Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Wedding of All Weddings

Nineteen years ago this Tuesday, Dori and I exchanged our vows, cementing our commitment to love one another. I did that, without exception, until her death two years ago. I had my moments, of course. In any relationship, you always do. She also had her own, but not as many. She was the better half, and I knew it. What we did, through what I would call mostly mild infrequent turbulence, was provided balance, understanding and reassurance. Her strengths were my weaknesses, and vice versa.

Our wedding and reception were incredible. Dori beamed when she entered the church, and I struggled to keep my composure. I teared up immediately, then felt amazingly calm and warm. The ceremony went quickly. I learned later that Dori's sister Kathy lost the ring, and borrowed my Dad's at the altar. Kathy found my ring later.

The reception at Two Rivers Mansion, a restored home from the Civil War era, was one helluva party. Some have said it was the best reception ever. It was a cool crisp fall evening, Oct. 15, 1994. Vanderbilt had beaten Georgia in football, a rarity, and our Commodore friends were in good moods. We danced outside - the young, middle-aged and old. No one seemed to have a care in the world. They soaked up the energy, and so did we.

At milestones, I reflect on the moments, the people and the lessons. What's been on mind this week is that Dori taught me so much through her example. I am like her now, in some ways. When I deal with a teenager's issues, for example, I call on her example. Her words sometimes almost come through my lips. It's not like being two people, but it is feeling her presence and spirit. Dori was calm, a phenomenal listener, slow to judge but very intuitive and incredibly gifted understanding people and situations. Her physical absence is a huge void in our lives, but it's not a complete void. She already showed us what to do, how to handle situations and people. It's not being able to hug her, celebrate moments, see her smile and hear her laugh that sucks.

Dori emphasized that we - the kids and I - needed to live rich, full lives when she was gone. That's great advice, advice we are taking and realizing more each day. The first year, we survived, but we probably looked like Hans Solo, frozen and pained under the watchful eye of Jabba the Hut. Through support, faith, and hell probably the force, we managed to break free and begin rebuilding and reshaping our lives.

I know Dori would be proud of us. We will never forget that she was our rock and our earthly light, and I was one very lucky man to have her in my life. The kids know they're lucky they had a Hall of Fame Mom. Mark Faulkner called her Saint Mom in his eulogy. Well said, friend.

Dori and I honored our vows until the end. Through thick and thin, for better or worse, richer or poorer. We experienced a great deal, but our faith and trust in each other never wavered. How could it, with her unwavering example? It's now my obligation, passion and honor to try to match it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mark's Homily

The two-year anniversary of Dori's death is almost here - this Friday. I found something yesterday that is helping me process it all.

My dear friend Mark Faulkner delivered one of the best homilies I ever heard at Cathedral of the Incarnation in November 2007, one month after Dori's bone marrow transplant. I will never forget his tribute to her and her example, which I think speaks to every man, woman and child who has experienced hardship.

I hope this helps explain who Dori was, to those who loved her and to those who never knew her greatness.

Deacon Mark Faulkner, November 18, 2007:

"Hardship … will lead to your giving testimony. Even if death … not a hair will be destroyed. PERSEVERANCE WILL SECURE YOUR LIFE.

"First of all, what is the LIFE that perseverance through hardship will lead to? As you might guess, it is NOT necessarily what many often value in this life. Just as the Temple was adorned with valuable stones and gilding and whitewash … all that superficial stuff amounted to nothing when the temple was crumbled and destroyed. The LIFE that comes from persevering through hardship is a more substantive life … a richer life … a deeper life … a grateful life that wells up in us.

"St. John of the Cross in his book “Dark Night of the Soul” 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 life following.

"This has been a week of me witnessing dark nights almost everywhere I turned.

"Melanie Nelson, a friend of mine for over 20 years died on Wednesday after a five-year battle with brain tumors … and she battled with amazing, ever-buoyant hope. Melanie persevered.

"Wes Caldwell, a business associate and friend I’ve worked with for over 10 years succumbed to cancer Thursday night … but he did so with a peaceful, faithful candor about what was happening. Wes persevered.

"And then our dear Bishop Niedergeses died Friday but who, in spite of aging and a series of medical challenges, remained to the end, a shining light of joyful gratitude and service. Bishop Niedergeses persevered.

"Or a single mom with whom I was speaking, trying to deal with the anxieties of her kids, so badly effected by divorce, and the financial burdens that have ensued, and the frustrating lack of help for shouldering some of the most basic day to day tasks … tasks that are simply hard for a woman ... and yet, trudging forward with all the cheerfulness she can muster. She is persevering.

"And our own Dori Brown from here at the Cathedral who has faced acute leukemia and mortality, and she is doing so with courage and determination, persevering one day at a time … and savoring each moment of life … I’d like share just some brief notes Dori wrote as she continues to recover …….

"I didn't realize feeling good felt so good!

"Our news to report is that my cells are continuing to slowly increase. The really great news is that my platelets are now growing without the help of transfusions.

"After having been in the hospital over two months this summer, I have now been here again for another month … and this stay has the most difficult physically. Heavy medications that take their toll, high fever 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."

Love to all of you, Dori

"Dori’s sense of light is correct … that is what awaits us if we persevere, both in this world and in the next … a brighter life after hardship or the BRIGHTEST life of heaven after death … a brighter outlook, a brighter existence. A brighter appreciation … if we persevere through the hardships.

"I am very aware that some of you are facing challenges similar to a few of these I have referenced today … death, disease, broken relationships, financial burdens … . I know that all of us have our own challenges that are at varying levels of seriousness … I know that each of these challenges are important and significant to us, even if small compared to those of others.

Father Fleming, our former pastor would often say … NEVER give up, NEVER lose hope! NEVER. GET UP! We stumble, we are tripped, we doubt, we fear, we fall … just always get up … always persevere … always move forward … doing so makes our lives a testimony to faith, a testimony to hope.

"So, is how we are facing our own challenges “giving testimony”?

"Is how we are handling our burdens indicating faith that, whether in life or in death, nothing is lost, not a single hair?

"In our hardships, are we persevering, and thus, securing richer life?"