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.


lcreekmo said...

Jim, thank you so much for this update. You and your family have been much in our thoughts and prayers in these past few weeks. I am so glad that you and the kids took the time for that trip. It sounds really perfect in so many ways.

Getting used to the "new normal" can't be easy and all I can do is continue to pray for you all....but I will do so!!

Jackie said...

Jim, I have never met you and I haven't seen or talked to Dori in over 20+ years. Kathy and I were friends in high school...I haven't seen or talked to her either.... When I learned of Dori's illness, I immediately started following her story on caringbridge. I thi k I have read every post that was made....I am so sorry for your loss. I cant imagine the pain you or your family have endured and continue to endure daily! I pray that you all find peace and that eventually that "hole" you spoke of stops opening....and begins to close. Please let Kathy know I think of her daily and pray for all of you! I would love the chance to catch up at some point....God Bless all of you!
Jackie Martin (Robinson)

Ann said...

Dori left so much love. You, Kathryn, and Will honor her each and everyday. Thank you for the post. I know it wasn't easy. Chris and I hold you all in our hearts every day.

kayjaydunc said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was out of town during the service and so wish I could have been there. I appreciate that you have placed the words here so I could read them. As I sit hear with tears in my eyes and chills going down my arms, I am thankful for meeting Dori. She definitely had a light about her that drew people in. I am grateful that she shared dome of her wisdom with me and I am grateful to have an angel above.
Hugs and Love to you, Kathryn and Will.

Karen Duncan

Julie said...

"A new normal" - we're still looking for that after losing Joel's mom over two years ago. I never knew grieving could be so physical so completely overwhelming. I remember feeling relieved that Luz was no longer suffering and that cancer was no longer a part of our daily lives and then feeling guilty for feeling relieved. I know I spent the first few months in a fog of grief. I look at pictures and don't remember being there. If time has helped it's in the sense that I've gotten used to living with the loss and I've gotten better at anticipating events that might be difficult for me and the children. You are all in our prayers. Every day.

Anonymous said...

Jim, My name is Liz and I came across your blog a little while back. I am so sorry that you lost such a wonderful, amazingly caring, spirited woman. I hope you see her presence and reflection in your children and may they bring you the happiness and love you deserve.Everything about Dori seemed incredibly organic, she did not have to struggle to be kind and loving. Thank you for that beautiful last post.

Your blog is an immensely helpful resource for someone going through cancer or someone supporting a loved one going through cancer. I wanted to reach out to you to see if you would be interested in a new online social support network called I Had Cancer. It's focused on connecting people based on experiences with cancer so that they can easily communicate with one another and share information. I would like to tell you more if you are interested,perhaps now, perhaps later when you feel more up to it, so please let me know! Because I was so struck by your writing and your experience I wanted to send you an early-access pass with extra invites for others you may know going through this journey. The goal is to let you find other people who have gone through what you have gone through.

Either way, thank you so much for your writing. Take care and best regards.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, you can reach me at

Heather said...

Jim, I don't know if you remember me. I sat at the table at a potluck at Gilda's once with you, Dori & the kids. My name is Heather and Dori was in my "moms" group. It brings me peace to know that you and the kids are still going to Gilda's. Know in your heart and in your mind that I adored your beautiful life and I'm thankful for each and every time we were together. She will forever be with me in my memory and heart.