So over the past 6 months many people have asked me to respond to life … what do I think?

Here goes … with out dilly dallying around … let’s get to it.

The last 18 months have been horrific.  The journey has been beyond my wildest dreams or should I say nightmares.  You know my middle name is “fun” … I laugh loud … always and don’t tell me to stop or be quiet and maybe you should be louder and more fun. I work hard, play hard and I am proud of it. I enjoy my family, my friends and I have a zest and an energy that I have found few people similar to. It’s all about having fun and enjoying life.

Wine … well wine is the vehicle that transports me from insanity to clarity. It’s the gas in my car … Jenee and Tommy do you agree?

However, seriously …

I have been called stoic, strong, and a host of other adjectives since January that really annoy me.  I hate to offend anyone.  However, how can you go through the journey that I have been through and be called strong?  It is not possible … why would people insult me like that?  For the record, if you called me any of those things don’t be offended but its hard for me to comprehend. My whole reason for writing this is to explain and for us all to learn. If we do not learn from the journey we cheapen the path. If you honor the circumstances with post clarity you are doing everyone a favor including yourself, those who traveled with you and those we have lost.

Another few words that have been said to me over and over has been, “I can’t imagine”. I don’t understand those 3 words either … Everyone is guaranteed one thing in life … we all will die its just some sooner than others. You will all have to imagine at some point. So take notes, be conscious of what helps people move forward and more importantly remember that when it is someone’s time to die the support you give the caregivers, the family and their friends are a direct sign of the respect you have for the person who will be leaving.

Here’s the deal …

When you sit in a hospital room for weeks on end with a person you adore with all of your heart and you are told they have brain cancer there is nothing “strong” from that point forward.  Your heart and your mind are shattered into a thousand pieces and you just simply figure a way to coordinate your body and mind to process what’s about to happen or what could happen.

I credit a wonderful women, Alison Bishof who was also diagnosed with brain cancer … it was her words that helped me wrap my little head around shit … Alison said “create an environment for your husband to get better” .  She said, “Your husband is your first priority”.  From that point forward those are the only words or things that I thought about.  No matter how tired I was or how fried I was … it was important that whomever was in the room with Kevin or where we went that he be my first priority and that he be in an environment that maybe somehow he could get better.

MAYBE, however that just never happened.

I remember when we were in Baltimore and I believe it was like week 3 of radiation.  Kevin was tired, he was discouraged but he still walked 2 miles to Barnes and Noble every morning.  He got up everyday early.  His saying was, “you can’t fall down if you don’t stand up”.  I was stressed out … I was crazy …. my thoughts were all over the place.  I wondered how long would this journey be?  Really?  Like would we face this for years or months.  Lets be honest … I googled … I hate to admit it.  We missed our home in Florida. We missed our care free life. We missed our joy.

We had friends who would say we are keeping his diagnosis a secret.  Really?  Really?  A secret?  BRAIN cancer is a secret you dumb #$@$ … You think cancer is clear or exact or concrete? It is a 100 different variables all thrown together to make complete havoc of your mind, life and choices. You are asked to stay hopeful but there doesn’t ever seem to be anything hopeful or concrete about what you are going through. It’s like you are living a lie … not a secret!! You desperately want to tie your boat to something however you are in the middle of the ocean with no rope and no land in site but you just have to keep sailing.

Kevin wanted no visitors in Baltimore. His theory was “this is not a party”.

One day my friend Laura Kessler wanted to come visit. Kevin made an exception because he thought I needed her.  It was sad.  She is so vibrant.  She understands sickness and loss.  She came to visit and she took me out to dinner and for drinks. Those that know Laura and I know we don’t just do dinner and drinks, we tend to tear up whatever town we may end up in.  I came home that night bombed.  It was a Tuesday night and Wednesdays were Doctor rounds day.  Kevin said “hon stay home today your tired”.  I was like no way I have to be there with you to hear what all the Doctors say. I hated when I would leave for a day or two to try to work and he would go have to go to Doctor appointments alone. No one should have to go alone to those appointments someone should be in the room with him.  I was so hung over I stayed behind.  While he was out at Hopkins that day I went into the bathroom and I brushed my teeth.  As I was brushing my teeth, I looked at the mirror that I had just cleaned the day before and I saw tooth paste all over the mirror. It literally looked like a bomb went off. I began to wipe it off and of course with total disgust like why can’t Kevin be cleaner … I just cleaned this mirror and now it looks like a tooth past bomb went off.

And then I stopped.

I realized there would be a day that I would miss tooth past all over the mirror.  I came to terms with that fact that what has been in my life would change and the stupid things people bitch about were meaningless in my position.  WHO CARES ABOUT TOOTH PASTE ON THE MIRROR???

From that day forward it was all about Kevin.  Whatever he wanted and whenever ….

You have to understand Brain cancer doesn’t always make sense.  In the 12 months from diagnosis we bought 3 different cars, 3 different lap tops and several different tv’s and many monitors.  Again … whatever he wanted with no comments and no discussion. I would take a leave of absence unpaid from work and I would worry about bills and repercussions later. Money and a career were not important and shouldn’t be important. My priorities were Kevin and Kevin only. My priorities were not bills, a mortgage or money. We went on a lavish two-week vacation with our friends Tony and Lakeeta to Boca Grande, Florida in the summer. We treated ourselves to room service almost every night followed by warm chocolate chip cookies being delivered before bed with milk. I remember thinking this is going to be a fortune but I didn’t care. I had a gut feeling and I went with it … I decided to just enjoy the moment and forget about the cost because my theory was no regrets. No regrets have I had since January. NO regrets.

The Chrissy who was in constant contact via phone with her friends and was known for her aggressive travel schedule was on a break. The house was always kept quiet. Visitors who were usually constant were no longer. The traditional vacations like St Patty’s Day, Fall Football at Notre Dame and the holidays to see family in PA were all put on hold. The lanai became like a cathedral to us. Limes trees were important. The birds on the lake were our entertainment. Life became very slow and every minute was appreciated.  Some friends accepted the change others couldn’t handle it.

As the months would progress and we would start chemo treatments I began to choose a team to support us. I was diligent and very specific with whom of our friends could handle this journey.

So was formed “Team Orange”.

My whole life I have been a “guys’s girl”. I always thought the secret to my success was my guy friends. My very first best friend was a guy named Joey Marrone. We were joined at the hip from birth until I was about 18 and from then on I relied on guys to be my resources. However, what I found over the last few months as I turned around and spent time replaying the story i just survived, I found that my “girl friends”, the “women” in my life were those who carried me. My strength came from unbelievable women holding me up through what will probably be the greatest hell I will go through in my life.

I mean my two best friends will and always have been my Mom and my Sister, the “Gallo Braid”. It’s a trio that you don’t want to mess with because we are fiercely loyal and diligently brutal if you cross either one of us. I love it. We don’t ask questions we just defend each other and have each others back no matter what. When it was appropriate they came and they stayed. They had the same priorities as me. All they cared about was caring for Kevin. Bills, money and life were put on hold and the three of us became a team. Some days one was stronger than the other. However, we never gave up and we never left unless told to do so …

It was my girl friends who stocked our condo with necessities, dropped off a case of wine every Sunday in Baltimore and never wanted to leave us … (Lakeeta Brunk).

It was my girl friends who sent me comedy books and listened to me scream on the phone (Erika King).

It was my girl friends who slept on the floor of Kevin’s room so I could sleep in the guest room so he wouldn’t be alone (Rachel Holmes and Jodi Carnevale).

It was my girls friends who let me confide in them out in the driveway before they left visiting (Erica Jaze).

It was my girl friends who drove across the country with a car full of food so my family could be fed thanksgiving day at the hospital (Jennifer Burns).

It was my girl friends who diligently listened to me and coordinated a prayer call to support me everyday (Karla Wilder).

It was my girl friends who gave me a pedicure because I didn’t want to leave the house  and watched Christmas movies with Kevin (Michelle Entenman).

It was my girl friends who drove across the country to come see me an bring treats from New Orleans (Ash Seymour).

It was my girl friends who came and stayed with me and cleaned my house (Christel Weinsteiger).

It was my girl friends who promised to run away with me if I needed to (Kelly MacCrory).

It was my girl friends who waited patiently for me and prepared for me to arrive when it was over to rest with them (Laura Kesler).

It was my girl friends who make T Shirts to show support nationwide (Tammmy Mcauley).

It was my girl friends who just hopped on a plane to be present (Tara Lawler, Lisa McKee and Roseanne Moser).

It was my girl friends who prepared me for caring for a loved on as they prepare to die (Liz Porcaro).

It was my girl friends who stepped in and changed things quickly when I needed it (Jennifer Nygaard).

It was my girl friends … it was my girl friends … I could go on and on with what they did for me …

You see no one walking though hell alone is strong. Strength comes from those who stand up behind you and carry you. Strength comes from those who are present in your battle. Present emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally and financially. Strength comes from those who “do” when you can’t ask. Strength comes from those who rally. Strength comes from those who when you are too tired they will without asking step in. Strength comes from the idea that you know you are being thought about. Strength comes from those who meet you in your problem and do not bring theirs with them. Strength comes from those who makes temporary personal sacrifices for others.

We all have bills, mortgages, kids, jobs, lives but we each only get one time to die. So with all of this support, I was able to allow someone whom which I cherished more than anything to peacefully and reverently leave this earth. Without the support of my girl friends I can honestly tell you I would not have been able to complete the journey. With out my girl friends who showed up unannounced with out specific invitation I would not have been able to affirm to Kevin that we were being taken care of. I will always believe and know that he was able to let go because he knew I was taken care of. He was able to see the support. I will always believe Kevin stayed with us an extra 55 days beyond expectations because we were supported. I was able and allowed to express to him that we were fine with confidence and assurance that he needed to hear. You have to understand my girl friends support showed the utmost respect for Kevin and in return the utmost respect for me and my family.

It has been my girl friends who since Kevin’s passing have helped me recreate my hopes and dreams. It has been my girl friends who have shared with me my pain. It has been my girl friends who have traveled with me literally and emotionally through this next phase. It has been my girl friends that I have continued to make laugh and laugh louder than I have the past year.  It has been my girl friends who are constantly checking in on me via text, email of by phone to continue to offer support as I move forward and put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

I learned a valuable lesson that I believe I already knew but I maybe was being used to be an example … we must be “present” with each other. Our actions will always speak louder than our words. What we do for people is way more valuable than what we say.

So to my girl friends I wanted to say Thank You! To the “Gallo Braid” and the women of “Team Orange” I say Thank You!  Thank you for helping me reverently acknowledge where I have been while gracefully helping me move forward.

I have been quoted saying over the past few months  “Grief is not a team sport”, well maybe it is … maybe grief can be consoled by the over supporting of the “team”.

Now I would never disservice myself and forget my guy pals my dad, Kevin’s dad, my Brother, Tony Brunk, Tony Brennan, David Potts, Bryan Fisher, Kevin Bergmann, John Burns, Mike Ford, Anthony Porcaro, Manuel Nunez, Tony Schuler and many more. Thank you to the boys of “team orange”. Their contributions should never be discounted or unrecognized.

To Kevin our fearless leader, I say it was more than a pleasure. I was honored to be your partner through what was quite a roller coaster ride.  Despite the ending  you will always be attached to many years of great joy and a very meaningful friendship. I think Jenee always says it best, “you were the best patient ever”. Your dignity was beyond my wildest imagination. Most important, you left me a with a mission to carry on, march on and see that others who went through what we went through are encouraged, supported and more importantly told they are not alone. I was happy to be your “compass” and I hope I lead the team now and then in a way that reflects your courage and more importantly respect that you showed for others. Life as you would say is all about “manning up” …

In closing I leave you with Kevin’s last few words of encouragement to me, he said; “our friends are awesome”, “keep living Chrissy”, and “always demand respect at whatever the cost may be because in the end loyalty is how you will know where you stand”.

Loyalty, what does that mean?

Loyalty is faithfulness, devotion; steadfastness, staunchness, true heartedness, dependability, reliability, trustworthiness, duty, dedication and commitment. I can honestly say that with all the people I have mentioned above I have felt loyalty more than other emotion in the past 18 months … even more than grief. So I truly know where we stood …

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope”.  Jer 29:11

“Let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us”.  Hebrews 12:1

The beautiful, talented and smart will die young to teach us a lesson about “impermanence”.  – Dalai Lama.

XOXO

~ Chrissy

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