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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