That January evening, we met because I felt compelled to bear witness to the reality that is metastatic breast cancer. I was there to support a member of the MSK family. I was there to see Angelo's photographs of his life with his beautiful wife, Jennifer.
It would be months before we would become friends. Angelo Merendino has found his way into the hearts of so many. There have been those who wish to criticize what he is doing and to those I say, if you've not walked the path, don't be so quick to presume you understand and I question anyone who feels they have any right to pass judgment. Angelo's labor of love to honor Jen's memory is among the purest acts I have ever seen.
His book is Jen's legacy and a testament to the depth of the love they shared. That love transcends all and that love comes through every page of the book he has published. Theirs is one of the greatest love stories ever. It is the epitome of what it means to commit to another person with one's whole body, whole heart, whole soul.
I hope you will take a look at what Angelo has chosen to do in launching this book. He understands the challenges and with the sale of his book, The Battle We Didn't Choose Angelo hopes to help others navigate those challenges by easing some of their burdens. The Love You Share is an extension of their love to others faced with similar circumstances.
This is what the aftermath looks like, in his own words, on his 40th Birthday. I am so grateful that Angelo has offered to share his innermost thoughts and feelings on this day. Angelo, on behalf of all of the thousands who support you from all around the globe, I wish you love and a heart that you will, one day open again, as Jen would have wanted, and as you share here. Thank you for allowing me to honor Jennifer's memory by writing this post. I support all of your selfless efforts to touch the lives of others by sharing your story. Most of all, I send you love.
A 40 year old widower. Huh?
Today is my 40th birthday. Saying that is almost as strange as saying I am a widower. Put them together and you get a sentence that I still can't believe to be true - I'm a 40 year old widower. Huh?
My late wife Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2008, just five months after our wedding. I'll never forget the sound of Jennifer's voice coming through the phone as she told me she had breast cancer. I was numb immediately. I'm still numb. Before that moment, the furthest thought from my mind was that I might be a widower before I was 40.
Suddenly and without warning we were thrown head first into the world of cancer. Our life turned into a maze filled with Dr. appointments, medical procedures, medications, and side-effects. We were adapting to changes, often daily, that offered no road map, played by no rules, and had no sympathy. We felt different from most everyone else in our life.
But we had each other and with every challenge our love grew stronger. The little things that used to upset us no longer carried any weight. Making each other smile, picking each other up when we fell, letting the people in our life know how much we loved them...these things mattered.
On December 22nd, 2011, my sweet Jennifer passed.
Since Jen died I have struggled to put my life back together and to figure out who I am. For the most part I have felt lost. Everything is different now. While Jen was sick I was so focused on taking care of her that I forgot how to take care of myself. Add to this the fact that everything I thought I knew and believed in has been completely leveled. The last 22 months have been a blur.
A few weeks before Jen died she told me she didn't want me to be alone and unhappy. I remember wanting to interrupt Jen as she started to say this. Then it hit me - Jen needed to tell me and I needed to hear her. I listened and after she had told me everything she was feeling I thanked her, and we never talked about it again. I still can't imagine what it was like for Jen to tell me, her lover, that she wanted me to find someone else one day. Even today the thought turns my stomach turns into knots.
The thing is, Jen had an idea of what I would be going through. Jen was a widow and when we started dating she was concerned that I might not want to date her because of all she had been through. Now I understand why Jen felt this way.
Jen and I were best friends. We shared everything and never let go of each other's hand. If I ever re-marry, I want a best friend again. I want that trust. Best friends talk about things, like defining moments in their life. Can I expect a woman to love me and be able to listen when I talk about Jen? It isn't like I'm going to talk about Jen over every dinner but I can't put Jen away, she is a part of everything I do. I am the man I've become because of Jennifer.
Lately I've been thinking about dating and I feel guilty. I know I'm not doing anything wrong but it's strange to think of all the things I've learned through our experience together and how these things will influence my behavior in and expectations from a relationship. I feel like I will listen more, give more, and be more. Is it fair that I've grown as a result of Jen's illness and death? Am I selfish to admit that I appreciate life and everything in it so much more because Jen took her last breath on me?
Even as I write this I think, "If a woman dates me, she is going to have her hands full."
I will say that I feel better today than I did a year ago, but there are moments when I feel like crawling under a rock and never coming out. It still hurts like nothing else I've ever known. Even though Jen told me she didn't want me to be alone I still can't imagine how I will love someone else. I know I can just look back at our life together - Jen found love again with me, and although our star didn't shine long it did shine bright. These were the greatest years of my life. But how do you say goodbye to someone you don't want to let go of?
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To AnneMarie, as always, great post! I want to reach out to Angelo as I have a bit of experience with what he is going through.ReplyDelete
To Angelo: My husband was a widower when we met... he lost his first wife to metastatic breast cancer. When I met him he was still in a tender place but was looking to feel love and life again. After we started dating, I learned to cut him a wide emotional swath. I had to be very patient. I learned not to take his sporadic emotional ups-and-downs personally. I recognized the great guy underneath that dark layer of grief. I simply had to wait for the layers to melt.
We talked about her often and were never afraid to do so. She came up naturally in conversation or in stories, and I just let him talk, and I never felt threatened. She was never the pink elephant in the room. We got married 3 1/2 years later.
You can imagine my horror when I was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years into our marriage. How could one guy have TWO wives with breast cancer?
While it Hasn't always been easy (I could write a book about this entire topic), I will say that my husband is a trooper. Not perfect, but also not afraid. He has a wealth of knowledge that has enabled me to move through my own diagnosis and back into the land of love and life. And that's a beautiful thing.
My point is that you will not lose Jen when you meet someone knew. You will weave her into your new life. The right woman will understand your past and respect it.And you will recognize her by her heart. Much luck in this next phase of your journey!
We have followed Angelo's work from first photo to last. Thank you Anne Marie Ciccarella for sharing this post. I wish I had brilliant words to add but I don't. So I did what I could, and shared this via The IBC Network Facebook page. I want every one to know Angelo and Jen's story. Hope always, TerryReplyDelete
Beautiful post. Thank you, Angelo, for sharing such deeply personal thoughts and images. But then this is what you've been doing for quite some time and we are so grateful. Love has no limitations. There is always room in one's heart for more if and when that time should come, and your love for Jen will continue as well - a treasure of your heart forever.ReplyDelete
Thank, Ann Marie for sharing this.
Of course I meant thank you, Ann Marie, for sharing this. Sorry about that.ReplyDelete
Dearest Ann Marie, thank you for sharing Angelo's poignant, pure and bare text, and for even elevating it, with your warm, wide and sensitive point of view. An excellent post!ReplyDelete
Very moving post. Angelo, your work has reached and touched so many; thank you for sharing so deeply from your heart and your life. I think Jen would be very proud.ReplyDelete
Love this post ann marie - I met Angelo in NYC in Jan 2012 as he hung the photos for an exhibit of Jennifer's journey. He invited me that day because I was still going through treatment and he didnt want me in the crowded gallery. What a man - he made quite me feel as though I knew Jennifer with those powerful photos he took of her. Their story is an amazing one. And Ann Marie I say write that book I would buy itReplyDelete
Beautiful loving thoughts Thank you. I lost my love Rosemary May 2012 we had 44 years 30years with her cancers. I can understand Angelo so well.ReplyDelete
Angelo....Thank you for your post...I can totally relate, My wife passed July "09" We too had that relationship that most dream about, I guess that's why it's so hard to turn the page to the next chapter....She too told me not to grieve too long and "Live Life" to the fullest....but as you know not so easy...Stay strong my friend...ReplyDelete
I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.ReplyDelete
Birthday Lawn Signs
I was widowed at 45. I dint just lose my husband, I lost my best friend , my confident, my reason for being. I married him at 18 so we were blessed with a very happy life and had two amazing daughters. I have never dated,t's been eight years. My daughters are both married now and I have a beautiful grandson. We are very close, we do everything together. Still I get lonely but how do you move on when you have experienced the most amazing love. Your story is so amazing and I applaud you and your beautiful wife for sharing your courageous story. The nurses asked me to write my story because of the strength my husband showed ann our beautiful family bond. I was not as strong as you, you are making her proud every day. One day I may write our story but for now I will keep it in my heart forever.ReplyDelete