It's really unbelievable to think that two years ago this morning, I was sitting in Tastee Diner with Dan's sisters just a few hours after he passed away. It has been a long road.... one that is equally part devastating, enlightening, hopeful, scary and sad.
Two years. It's now been officially longer than Dan has been gone than he was in my life. That's weird. I think of that sometimes and realize how lucky I am to be so associated with Dan's memory for so many people. It was never hard to stand in the shadows of that big light he gave off. And I know that while days like today are difficult for me, I do not lose sight that people reach out to me. I hope that Dan's family and close friends receive the same, as it can be an isolating day.
One of the things that always struck me about Dan was his ability to be quiet & reflective during otherwise hectic times. I think back to the days spent at Hopkins when he received treatment. It was actually almost a social event, with Dan's parents, me and many friends who stopped by on their lunch hour or took time to spend the afternoon with us. While the rest of us chatted and caught up, Dan would sit there receiving chemo. Sometimes there were cupcakes. Sometimes the nurses came over to hear about all the Waeger babies and goings-on. People shuffled in & out to get coffee or food from the cafeteria.
I used to watch Dan and wonder how someone in such a vulnerable spot could be so himself. And the longer I watched, the more I realized that he spent most of that time sitting quietly with his thoughts- whether in the waiting room for a scan, getting blood drawn or sitting on the chemo deck. I never knew what we was thinking about and he never told me- was he scared? was he thinking about getting Rita's Italian Ice after the treatment? was he going over his last round of golf in his mind? or dwelling on happy memories? He was always deep in thought, and it never was the kind that made him upset or sad. It actually used to bother me that he didn't talk about his feelings much about cancer. He was as positive at home and behind closed doors than he was in front of others. And I always asked- how are you not going nuts all those hours we sit in the Hopkins? Dan just always said it was what he did to get by and keep himself focused. It was just how he dealt with everything, which I am sure also included taking care of all of us around him.
After two years, I understand him a little more. He was- day in & day out- dealing with a disease that could change in an instant. There was no time for fear- it would simply bury him. And not only did have to beat back a disease, but he had to fight hard to keep his every day life in tact. And he had to carry hope for so many- me, his family, his friends, co-workers and fellow survivors. Think about that- how many people get sick and go on disability? Dan took care of himself and all of us, and rarely asked for real help other than for a visit during chemo or to play in his golf tournament.
Those quiet moments were what he needed to re-charge, not just for cancer but for us.
I have learned many things about grief over the past two years, and am still learning. People like to say that time heals all wounds. Well, that is a really crappy and unfair thing to say to anyone who has lost someone. If that were true, than all of us would be thinking "What is wrong with me? Why don't I feel better yet?". Time passes- and that can be a cruel reminder and a relief at the same time. Last year, I felt the need to do something in the community to honor Dan on this day, so I visited a hospital and met with young adult cancer survivors. It was a relief in a way- to make it one year. To have survived that time. This year, it feels more appropriate to honor Dan in the way he dealt with things- quietly... to take the time to re-charge for me, and for cancer-related work.
That's the funny thing about time for me- it is both frozen and moving forward. In my mind, Dan will always be (almost) 27, wearing his Penn hat backwards, smiling and full of energy. But that is also sad for me. He will always be young and healthy. He is frozen in that moment, but has already missed so much- the weddings of close friends, the birth of a nephew and niece (with more on the way), the birth of his friends' children... his own wedding... his own children. I think about how he loved spring and would be excited to start golfing again and talking to his dad about playing soon. He would say his nephew Jack looks like him. He would be busy launching another scholarship program. He would be so proud of his brother-in-law's success and sad to see his nieces move to Cincinnati. He would be attending his niece's baptism this weekend and so excited to see her family from Bolivia. He would be talking to his other sister as her husband leaves for another tour of duty. He would be telling his mom he was alright and not to worry so much about him. And he would be going to Opening Day in few weeks with his friends. He would be dressed up in green tomorrow for St. Pat's, wearing whatever crazy beads or hat I gave him.
I know he would be proud of us- moving forward but keeping him in our hearts. But it hurts nonetheless. And it's ok to sit and be quiet for a moment. To remember and re-charge. I think it's kinda fitting now that Dan died the day before my birthday.... today is about honoring the past, and tomorrow is about the celebrating the future. For this moment, it is still ok to mourn.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum.
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.