I remember when Khrysso asked me to marry him on Thanksgiving Day last year. Our relationship took off like a rocket after we started dating in August, so he might have asked me before that, too, but that’s the one that sticks as official. He understood the complex circumstances around my separation from Sheri, and we started planning a wedding for “as soon as possible,” pending my again becoming a single man when Sheri’s disability benefits were settled. We never dreamed I would become a widower instead of a divorcee. We considered how long to wait before moving ahead with the wedding, what would seem respectful, but practically, I was already in transition. Ending my life with Sheri had never been a consideration, only ending our relationship as a married couple. Saying goodbye and letting go was grief enough, without delaying the joy of moving on. One of the plagues of my life to date has been living with a spirit of procrastination, dragging feet, and putting off things that desperately need doing before the opportunity is lost. No more. So we set the date and are forging ahead.
Khrysso and I wrote the following for our wedding listing on withjoy.com. I thought I’d share it here as well. It’s just so remarkable to me that a whole new life became possible so abruptly last August with one date for coffee. Just goes to show, one should never lose hope, and that when you get on with the business of living authentically, happiness sneaks in and slugs you with a brick. Read the rest of this entry →
My last post was celebrating another Spring, another year of Sheri surviving and seeing things turn green since her first serious medical trial 20 years ago. I highlighted the truly ridiculous list of physical challenges she had overcome in those 20 years, and 16 days after that post, she was gone, having finally succumbed to the infection she had fought for so long. It’s inconceivable that the warrior I know so well has fallen. But that word may not mean what I think it means.
People read that post of her amazing strength and spirit and were inspired, and I wish she had told her own story. The fullness of it, the unsanitized version, is even more amazing, because a story fraught with such triumph is not all pretty and clean and shiny. It’s bloody and broken and mucked with nasty bodily fluids, and washed in tears. I’ve never spoken much of those times except to a few confidantes, and as my sister avows, I never will, because it’s my job to keep the pedestal gleaming.
The venerated Mr. Rogers often told the story of when he was young and afraid, his mother advised him to look for the helpers: In time of crisis there are always helpers. And over the last 20 years, our helpers have abounded: foremost Sheri’s Mum, the formidable Arlajean. With incredible strength and devotion, she did all those things only a mother can do. Her life of service provided an anchor in every storm, and she was always my greatest ally in Sheri’s care, making sure our girls and I were looked after as well as Sheri. My mom, Bernie, of unmatched faith and charity, loved and prayed and gave without ceasing. My sister, Norlene, always managed to be there when we needed her and made sure I wasn’t too often alone. Glenda made herself available to chauffeur our girls so many times; Kitty made sure I was fed when I was holding vigil at Cleveland Clinic; all the family and friends and nurses and aides and doctors and therapists and clerical people, countless people with such good hearts, it’s impossible to name them or thank them.
But the chief helper through all of that crisis was… me. I dried tears, I bandaged tunneled wounds, I scrubbed unthinkable spills from carpets and couches, I signed papers and argued with doctors and threatened to raise truly ugly hell with incompetent nurses. I soothed fears, I researched medicines and hospitals and treatments, I built and hauled the portable ramp for the wheelchair, I picked up dead weight when knees gave out until my back was shot, and I sat attendant on the pavement in the parking lot waiting for assistance when I could no longer lift. I made sure our girls had birthdays and Christmases and Easters and feminine products and deodorant. And I don’t tell any of this because I want anyone to applaud the magic that is Doug. No, I tell it because, at this point in the story, there are people who think I’m despicable.
See, our marriage finally couldn’t withstand the stress and damage of the roller coaster of ceaseless crisis, the steps we took to try and succeed that others didn’t comprehend. Eventually, I realized I had stopped being a spouse and become solely a caregiver. And all the challenges created too many toxic situations in which we couldn’t agree on solutions or courses of action, and the need became overwhelming. All the details are unnecessary, but on my doctors’ advice I began over several years to pull away and create space. We finally officially separated in August last year. We agreed to wait to divorce until Sheri’s benefits were settled, but that was postponed and delayed time and again.
Well, some people feel I’m despicable for abandoning the crippled woman, even when I continued to spend most of my days taking care of her. Some people feel I’m despicable for finally meeting someone else after nearly 2 decades of faithful loneliness. A relative said to Sheri in November, “I knew you should never have taken him back when you left him in 1989.” Excuse me, I took her back. And that’s assuming someone else, then, would have kept vigil and scrubbed carpets and bandaged and encouraged and dried tears and prayed. Yes, this part rankles me a bit, and for the record, our marriage was over years ago except for the decree. But you know, without that decree I have the responsibility of tending to her remains and tying up her loose ends, and the term “husband” has been bandied about a lot. I got tired of trying to explain something that was nobody’s business anyway, and I’m honored to carry out these last tasks.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, Sheri loved me. I have a gift from one of her therapists, who said in their last visit that Sheri spoke of wishing me well and wanting me to be happy, and our enduring friendship. I have a great gift from Sheri: When I offered to undergo pointless and ineffective conversion therapy 15 years ago her answer was, “No. If being gay is part of what makes you the man you are, then I don’t want to change that.” For whatever reason not even I understand, Sheri was the only woman I ever loved, and I was true to her for 35 years.
Matthew 7:16 speaks of how a good tree is known by the fruit it bears, and my love was shown by the years I spent faithfully taking care of my best friend in ways that most people can’t imagine, long after romance and marriage and even companionship faded. I’m still that person who demonstrated his love all those years. You think you know enough of the story, have the unblemished right to judge and call me despicable? Look at my fruit, and kiss my ass. And yes, Sheri did her share of bandaging and drying tears and praying, and learning to cook gluten free. She wasn’t perfect but the fruit her tree bore was golden. And mine was all about the colors, baby.
Her name was Sheri, and I loved her, and our story is extraordinary, and someday I may tell it more completely. But my inexplicable friend is gone. Moving on, life to live: Doug’s world, meet Khrysso LeFey, a man of incredible character, talent, integrity, and intelligence who has become a pillar in my life. Khrysso, my man, meet Doug’s world.
I know I’ve told this story to a number of people before, but here it is again for the uninitiated. In October of 1996, Sheri and I celebrated our 14th anniversary, and she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. It was an incredibly scary time for us. Just heading into Fall, with all the Ohio landscape turning brown and dying, Sheri prayed that she would see Spring again, with its warmth and colors, and most of all teeming with signs of green life bursting everywhere. With surgery and radiation, she did indeed see the world turn green again, and we celebrated. And so began a special ritual for us, every Spring, welcoming the Green.
“For the first time in my life, I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult.”
~ Ben Stiller in While We’re Young
I’ve only seen a clip from the new film but that sentiment so resonates within me. I get it. In my case, I like it. I don’t feel old, not as old as 52, but also for the first time I don’t feel like a kid trying to fake it as a grown up. I’ve arrived. I feel a sense of confidence, a sense of durability, an actualization.
Part of it is because of all I’ve handled in my life, the crises I’ve been dealt, the firestorms I’ve endured. If you don’t laugh you’ll cry until you cry anyway and then you learn to laugh again. You don’t think about tomorrow or what else might go wrong, you just do what you need to do to make it through today. You learn to trust God Read the rest of this entry →
This will at least weed out the big Harry Chapin fans among you.
Life takes us where we allow it, with the choices we make along the way. Sometimes we coast on the stream and allow others to make the choices, often we make choices as a compromise or jointly, but sometimes we make the big choices that singularly affect the destination. I can look back and see those points in life, when time split because of the choice I made, the path I took, and events unfurled as a result of my choice. I take full responsibility.
My other best friend in high school and I had our futures all mapped. Mine was in the arts, hers in journalism. I was headed to Pittsburgh to college, she to Akron, and on to our careers. Then life took Pittsburgh out of my hands at that time and I chose not to attend another college, I bummed a summer, lingered in love, and chose to go instead into cosmetology as a fluke, where it turned out, I had a great deal of talent.
All I wanted to do was write stories, draw comics and do theatre, but (sigh) I needed a trade.
So then life, life, life, life, yada yada yada, Pittsburgh eventually, but then back to Ohio, never to escape again. I got the arts degree but came back to one of the worst job markets Read the rest of this entry →