The Love of My Life | Africa, The Statue of Liberty & The Twin Towers

10382663_10202889774661098_3387514996389621796_nOver the past few weeks, my family has been truly blessed by an outpouring of love from family and friends. Like this picture of Kyla from her volleyball game the Thursday after her mom, my wife, Maureen passed away the Tuesday of that same week, we feel suspended by the embrace of many, many hearts. We celebrated the season with the 7th/8th grade 5A volleyball team at St. Andrew’s last evening. You could feel the same love that washed over the gymnasium during the game at St. Gabriel’s wash over the home where we assembled. Kyla said it best, “daddy, the parents are as nice as the girls.” Yes, Kyla, they are.

I’ve also been personally touched by the generous reactions to my blogging on “Our Story.” I was particularly moved by the specific comment of one fellow parent, that I am now writing these blog posts with a book in mind. The book will be titled, quite simply, The Love of My Life. For those that have been reading for a while, you know how excited I was to begin dating Maureen, the love of my life, back in the fall of 1989. Although I can’t reach out any longer and give her a big hug, as I would like, I continue to feel her presence. Love is funny like that. If you let it seep into your bones, then you really can feel it. Not think you’re feeling it, but actually feel it, inside of you, washing itself around your insides and making you warm from the inside out.

As I continue to remember the many joys of my life with Maureen, those moments of love become even clearer through the lens that has opened to me, since her passing. Back in early August, I had made a business trip to White Plains, New York for a meeting at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. If you read about my proposal of marriage to Maureen, then you know that she grew up outside of New York, and we were engaged at the Statue of Liberty. I provide this as context to the note below that I wrote to a close friend and business colleague on my flight home that day. I wrote it knowing that things were getting tougher in Maureen’s fight with cancer. It was the moment I chose to write about Our Story, and not cancer’s…

August 8, 2014
Mal,

You noted as we began to talk at the counter that we’ve only met once over coffee at Juan Valdez and now twice, at Inayaka. Throughout those two get togethers, our emails, our texts and our phone calls, it really feels as if we have known each other for much, much longer. The depth of my gratitude to Alex is truly deep for this amazing gift of our friendship and the opportunity to bring together two careers, two minds and two passions to truly, truly change the world. 

I see this serendipity and much of life through the lens of my faith. I share that only for context behind my evening and morning on my way to this flight. As you know, I am headed home both with fear and with love. The fear comes, of course, from what this cancer in my wife will do next. The love comes from the privilege I feel to be by her side on this journey and to be the father of the amazing kids we were blessed to bring into this world. 

As I think I mentioned over dinner, I proposed to my wife at the foot of the Statute of Liberty just over 25 years ago. The first place we went after getting off the ferry was atop the Twin Towers…. where, of course, now, because of tragedy, there stands only one building, taller, stronger, because of the love that is poured into its foundation, the love that emanates from each of the souls we lost on that fateful day. Each of those people we lost were loved by a lot of other folks, and so what was once two became one, just like my wife and I became one 25 years ago.

A few years after Maureen and I were married, we traveled to the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Maureen’s folks, her father is Belgian, had moved from NYC to Abidjan, where her dad ran the container operation for Compagnie Maritime Belgique, CMB, for 5 years, same company that brought him to the World Trade Center in New York. We celebrated New Year’s Eve going into 1994 in Kumasi, Ghana. It was pretty cool. On my NJ Transit train from Penn Station to Newark this morning, I chatted with the guy next to me (you know me… I like to talk to folks!). He had moved to America in the last year from… yup… Kumasi. He is an electrical engineer, 2 months married, about to become a citizen and get his masters. 

As you might guess, it doesn’t stop there. At the boarding area for the flight down to Atlanta, I see a young chap with a backpack with a Kente cloth pattern. Naturally, I say hi and mention the Kumasi connection that just happened, because Kente cloth comes from Kumasi (a pattern, a fabric, a woven object). This young man, 26, is from Accra, Ghana!! And, wait for it. He is the nephew of the President of Ghana…. and, his folks own the hotel I stayed with Maureen and her folks at on the coast between the Ivory Coast and Accra way back over Christmas break in 1993. Just crazy, how this is all connected.

I had a beautiful cry with Maureen over the phone just before boarding, sharing all of this with her, as she sat getting prepared for her CT scan back home. We both acknowledged our fears, paving the way for only love when I get home.

From the moment I returned home from that trip in August, Maureen and I did only continue to share love. We never ever talked about death. It has never been in our vocabulary. We searched every avenue, looked for every connection, uncovered all possible treatments. Even as we both went to sleep three weeks ago today, we both expected to awake again, together, the next day. We did both awake, me, in this world, though, and her, in heaven. Her passing has awoken me to just how transcendent love can be. As I have told our children and friends, “of course, we hurt. We loved mommy so much, it can’t not hurt.” We will never stop hurting. Cancer sucks. However, for eleven years, as Maureen tackled this horrible disease, she made the decision each day to live… and to love… we will do no less.

Sweetie, our twin towers now stand as one. However, I feel your love washing around inside of me, and it has made my foundation strong. The kids and I have opened our hearts to you, so that you can wash around inside of us each and every day. We will remember, but we will look forward, and we will manifest your love for us and for everyone in all that we do… watch out world!