Visits of Comfort


Written Nov 1:
It’s been a week now since I made the big move up to Ohio, to live near Mike. I’ve had a roller coaster of emotions going on. At this point I’m just feeling like it’s a miracle I’ve made it through one whole week. While I don’t have any reservations about my decision to move here, still I’m having anxiety and headaches pretty much daily. A lot of change always does this to me. This is the farthest by far that I have lived away from home, and the homesickness has already kicked in too. Feeling vulnerable doesn’t help things. Having grief wrapped up into it all doesn’t help things. Needing to find work still doesn’t help things. It hasn’t taken long for all of this to constrict around me and start creating anxiety. I’ve caught myself spiraling into my own thoughts and fears about all this newness. The irrational sort of stuff that doesn’t to any good to focus on. And for a time, this strong, resilient person that I am is worn down and overwhelmed too much to be so. I hate being in this state of overwhelm…

It’s not unlike grief itself. It makes you vulnerable. It takes your energy away and leaves you depleted, less able to function like you normally do. It creates limitations. It creates irrational stories in your mind. It gets your mind running rampant on you. In this sense, how similar my grief and the change of moving have felt.

I’ve wanted to be able to just enjoy this move, to open my heart to it and just let it all happen. To meet it all fearlessly and in a positive light. It’s clear though, it’s going to be a battle for me to relax and be able to trust. It is just how I am now after so much loss and so much painful change has happened in my life.

For the last few days at least, I have had a small break in the anxiety of it all. My best friend came up from Texas for a first visit Friday. It’s been so comforting to have her here, and so much fun. Halloween has been our holiday since Drew died, and so the plan was to celebrate it up here in a new way. She, Mike and I went out Friday night to the bar for a costume party – all dressed as pirates. We danced and enjoyed the night, and for a little while, I didn’t feel the anxiety or the fear or any of it. Yesterday, Mike chauffeured us around the area. He took us to a bunch of the best nature areas and parks. We saw old barns and waterfalls and gorges and lakes. With the fall leaves in full effect, it was nothing short of breathtaking. Getting to see it all for the first time with my best friend made it even more special. And watching Mike and her together, talking and laughing and getting along so well gave me such joy. Especially being that she has been my closest friend through all the years dating Drew and through his death and these years or surviving after. And now she not only approves of Mike, but she has gained a wonderful new friend in him too. For this new person in my world and my best friend to get along so flawlessly feels like the most comforting and beautiful full-circle kind of thing.

In an eerie way, these past few days, it has started to feel like things are exactly how they should be – despite how painfully we arrived at this point. Having her here and getting to see new sights with her has helped to switch my panic mode off some, and help me see this new adventure as just that – an adventure. A new and exciting journey that she and I will be going on together, even if from very far apart much of the time. It’s beginning to sink in, that things will be exciting, and new, and beautiful. Grief will still be here. But There will be new landscapes to explore… a whole new winter world soon unlike anything I have ever experienced in Texas. Sometimes, all you need is a good friend to remind you to shake off your fears and find the positive again.

The Warrior and the Wildflowers


Before Drew died, I was not the softest person. Sure I was kind and loving and generous, but mainly just with him – the one person I trusted above all others. I honestly rarely gave anyone else my heartfelt genuine love – because I did not trust people. I always kept everyone but him at arms length, but did I good job of disuising myself as kind and giving from the outside. My whole life this has been something I’ve struggled with. Something I haven’t liked about myself. And something I have not known how to move past.

After he died, somehow, miraculously, I did the opposite of this. I didn’t close off from others. I didn’t mistrust or question or hold back. Instead, I opened up to everyone completely and in a way I never had before. I exposed every fear, every tear, and every irrational, over-the-top outburst, to anyone who would listen. In conversations and phonecalls and blog posts and artwork and hugs and embarassing crying fits. I didn’t think about it – it was survival. It is what I had to do. It still amazes me today that being this broken was the thing that broke down lifelong walls inside me that I had been yearning to get past for years. It was oddly the best and worst year of my life.

It was the worst for obvious reasons. But it was the best because it was the first time in my life that I truly opened myself – not just to one person – but to everyone. His death softened my heart. After a lifetime of trying to protect myself from the world – I finally put down my armor, looked around, and saw that I hadn’t been keeping myself safe from harm at all. I had been keeping away love and laughter and connection and support…

I started to see how the love of others can heal us… and not just the love of people we know well and trust – but the love of strangers, aquaintances, old friends, new friends… anyone. I started to see how allowing myself to TRULY receive love from many other hearts gave me what I needed to be able to be genuinely and deeply giving in a way I had always longed to be able to. It is actually the most whole-hearted I have ever felt.

Being vulnerable always feels a bit dangerous. We fear that opening our hearts so fully will result in us being mocked or laughed at or judged. What that first year of living with death taught me is that this fear has been running rampant in my life for all these years without any proof to back it up. I have listened to it without ever questioning it. It took the death of my world for me to finally have the courage to throw off the armor and question these fears. In the midst of death is where I discovered the stories I have told myself all my life were wrong. Putting down my armor and letting the world in will not result in ridicule, but will instead result in connection and love. That is why I often refer to that year as the best and worst of my life. No one has ever given me a greater gift than this insight he gave me when he died.

Despite this lesson, I still fall back into those old fears. I can feel my heart hardening and closing off again lately. With every big change in my world since his death, every new phase, my subconscious seems to automatically grab for the armor. Before I am even aware of it, I am standing there with a sword and sheild in hand – ready to battle. Meanwhile, the reality is that I am standing in a field of wildflowers. There are no threats, no enemies, no dangers – yet there I stand, poised and ready to battle. It’s a good quality to have – except when it becomes overly reactionary in your life.

I’ve been struggling with this over the past 6 months, since meeting Mike. This has undoubtably been the hugest change in my life since Drew died. And it’s got me throwing on the armor at every turn. Fearful of dandelions. Suspecious of sunflowers. Convinced the hearts of others will somehow do me wrong.

Short of writing here, I have been VERY quiet about anything I have been struggling with these past months. So after working myself up emotionally into a total mess in the past month, I am finally flinging the armor off again and saying “wait a second, there is no battle here… people aren’t here to hurt me. And this armor isn’t working. Let’s open up for real and see what happens.”

And so I made lunch dates with a few friends this past week… not even particularly close friends – with the specific request that I am struggling lately and I really need some support. To even ask that up front was a HUGE step. I felt silly. I felt vulnerable. I felt in danger. But the difference now is that I know better. I know now what it feels like to put the armor down. And I know those fears are not speaking the truth. I have a comparison now, one that Drew gave me. And I get to choose which I want – the armor, or the wildflowers. I choose the latter – that effortless, undulating flow of love between open hearts. I choose not to believe I am in danger all the time anymore. The result? Love. Support. Connection. A sharing of ideas and emotions. Together with friends, some very legit fears have been pinpointed and some really simple solutions have been found. Ones that have now got me excited about the idea of moving and a whole new adventure.

This morning I am sitting calmly for the first time in probably a month. Because I took the chance to throw off the armor and remember the important lessons that death has taught me about life: Everything in life has the potential to be both scary and exciting… but I get to choose which of these I will live inside of. Fear… or love. I think the biggest danger as we heal and become stronger is becoming hardened against the world. Getting over-confident that we don’t need people anymore. Wanting to NOT need people. Being strong and feeling powerful while remaining open-hearted can be such a tricky thing to balance. Remaining soft and allowing it to be seen as I heal has been probably the single biggest challenge for me this year – one I am working on every day. I am so grateful that this blog continually challenges me to do this. Thank you guys!

Photo © Sarah Treanor, from my self portrait series on grief. For more visit

Widow Proud


Since Drew died, I have been acutely aware of how uncomfortable my very presence makes people at times. I talk about it less and less on Facebook, and even with my closest friends and family. I’m not really talking about the people closest to me – family and dear friends – but rather the rest of the entire population who isn’t on that close level with me. You are a reminder to them of death, and they feel sorry for you, and you know it. It’s definitely a shitty part of this journey – feeling like my very identity upsets people or makes them uncomfortable or unsure of how to act around me (as if I need people to be anyone but themselves). This is made to suck even more by the fact that I am one of those people too – I also don’t want to be around my own pain and this new unwanted identity of “widow”. It is a constant battle for me to try and make peace with this new part of who I am that reminds me of everything I do not have.

Not entirely sure of what to expect or how it will help me with this identity crisis, last Friday I hopped on a plan to go to Camp Widow for the first time. This is an incredible conference for widowed people held three times a year – the only one of its kind. Upon arrival I am surrounded by a few hundred others just like me. I even meet a few close friends for the first time in person. These people are incredible. They are not famous, they are not peace prize winners or hollywood actors, they are just you and me – all of us regular people – deciding to show up even though life has completely broken us. There we all are… still trying to find hope and healing and something good in life. Despite it all… Still fucking trying!

I meet Tanya, who’s fiancé died in the 9/11 attacks and whose story both drops me to my knees and simultaneously fills me with so much hope and strength that my soul overflows. I meet a woman who lost her husband just three weeks ago – and somehow she managed to get out of bed AND get on a plane AND show up at this massive event. And Jennifer – the warrior – who is only 32 and has already been widowed twice and is raising six kids now on her own. I meet a woman who traveled alone all the way from Australia just to be there – knowing no one when she got there, and her husband died less than a year ago. I watch my dear friend Kelley do an incredible stand-up comedy act all about death and the death of her husband – getting widowed people to laugh harder than they probably have since their partner died. I mean wow people. Call Oprah and get her in here – cuz we’ve got a LOT of inspiration going on. Somehow we are all just opening our hearts fully – with tears and with laughter. SO much laughter. So much understanding and kindness.

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Myself and the Unwedded Widows group

There are moments that I just stand there in this great big ocean of courage and take it all in. The unfathomable pain of everyone there crashes into me like a ten foot wave, but the love… the love and the extraordinary strength of so many willing to share themselves fully changes my entire perspective on what it means to be widowed….

I leave the conference on Sunday and head for the airport… I am wearing my “Hope Matters” shirt, and I realize… I am different. I am changed and I can feel it. No longer am I a woman who is fighting with all her might against the idea of being a widow… suddenly, I AM a widow – and no part of me is fighting it inside. I am walking around a crowded airport literally wearing my identity, and for the first time in this whole horrible, excruciating, exhausting, terrifying, earth-shattering journey… I am PROUD.

I am proud to call myself a widow. I am proud that anyone around me can read it right there on my shirt. I don’t want to hide it away. I don’t want to hide myself away. I don’t care if I make every single person in a five mile radius uncomfortable. Because the thing is… there will be someone in that crowd who is hurting just as bad as me. And if I can be honest about my pain, it helps them be honest about theirs too. That is what all these brave people taught me last weekend – they were honest about their pain, and they allowed me to let my guard down and be honest about mine (and it turns out, I am still SO NOT OKAY with ANY of this and have been putting on a really good brave face for a long time). Everyone there helped me to realize that I really am strong, even in my most broken moments – we all are.

I don’t think I even realized how much of a wall I had built up over the past 2 years, it’s so easy to do and happens so gradually. This life may not be pretty a lot of the time, and everyone may not want to look at it or hear about it, but I have been reminded that hiding myself and my truth away does not help me – or anyone else – to heal. I need to be who I am, where I am, exactly how I am and to keep letting people into my life who can support that. I also need to make sure I am sitting with my pain and honestly seeing it too. I guess I just needed an army of other widowed people to help me remember that.

This experience definitely opened my eyes and made me realize that now, in my new life, this is a club I DO want to be a part of. And I plan to be, for a very very long time, coming back to Camp Widow each year. And I hope that next year – if it feels right for you – you will join me too.

Related Links:
Camp Widow
Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation


In Death We’re all the Same

My friend Rachel over at the Do I Look Sick? blog shared this beautifully written post with me today from another fellow blogger, Mary Gelpi. She is writing of a friend of hers who recently lost her love, and sharing her own struggles both with having experienced death in her life and with the struggle of being there for someone else who is experiencing a loss. Firstly, I have to send some love out to her friend hope you all will do the same. It breaks my heart every time to hear of this happening to anyone else. There were so many beautiful parts to Mary’s heartfelt post that I wanted to call out, but this is the one I’ve chosen to touch on:

“I know this sounds perverted, but in some ways it can be a really beautiful time. It is when we truly acknowledge what it is to be human. We show our love without hesitation. We hold a friend in tears and cry with them, and in this embrace we communicate that their pain is our pain too. In death we’re all the same.”

In death we’re all the same. It is true, it unites us. In death, our walls fall down and we are opened up to a chance to give and receive unconditional love. I have felt that tragic beauty and it has absolutely transformed my heart. From my best friend, who told me that watching me go through this pain has been the hardest thing she’s ever had to do in her life (and still she shows up every day to endure it with me). Drew’s family, for opening their home and hearts to me – for giving me a safe place to heal and a sense of family I’ve missed for most of my life. My close friend Steve, who drove across Dallas sometimes twice a day every single day for the first few months to give my diabetic cat food and insulin while I was across Texas completely apart. My sister, who I’ve only seen cry once – when our mom died – but cried with me those first few weeks, and continues to send me encouraging packages at random in the mail from New York just so I know she is here and I am loved. My cousin, who I’ve barely talked to since we were kids, who shares me at our Grandma’s 100th birthday that she has read every one of my blog posts and that she feels like she knows Drew because of my words. And of course there’s the people that I barely even know, some total strangers even, who cry with me, talk with me, and send me gifts that seem to always arrive when I need it most. And so many more important people I haven’t yet mentioned but will someday.

If I can say, it has been a true honor for me to have had the experience of so much unconditional love – even if the thing that opened it up to me was (and still is) the most unfathomable and painful death. This past year had indeed been the most life-altering – due as much to the pain as to the love I have received. It has changed the way I see all of humanity. It has changed the way I see you. And me. And every person I meet. And every experience I have. It has changed how I care and how I show that caring. I will never be the same person I was before he died. I will always miss who I was, but because of those who stand in my pain with me, I’m beginning to see who I’m becoming, and I see more beauty in the world than I ever have before. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

What’s So Good About Christmas?

The past few weeks have been stressful beyond belief. As Christmas gets closer, the emotions are building and rearing their head. The fog I’m normally in lifts around holidays and milestones, leaving only the sharp reality – it is still more than my mind can bare or understand. My face has been breaking out like crazy (awesome) and I’ve now got some sort of muscle strain or spasm going on in my entire lower back. The fear and the horrid anticipation of Christmas day without him is looming close now. There is nothing I can do but live through it. Breath by breath. I am doing my best to cling to whatever beauty I can. A big one is that I am spending the holidays with Drew’s family, and that I feel like part of the family (ok ok, I know, they would correct me here and say i AM part of the family! ;) But seriously, I never forget the beauty of being a part of them.

Another beautiful thing is that Drew’s family has invited my brother, sis-in-law and baby niece to join for Christmas. When they mentioned this I nearly burst into tears! What they may not know is that I have not spent Christmas with my brother (or any of my siblings actually) in over 10 years. After our mom died, all our families traditions kind of fell apart slowly over the years. So this is so huge for me, and I’m betting for them too.

There’s also been so much love from friends new and old poured out to me in the past few weeks in cards, hugs, phone calls, kind messages online, and even some gifts that were beyond amazing and totally surprising. These have gotten me through some otherwise very hard days.

So what’s so good about Christmas? Beautiful people. Instead of feeling very alone this time of year, I have felt wrapped up in this crazy awesome cocoon of love, support and protection by all of his family, my family, and friends new & old. Each of you out there – you all know who you are! – has done it right. You’ve taken such good care me – of one of the most precious people in his world. And I know, it has made him proud and given him great peace to see that he doesn’t need to worry about me – that when I fall, I’ve got an ocean of souls to catch me. It has changed my world in ways I can’t even put into words (if you can believe I could actually have NO words for something! lol).

So I guess my Christmas gift (since I’ve failed miserably at actually buying or making any gifts for anyone this year) is an enormous THANK YOU – like if I could write it across the earth and photograph it from space – that is how BIG it would be! If you’ve reached out to me in big ways or small, if you’ve called or written, sent gifts or read this blog, hugged me or made me laugh, prayed for me or cried with me or just thought of me with love. Every individual act and person has woven together a safety net for me that has carried me through this month and the past 6 months.

You’re helping me with this hardest of holidays and you continue to help heal both my soul and Drew’s one small piece at a time. I wish you all the beauty in the world on your holiday.

A Note to My Flying Sisters…

I really feel a great desire today to thank a very special group of women who have come into my life a the time when I needed them most. Back in August, I wrote this post about an online creative workshop that I had just signed up for. I still smile at the magic of being led to a class called “Flying Lessons” from my Flight Instructing fiance on the other side. A clearer sign I could not have had. Little did I know just how important this course would become for be in the following months.

After signing up, I was overjoyed to discover that a private Facebook group had been set up for all of us Flyers who were sharing the journey! Once I was added to the group and began to take a look around, I was in overwhelm! There before me were 500+ other ladies – from all over the world – all at varying stages of the same dream of having a creative business all their own. This changed everything.

Not only were there women who were in the same place on their creative journey as me, there were many others who were just a few steps ahead – revealing to me just how completely doable it all is. I’ve watched as these women have set up their own online shops and websites, opened their own galleries, sold their first pieces of artwork, or even just began making things and rediscovering their creative spirit. I have been overwhelmed by how much love and support we have for each other. There is no competition, no jealousy, no negativity, ever. There is an unspoken code of nurturing and support. All we are there to help each other fly, and to carry our sisters on our own wings in the times when they cannot fly on their own. This is by far the most beautiful group of women I’ve had the grace to know in my life.

To my Fellow Flyers…

I will always remember those first weeks in this group… my fiance having passed on just 3 months prior. My helicopter pilot. The man who brought flight into my life. When he left us, I was afraid that I would also lose flight too. I didn’t really know any other pilots, and so I thought the whole culture and love of flight would also be forever gone from my life. And then all of you came along – with your messages to me and to each other saying things like “fly on!” or “i’ll see you in the clouds!”. Everything flight focused and full of vibrant love.

You may not even know it, but you have been an integral part of the support system that has been carrying me through the darkest night of my life… just by keeping the dream of flight alive and in my life – a piece of him that is priceless to me. It came to me in such an unexpected way – not from pilots or anything related to aviation in fact – but from a group of women who dream of flying in their own way.

Just seeing those little notes about flying gave me shining stars in the middle of this very very dark night. And on the hardest days, when I shared with you my feelings about my loss, the overflow of love and support meant more than you could ever imagine. As I continue on my own journey, as I find my own wings and learn to fly, you are all still there. Still excited. Still supportive. Still listening. And still inspiring me to fly. I thank you.

Tears in my Muesli

Every single comment someone leaves me on this blog is a little piece of healing. But every now and again you get the ones that leave you crying in your cereal – or muesli in my case – with tears of gratitude.

So… to Towera Ridley (yes I stalked you too!) I am calling you and your kind words out! This woman shared with me that she has been following my 12 Months of Creativity blog since January, when this post I wrote about Andrew finishing flight school got posted on the main page of WordPress and gave me a very large explosion of visitors for a weekend. She’s never written to me before, but went on to tell me of how she’d been following along all this time, and that when Drew passed away she began to follow this journey as well. Words cannot even express what it means to hear from a soul out there on this earth somewhere that has been reading my story for this long.

As a writer, you always hope people are reading the words that you pour your heart, soul  and hours of time into (and yes, it often takes me HOURS to write just one of these posts – rarely do they just float right out of my fingertips!). You always hope you are doing justice to your own story and the stories of those who make your soul sing… but you are never quite sure. As humans, we always battle self doubt. So today I am thanking you, my friend Towera, you have warmed my heart and soul and and given me a creative confidence boost… made even brighter by knowing that it’s making my guardian angel and best friend smile great and wide. Man, people are just awesome.


Beautiful Blogger Award

The other day I logged on to check my blog comments and such and discovered that I had been nominated for the Beautiful Blogger Award by another talented and wonderful blogger over at A Light in the Chaos. I went to this her blog to read the post about the award she’d bestowed upon me, and was heartbroken to discover that she lost her husband just a day before I lost Andrew. It gets even spookier, I assure you. As I went to her “About” page and read more of her story, I discovered a lot more we had in common. She also lost her mother when she was a little girl, and has since lost her father as well – leaving her, like me, without parents before she was 30 years old. She has also lost all of her grandparents and many aunt and uncles already in her life – so much loss for a person to endure.

She may have no idea how instantly I felt bonded to her, and how grateful I am that she is out there blogging about her own experience living through the loss just as I am. I wish that neither of us had this reason to be such active bloggers, but I am grateful that we have an outlet like this available to share our stories with people all over the place. I know for me, discovering her story helps me to realize that I am not the only one living through something like this – and that somehow, we will all find our strength and joy again.

So thank you Val (oh, did I mention this is also Andrew’s little sister’s name too? Another level of spooky for ya). For being honest and putting your heart and soul out there. Derek is so incredibly proud of you.

And now to get to what the award asks. I am supposed to share 7 thing about me. Hmmm:

1. One of my favorite days in the past few months was photographing Andrew’s siblings playing around on the sand dunes on South Padre Island… doing wicked karate moves, handstands, and the ever-famous frog leap by Valerie. I think for a short time we felt like he was right there with us.

2. I have two fabulous cats, they’ve been with me through everything in my 20’s – which has been a lot. I heart them!

3. Three years ago I was properly taught how to shoot guns by Andrew, and have since gone from being terrified of them to owning several of my own and having my concealed carry license. Watchout – I’m a damn good shot too.

4. I like even numbers, like four. I don’t like odd numbers because if you split them into two groups you’d have one left out or one group bigger than the other and it drives me nuts! Andrew liked odd numbers because if you lined them up there was always a central one – hm, i’d never thought of it that way until I met him.

5. The camera I own is a Nikon D-Five-Thousand. Andrew bought it for me for my 27th birthday… something I’d always wanted but never would have bought myself. It has gone to to create years of beautiful photos in my hand… including ones like this:

6. Six special things that are sitting next to my bedside right now; old western photoshoot pic of Andrew and I in Fort Worth, a heart-shaped ceramic dish with the word “courage” in it, a photo of my mother when she was in her early 20’s, the felt helicopter I made Andrew for valentine’s day 2 years ago, our favorite Yankee candle that smells exactly like the beach, and the tiny adorable toy bear he bought me on Etsy for Valentine’s day last year – from an Etsy seller in Spain.

7. We saw seven shooting stars one night out on the beach, before we were dating… and made 7 special wishes a piece. Or maybe one wish… seven times. I’m pretty sure we both wished for each other ;)

And here I would like to nominate 7 more inspiring blogs for this award!

Please take a moment to check out some of these great blogs!  And thanks again Val!

Words from my brother…

My brother wrote this beautiful post to me on his blog today… I cried at the art of his words. For anyone to write anything so honest and real to me – especially my own family, I am just amazed. We haven’t talked a lot in the past few months – unusual for us because we have always been able to talk when the worst of life happens. But now I see why, and I am so touched that it is because this loss has overwhelmed him to such a point that he has been unable to even conjure the words to say to me. Oh my how I understand, he is a deep feeler just the way I am. I’m so glad he finally found the words – it came just when the time was right.

I called him right away after reading his post, and then spent all afternoon chatting with him on the phone about everything under the sun – from grief and loss and sadness to new jobs and eating healthy. Tears, laughter, sadness, joy, beauty all around. I am so grateful for this talk, and for him.

Here is a small bit of what he wrote… you can read the rest here.

“As you turn this cruel journey into the tender expedition of your life, I marvel at your ability and resolve. My words are choked back just being near your hurt, but your words come singing through the dark and quiet of these places and explode like fireworks. You proclaim loudly the gift you have shared. You inspire me. I’m still crying for what you have to go through, but you inspire me. I love you, baby sister!”

I love you too! =)

What is a good man?

It was June 2009, just 2 days before Father’s Day, when my dad died… and you were the one who dropped everything to drive me down to San Antonio to be there with him before he died. We had only been dating a week, but had been best friends long before that. You were the only person there with me the moment he passed. You slept on the couch in the hospital waiting room all night. You held me early that morning after the nurses came in and told us that he took his last breath. When all my siblings arrived in town, you took care of all of us too… driving us everywhere we needed to go – to restaurants to eat, to hotels to sleep, to the memorial home to make arrangements. You jumped right in to lift and carry all the heavy stuff when we had to spend a few hours out in the 110 degree Texas heat and go through the storage unit full of his things. You told me, “It’s my job to do everything else so that all you have to worry about is being your father’s daughter.” I never forgot that. I was in awe by that statement. Never in my life have I been more impressed by a man’s integrity and love. I knew right then that you were the man I wanted by my side for all the days of our lives. Strong and solid, patient and kind. You showed me what a good man is – that he takes care of the ones he loves, above all else. And that I will never forget.