contribution somewhere, let us know with an e-mail or comment. The support we've experienced has been a big part of this very difficult journey. We're grateful, but the ones yet to face this terrible situation will be, too.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Processing Fraud

Am I becoming a recluse? I'm not up for answering all the calls from the dear people who call, text and e-mail. I hope they understand that I get to these when I can. Some days, it takes awhile.

Dori is enjoying being home, though the heat wave has kept her indoors lately. It's not even summer, but feels like early August. The invasion of the 13-year cicada is in full force. My running was good last week when it was cool ... about 24 miles. This week, I've only run four so far. The kids are out of school. Kathryn is diving, while Will is playing tennis. Both are playing summer basketball.

Dori spent seven draining hours at the clinic last Friday getting red blood and platelets. Remarkably, she didn't need any blood products today. Any time away from the hospital is good. She is eating well, playing board games with the kids and mostly having good days. A few have been rough, but we'll take what we're getting right now for as long as we can.

I finally watched the Lance Armstrong story on 60 Minutes. Dori and I identified with him, obviously through his cancer journey. We read his books, and I followed his cycling career very closely, with admiration. But that view has been shattered with the undeniable proof that continues to emerge. Lance cheated, and so did his teammates and most of his competitors. He might go to prison. It's the same with college football: USC, Ohio State and others. So many cheat or break the rules, and the governing bodies turn their heads or only address serious problems when they're about to be exposed.

It has me searching for achievement with integrity, something that seems to be waning in our "right now for me" culture. Dori is disappointed, as well, but we'll use it as a lesson for our children. Always do things the right way, with integrity and honor. Play like a champion, and lose like one, too, with your head held high that you did your best and you did it honestly.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Not That Question, Please

Dori is enjoying time at home, on her comforting couch and on our panoramic deck that overlooks our tranquil yard. Some of our dear friends planted some beautiful flowers and plants recently. She loves them, as do I. She believes she feels better than when we returned to Nashville 18 days ago. The comforts of home contrast with hospital gloom.

My beautiful wife, and she is beautiful, has been going to the hospital twice a week for transfusions. Home health has also come by twice weekly to take blood, change dressings on her PICC line and check in. Dear friends, people who Dori loves like a brother or sister, have stopped by. But she doesn't have much energy for long visits, so I play good cop.

When I say Dori is beautiful, I mean it in every way. Cancer has not diminished her physical beauty. She's the best-looking cancer patient I've ever seen. Her delicate features, her warm eyes and the smile I married are as precious as ever. Her friend Ramsay e-mailed recently about her smile. I don't know Ramsay well but had to tell her that's why Dori caught me eye. I've never seen a better smile than Dori's.

I've been keeping a close eye on the kids and planning things no parent should ever have to plan. We're all hurting, expressing it in different ways. My emotions are touching the full spectrum. Some days I feel like talking; other days I don't want to see a soul.

What I can tell you is what our perceptive son shared last week. Will doesn't like the question, "How are you doing?" I don't either. I know people are asking with good intentions and empathy, but unless you've been where we are at the moment, it's not a fun one, especially if you're honest. I tell almost everyone, "I'm OK." But my closest friends know I'm lousy. I get it, sweet Will. You're always on it.

Rather than asking that question, some who have been through what we're experiencing know what to say: "I'm sorry about Dori, and we're keeping you in our prayers." They make sweet statements, rather than pose the question whose honest answer is only what it is.

Dori is amazing me, and others, through this. She's touching us in ways that will last forever. Maybe I'll blog about that later, but right now, I don't want to. Getting this out took heavy lifting, but I'm glad I finally did.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jeremiah 29:11

Most of you know the bad news. The chemo in Houston didn't work, and Dori won't be able to transplant. We're completely devastated. We're told her time with us is limited to weeks, maybe a month.

I'm not in a blogging mood, but thought I would share something that Kathryn and I discussed last night. I don't pretend to understand why all this is happening, but I told her I'm confident there is a reason. I encouraged her to read a previous post, "Why Does Bad Happen?" for my view.

You may recall I've blogged about Jeremiah 29:11 a few times, most recently in February when Dori accidentally broke the plate with that scripture. At the time, I was frustrated having to spend a weekend gluing piece by piece, before remounting the plate on the wall. I realize now I hadn't really looked at that scripture in some time, but that undertaking was cold water on my face.

My friend Ron shared the scripture again on CaringBridge. I pray our children find meaning and peace in these words, and Dori and me too, as we deal with such tremendous pain and pending loss. One of Dori's favorites, it's worth repeating.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Build Up

Amazing Dori did great today. Her port, believed to be the culprit of a staph infection, has been removed, and another biopsy is done. We’ll know preliminary results, probably within 24 hours. Man, we want us some good biopsy results so she can transplant. We’ll also need the infection to be gone soon. Dori’s fever is lower and her blood pressure has improved.

It’s been a whirlwind day and frenetic last week. I’ll start with the latter. Last week was tough, bordering on awful. Managing family emotions, while managing your own, can be nightmarish once in awhile. I snapped at someone I love dearly and had to apologize for not being my best. We’ve both had a heart to heart and are stronger, not weaker, after the snafu. I’m sorry, two powerful words.

For much of last week and some of this one, I’ve felt like I’ve been trapped. I have no control over so much. My glass-half full approach kept getting poured empty by events, even by people I love. I experienced rejection and other things that hopped out of Pandora’s Box. Wish I could shut that thing sometimes.

But I’ve also experienced some of the best times in my life recently. Kathryn, Will and I left Nashville Friday, spent the night in Meridian, MS, and drove to Houston Saturday. We had a grand time Friday at dinner, laughed in the car and had a great reunion with Dori. Will hadn’t seen Dori in almost a month. The evident bond they share moved us all.

Today has been many things. This morning, I woke at 5:15 to run. As I was leaving the apartment we’re renting, my Blackberry alerted me to an email. Dori was reporting improvements (lower fever, etc.). Energized, I ran through neighborhoods, around the campus of Rice University to home. The weather was un-Houston-like, cool and not humid. The 6.5-miler was a breeze. I woke the kids, made them some pancakes with fresh fruit and drove them to the airport to fly back to Nashville. They’re safe and sound.

All was calm until I saw the plane taking off. I kept it together barely, got in the car and lost it. My love and concern for them, combined with the fact that Dori was enduring so much today, hit me. It’s alright to cry, cause Rosie Greer told me on Sesame Street a long time ago.

I drove to the hospital and found Dori in great spirits. She saw how weepy I still was, and told me she’s going to get through this. They took her to do the procedures, I ate lunch, and then consulted with the stem cell transplant doctor about details the next few days. Dori came back to her room around 3:30, and she’s about to eat for the first time in nearly 24 hours. She’s looking well.

For now, we’re on obvious pins and needles. I’m glad today went the way it did. I hope and pray tomorrow does, too.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Does Bad Happen?

Dori is not feeling well again. She's in the emergency room in Texas with her sister, and I'm sitting here in our comfortable living room in Tennessee. Can you tell I'm Catholic?

This morning, she spiked a fever and emptied her stomach. She is very tired, but doesn't appear to have any other symptoms. If you're wondering if this ever gets old, sure it does, but we're not going to give in. We have too many chips on the table, and we're damned good at poker.

The kids and I will soon head for Texas, and family will watch over our dog and house. I take a lot of comfort knowing Dori is with her sister, who I love dearly and trust completely. But the separation right now hurts. The last two days in Tennessee have been better for the kids, but very difficult for me.

Yesterday evening, Kathryn showed me what all of this is about. The first few years she played basketball, she struggled. Dori and I thought she would play for awhile and move on to other activities. The next few years, when Dori was first diagnosed and battling leukemia, Kathryn started playing with toughness. This past year, she's worked at improving her skills and started setting goals. She loves the game.

Last night, she practiced with some of the better area players on a summer team, holding her own, scoring baskets and ripping rebounds. I'm happy for her, because it's teaching her what it takes to do well. She appreciates practice, has a great attitude and willingness to learn, and embraces the team concept. Dori loved it when I told her last night.

Tuesday afternoon on the way home from Texas, Kathryn and I stopped in Tuscaloosa. Today, we learned about the unbelievably terrible tornado that claimed many lives in that college town. Blink, like that, and many are gone. As much as we have on our plate, I can't stop thinking about the families who are dealing with tragedy. I've also read several online arguments questioning the existence of God.

Like many, I believe such events happen for a good reason. Not that they're good, but for a good reason. We are not in charge, no matter how much we want to be or think we are. A long time ago, I abandoned my belief everyone should live long, healthy lives and retire in comfort. So few do, though some suggest otherwise. Our culture screams "now," while our faith quietly but assertively says "forever."

Everyone's shot clock is different, but we all know we're on the clock. I will always believe that God wants to know whether we are with Him, or not. I'm with Him because the hope and love I have on this earth goes well beyond the here and now.

That's how I deal with cancer.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Another Hurdle

Yesterday afternoon, Dori's temperature spiked quickly and she started feeling weaker. When it neared 101, we headed to the emergency room. Dori's stomach began to bother her. She had a rough evening, but antibiotics checked her fever, which the doctor believes was neutropenic-related due to zero immunity from the recent chemo.

Kathryn and I stayed with Dori until a room opened on the leukemia treatment floor, about six hours after we arrived. We didn't leave Dori until I met the night nurse and went through her history of falls and recent condition. Kathryn and I made it back to the apartment well after midnight. We slept well, spoke to some family this morning and will head to the hospital around lunchtime.

Kathryn has been remarkably calm, positive and reassuring. We are proud of her in many ways. Last night, she stayed busy on her laptop, as did I, taking in some sports (Vanderbilt baseball and Predators hockey). It helped make the visit seem shorter.

Dori and I know from experience hospital visits like this are to be expected. Patience, flexibility and determination are important. As much as things can seem to be speeding up, we have to stay in the moment and stay positive. Cussing is allowed, in moderation and for entertainment purposes only.

Hopefully, Dori can check out of the hospital in two days. They're looking over cultures, but I suspect they caught the little bug that thought it could sneak by her.

We have a playbook and follow it. Most of our plays work, and the ones that don't get scrapped. If we need to audible, we will.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Let Me Be Me

I have a family member who often, and I mean often, asks me when I'm going to stop running long distances, among several annoying questions. I find the prodding bothersome, because it is persistent, consistent and insistent.

I thought about this twice recently, once when I was pressed again in person and again when I received an email from Active.com extolling the virtues of hitting the road. Read for yourself, "10 Reasons Running Is Good For You."

If those reasons aren't good enough, here are a few more. I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't been running and training for the many half marathons and one marathon I've run since 2006. Consider:

- The positive energy expended dealing with an avalanche of negative cancer energy.

- The rewarding process of setting and reaching a goal. Accomplishments that require work and discipline filter positively into all areas of life.

- The example for our children. Life goes on, no matter awful things are or seem.

- The money raised for cancer research and related philanthropies, which will benefit others like us down the road.

- Addressing doubts and fears. One can work out a lot during a one-hour run. Running requires physical effort, but moves the spirit and bolsters resolve.

I could go on, but why bother? The benefits far, far outweigh the risks. See comments for the greatest reason of all.

Too often, we look at a loved one's choices through our own eyes, not his or hers. While we may mean well by sharing our own fears or concerns, we can actually harm the relationship. We walk a fine line between selfless love and controlling love.

Tuesday morning, I left the apartment at 5:30 and ran five miles. In high humidity, I felt the toxins leaving my body during a heavy sweat. Yesterday, Kathryn and I worked out in the fitness gym on six separate machines and did sit-ups. We felt great this morning, a good sore near areas that needed work.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Flexibilty

Kathryn and I had an uneventful 12-hour ride to Houston yesterday, arriving around dinner time. We drove straight to the hospital, saw Dori, checked into our apartment, had a nice dinner, and shopped for groceries. By 10 p.m., I was waxed, but strangely not ready for bed, so I watched the last 30 minutes of a Star Trek episode. So not me, but I enjoyed the unusual wind-down.

A few hours before our arrival yesterday, our cyber-friends Ann and her husband Chris met Dori. Ann is an ALL survivor who talks straight and has an indomitable spirit. She's a survivor who is remarkably beautiful on the inside and outside. Chris is a compassionate man who has been through the wars, just like us.

I spoke to them on the phone for the first time yesterday, but Dori had the pleasure of meeting them in person. "I love them," she said today. After reading Ann's recount of their visit, you'll see why. Foxhole love is like family love.

Kathryn is doing well, really well in fact. She is talkative, curious, and wanting to help. She loves her mother, just like Will. He's already missing us, which I expected. The separation and uncertainty is hard for adults, let alone young people. They deserve so much better than the crap casserole that's been served. We're monitoring that situation from 800 miles away, but I have faith all will be well.

Dori is more "in the moment," now that chemo has been administered. She finished her fifth treatment last night, and we retrieved our girl after lunch today. She was tired and hungry, so I fetched her a Five Guys burger, which she devoured. Her weight is good, and most counts are hanging in there for the moment. Only platelets are low, so she may need a transfusion. We have clinic visits tomorrow and Friday, then we celebrate Easter.

Her emotions have been varied the last few weeks. She's more focused now, with a slight to medium boil. I think I'd be on full boil, but clearly she's entitled to any and every emotion. My reminders are and will continue to be about focusing on what you can control, which is giving blood cancer the finger and not giving in one inch. She's good at it, but the pep band takes requests.

Kathryn and I talked yesterday about the day-to-day nature of our lives. She called me "The Planner," a term this naval officer will accept with appreciation. I responded by saying in times like now, there isn't much planning. We simply must be flexible and just do. She agreed and understood.

My mission is my wife, with other related missions embedded.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coach K


The latest on Dori is posted on CaringBridge. As our friend Al said this morning after church, it's the Battle of Bull Run, Part Three, for our family. Instead we're waging war in Houston, not at Manassas.

Last night, I took the kids to hear Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who spoke at Lipscomb University to a dinner group of 350 and then again to 3,500. I briefly considered not going, as I have plenty to do before driving to Houston tomorrow with Kathryn. But the kids were excited, which made me excited. Dori's mother is a Duke grad, too, and I knew she'd love to hear what he said, which I shared with her this morning. It was a great call.

I'll never forget Coach K's discussion about dealing with adversity or tragedy. Upon learning of sickness or other bad news, he said the normal reaction for nearly everyone is to exasperate and fret, often saying or thinking, "I can't believe this is happening to me." He hunched over for effect, and repeated the phrase.

These moments are what makes us decide to be great or to be ordinary, he said. Our children heard the best basketball coach of our time explain how coping with difficulty is when we earn our reputation, but more importantly demonstrate our character. My favorite athlete is golfer Jack Nicklaus, not because of his 20 major championships but because of how he conducted himself after losing.

Coach K later repeated the phrase, "I can't believe this is happening to me," but this time with optimism and with his shoulders back and head up. That's how you win four national championships. Here are some quotes from a man I will always admire and respect.

And here is a photo of the two children we love very much, before last night's event. Many of you have asked how they are doing through all this. I see shoulders back and heads up. Fear is around us, but fear can kiss our asses.



By the way, Will found a four-leaf clover in our yard this afternoon and asked me to take it to Houston. No problem, young man.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

'No Surrender'

We've begun Day 4 in Houston, but it seems like we left Nashville weeks ago.

Dori has a bit of the cabin fever, so she's walking on the treadmill in the hotel's exercise room. I ran about four miles in the midday heat yesterday and five miles early this morning. We're near Reliant Stadium, so there is little greenery. The entire landscape is asphalt jungle. I miss Radnor Lake and Percy Warner Park, two of Nashville's gems.

The separation is beginning to wear on everyone. I remember the feeling of loneliness on seven-month cruises in the Navy and not seeing land for 60 days. Today's feelings are similar. The naval commitment was my choice, however; as a single man, I had no family obligations. I knew what I was getting into when I became directly subservient to Uncle Sam. Now, we're making choices that are best for Dori, and that's the way it will continue to be (and the way I want it).

While watching the Vanderbilt baseball game online yesterday, Dori said, "I know you would rather be at the ballgame than here in Houston." I said, "No, that's not true. I want to be here because we need to be with these doctors." She persisted, but so did I. I meant every word.

The shock of the relapse news has abated. Some friends have e-mailed me with words like "keep fighting" and "no surrender." I think Dori has received similar encouragement. I sense Dori is getting her game face on. Mine already is. One thing I've refrained from doing the last four years is having a pity party. Pissed-off parties are fine, in moderation; I'm a fan of steam whistling.

That's the approach, as we prepare to talk to the brightest minds in medicine this week. That, and a whole lot of prayer.

Friday, April 8, 2011

New Semester

I updated CaringBridge late today while Dori was napping in a Houston hotel. Yes, we're in Houston, if you'd like to click the link.

It is true what they say about Texas. Everything is big. The Texas Medical Center, which includes the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, is massive. TMC, which employs 82,000 people on a 1,000-acre campus, is the largest hospital in the world. So far, it appears to be well run, too. Day One at MDA was long, but went smoothly.

Dori read my CaringBridge post and thanked me for being honest. I've tended to leave out less positive moments on CB, using the medium instead to update Dori's status and to encourage prayer and support. She's been hurting this week, like the rest of us, and we miss our kids very much. The last 10 days have been emotional and exhausting, a real whirlwind. Telling the kids the bad news on Saturday morning ... well, it doesn't get much crappier.

I love my job, but last week was difficult. We've all been there - enduring the pettiness, dishonesty and misrepresentation of others isn't fun, even when one isn't trying to hold his family together or deal with a devastating relapse. I'll be able to work remotely next week, but won't miss being "on the job" for a few days.

Earlier this week, I ran twice, about seven miles total. A four-miler yesterday was a good stress relief. Last Sunday, the kids and I hiked five hilly miles in Percy Warner Park, with Pepper on point. Dori and I have some time this weekend. My sister gave me a good book, Autobiography of Mark Twain, which is helping stir the mind, evoke some chuckles and pass the time. We'll probably see a movie, and I'll likely run in the Texas heat and watch the Masters. I'll also keep Dori at the dinner table. She ate very well today.

I'm not sleeping well, I'm hurting for my family, and disappointed some people can be so boorish. But I have faith in God's will and know we can endure by staying true to His lesson plan. Some semesters are easier than others. This one is off to a tough, tough start. But good grades are possible and desirable. It's just a test.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Relapse

We learned on Friday that Dori's leukemia has returned. We've posted the following on her CaringBridge site:

"These words are hard to say and will be hard to read … Dori’s cancer has returned. We are all reeling, deflated and in shock.

Last month, Dori’s donor DNA was 99.67%, below the 100% you always like to see. In recent weeks when climbing stairs, Dori has been short of breath. A blood test Wednesday showed low platelets and other dropping counts. Dori had a bone marrow biopsy Thursday morning, and the doctors saw “suspicious cells.”

Friday afternoon at 3, Dr. Jagasia called me with the bad news … her leukemia had relapsed. Dori was on the road, travelling to Cincinnati to see her mother. I broke the news as she crossed into Ohio. We agreed to let the dust settle, to wait for the doctors to make a recommendation, and to tell our family and friends today. We’ve all had good cries, and will have more.

We have a lot to ponder, obviously. I have witnessed miracles, none greater than watching Dori survive last summer. I have never seen such courage and resolve in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. I believe, like most of you, that prayer had a huge role in her miracle.

Many of you will ask us what you can do in the coming weeks. Nothing is greater than the firepower of prayer. We would be grateful for every one you can say for Dori. No one I know deserves them more. She is my role model and has touched so many lives in so many positive ways. We live among greatness.

On the way to her Thursday biopsy, Dori said she wished for the days when we were simply “nicely irritated with each other” rather than cherishing every moment since her 2007 diagnosis. I agreed but said that may be the gift we’ve been given, to see life unlike most.

Yesterday, I asked Will, our smart son, “What are we going to do?” He said, “We pray,” later adding, “I wish God would take me instead of Mom.” Interestingly, that is the scripture I read at Mass last Sunday (Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8). We love Will and our wonderful daughter, Kathryn, who don’t deserve any of this.

Please join us in prayer. We love you all and are grateful for each of you."

Jim

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Another Tom King

While Dori was training for her upcoming half marathon yesterday morning, I ran the Tom King Half Marathon.

I almost didn't run, since my step aunt passed away a few days ago. I wanted to be with my mom, who was close to her, at yesterday's funeral. Mom and Anne told me I should run, so I joined Mom at Friday evening's visitation, while Anne accompanied Mom to the funeral.

At the start line, I saw a running buddy, Jack, who is very good friends with Jim, the lymphoma survivor I've mentioned before. Jack and Jim are running the Dublin, Ireland marathon later this year. I had planned to run easy at the start, a 10:30/mile pace the first six miles, so I could negative split. But we ran 9:50s the first four miles. With my lack of serious training, I knew I would pay later.

Under bright sunny skies and with a brisk southerly wind, the course warmed quickly. Too warm for me in fact. Jack pressed forward as I dropped my pace slightly. Before the 10K turnaround, I saw friends Joel, who coaches our kids in cross country, and Donna, whose husband is my best friend from high school. Both ran stellar times.

I felt fine through eight miles, a litle winded at 9 and tired at 10. I took a two-minute bathroom break and rehydrated, then pressed on at a slower pace. Since I had no goal except a respectable finish, I didn't wig. I felt anything between 2:15 and 2:20 would be acceptable. Heck, I ate french fries and fried green beans Wednesday at lunch. See what I mean when I said I didn't train hard?

At Miles 11 and 12, the latter of which had a water station, I walked very briefly. At the end, I felt good enough to kick the last quarter mile, finishing in 2:19. My Garmin said I ran 13.3 miles, a 10:29 pace. The race was a reminder of how respectable 13.1 is and how awesome it is to complete 26.2.

Will and I went to the Predators hockey game last night, and hot chicken and beer never tasted so good. We arrived home at 10, and it took me no more than five minutes to fall asleep. A day well spent.