Category Archives: dan

Five Years On: Dear Friends

Dear Dan Dear Friends,

This would have been my fifth letter to Dan, but after a couple of starts I realized that I was repeating what I have written over the last five years. I’m not sure what this means, except that perhaps I’ve said all that I want to say here. If I gave any credence to Kübler-Ross (which I absolutely do not) I suppose this is what “acceptance” would look like.

Instead of focusing on what I have lost, though, I want to focus on what I have, and what I have gained. To do this, let me tell you a story. I’ll preface this by saying much of this happened while I was in a state of shock, so names and faces were sometimes a blur.

Five years ago today, I experienced the worst moment of my life. I was lost, and I had no idea what I was going to do. I came home from the hospital in a daze. A few hours later, something amazing happened. Friends began showing up at my front door, first one, then another, and another, and soon I had a house full of friends. They brought snacks, they brought beverages, they brought frozen food for meals later. It was exactly what I needed, a distraction and a way to keep me from falling into a deep pit of despair. I’m not sure who started that phone chain or who organized what, but I am so, so grateful to all of you.

Two days later, friends collaborated with the Hyatt Regency O’Hare to hold a memorial gathering in Dan’s honor. The Hyatt went above and beyond to accommodate us. Midwest FurFest staffers were invited to join us, as well as all our local friends and extended family. It was an amazing thing to see the O’Hare Ballroom packed with people to remember Dan (or Takaza, as many knew him by). It was so comforting to know how much our community cared and wanted to show that.

Our extended group of friends and family wasn’t just local, though. It took a few months to set things up, but in June 2017 I organized another memorial gathering at a hotel near O’Hare Airport. Almost 150 people came, some local, some flying in from every corner of the country (and Canada!). It was a night for a lot of tears for me and many others, but also laughter and wonderful stories of how Dan touched so many lives. It was also another bit of necessary closure.

Looking back at an awful time in my life, I take comfort knowing that I was surrounded and supported by a remarkable group of friends and family (both found and related). You all kept me going and were there when I needed you. I can only hope that I can be there for you when needed as well.

Thank you.

Four Years On: Dear Dan

Dear Dan,

Image: Dan hugging Charlie

What a crazy year this has been, unlike anything we could have even dreamed of. I’ve been thinking about how we would have dealt with the ever-worsening pandemic. We’d both be working from home, and in each other’s space more often than not. There would have been friction, but we would have worked through it. We faced a lot of adversity together, and that was what made it all bearable: we did it together.

The worst part of the last twelve months has been the isolation. You were always my rock, the one I could lean on when I needed support, and I really could have used that. If not for Nora and Charlie I’d be in a far worse place, but they have helped keep me afloat. You only had Nora’s company for less than a year, and Charlie’s even less than that. Although we both agreed to adopt them when the time came, you had to persuade me each time. In a way, they’re a lasting gift from you, one that I treasure.

It never fails to surprise me that it’s been four years. It feels like a long time, but also like yesterday. Last week I was explaining an issue with the bank and mentioned your passing and it was like stating a fact, neither good nor bad, but something that happened. Time brings some degree of emotional distance, I suppose; not from you, but from the event. I guess it’s a coping mechanism. Our lives were (and continue to be) intertwined, and every day I am reminded of you in a thousand different ways. I smile at the reminders, remembering our time together, more often than I feel the pain of loss, and that’s as it should be.

I love you so much, Dan.

Three Years On: Dear Dan

Dear Dan,

Three years ago today. Sometimes it seems far longer than that, sometimes it seems just days ago. I still think about you every day. The worst are the dreams where we are together doing fun or just mundane things. I wake up to remember that will never happen again and it hurts, a lot.

This year I spent two weeks in Alaska volunteering with the Iditarod, just like we had always talked about doing. It was everything we hoped it would be, and more. I am already thinking in terms of what I will do next year, and how to make the trip even better. You’re not surprised, I know. Some things never change.

Charlie and Nora continue to be my emotional anchors at home. They helped get me through the darkest times, and they continue to help keep me smiling. Nora was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, and while we were trying to figure out what was wrong, I admit that I was scared. I know that I will have to say goodbye to them sometime in the far future, but not yet. Not yet.

I wonder what you would make of the current world situation. You would be practical, I know. We would have worked together to make a plan and be prepared for whatever happened. I’m not as good at making plans by myself, but I try. You helped provide the confidence I needed sometimes. All I can do now is try my best and hope that that is enough.

Life does go on, though. This time of year again reminds me of the wisdom I was told about grief, “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get stronger.” That’s the truth. I probably stand stronger now than I ever have, but I miss having someone to lean on when needed. I continue to be incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by loving family and friends who help more than they can ever know. If nothing else I have learned to treasure every single one of them even more because life is indeed fickle.

I love you Dan, and I miss you so much. I carry you always in my heart.


Two Years On

Today marks two years since Dan’s passing. As with last year, it’s a time for reflection for me, to think about where I’ve been and where I’m going.

A good friend told gave me some very wise advice early on: “It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.” I’ve revisited those words many times and thought about what they mean to me. In the last year I’ve found I have less frequent episodes of breaking down crying, of that feeling of complete despondency. The worst are still the dreams where Dan is away on business and in that fuzzy time between sleep and waking, I think about how he’ll be home soon. Those are really hard, but there’s not much to do but soldier on.

There are always reminders in places we went, things we enjoyed together, foods he liked. I want those reminders, though. It’s not likely I’ll ever forget but having those are an important touchstone for me. I’m still grappling with survivor guilt, but also know that Dan would be kicking me in the ass and telling me to go live my life. For the longest time “it’s what he would have wanted” felt like a cop-out, but that doesn’t remove the underlying truth.

Just a few weeks I hit an important turning point: I went on my first date in over two decades. Nothing will come of it, unfortunately, but having the date itself was more important than any outcome. I’m realizing that having another person in my life won’t displace Dan, they will be in addition to him. Realizing that makes me feel a lot better.

I’ve got big plans for the coming year. I’m working on creating an Accessibility Services department for Midwest FurFest because in the short time that I was with Dan after his back injury, I realized quickly the issues created by limited mobility. I want to use that knowledge to help make the convention better for everyone.

I have international travel slated as well, something we had big hopes to do. I’ll be seeing parts of the world that are completely new to me. I wish I could have seen them with Dan, but I carry him in my heart every day and so we’ll still see them together.

I love you, Dan.

It’s Been a Year

One year ago today was the worst day of my entire life. Dan, my husband of eighteen years, suffered from a bilateral pulmonary embolism and passed away in a matter of minutes.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. We had big plans for the future. Sure, Dan had some temporary health setbacks but we were going to beat them, together. We both had good, secure jobs. We talked about starting an event planning business. We wanted to travel, with friends and just ourselves. We had dreams.

And then those dreams were just…gone.

Those of you who have followed me on social media have witnessed my travails of this past year. Depression, anxiety, grief, loss – the worst I ever could have imagined, and then some. I have been very open about it because I know I’m not the first to go through this and I certainly won’t be the last. Part of my therapy was showing that it’s possible to live through all of this, somehow. It’s messy, chaotic, and unpredictable, but it’s possible to make it through.

The last few weeks have found me very introspective. I have been thinking for so long about the things that I have lost, but I began thinking about the things that I have gained. I have found a new measure of compassion for the hurt and grieving. I have rediscovered the warm, caring community that I am fortunate enough to be a part of. And I have been reminded of just how lucky I have been in my life. I had the love of a wonderful man for eighteen years. We were able to build a life together, and we found happiness. How amazing is that? And just because eighteen years was all we had, that doesn’t make that time any less wonderful.

I wondered if the approaching one-year mark would be any great milestone for me. After thinking about it more, though, I realized that milestone had passed without me realizing it. You see, a month or so ago I started planning for the future. I thought about what my life might hold 5, 10, 15 years from now. That may not sound like much, but it’s something that was very hard for me to envision six months ago.

I have found something I never expected to find again. I have found hope.

I’m think gonna make it, Dan.

The High Cost of Dying

On Monday, the day after Dan passed away, I was still in shock. My amazing sister drove up from South Carolina on a moment’s notice to help me cope with things, and I would have been absolutely and utterly lost without her. Even now, looking back, I’m shocked to think how much of a fog I was in.

In the midst of all of this, the prosaic issues of death and burial still had to be dealt with. I spoke with the assistant county coroner, and she asked which funeral home we wanted to use. I had no idea. The chaplain at the hospital had provided me with a booklet of information that had a list of funeral homes in it, but I had no idea which to choose. In the end, I went with the one that was closest to the hospital because I had driven back and forth past it over the previous four weeks. One saving grace was that Dan’s mother already had a burial plot available at a nearby cemetery, so that was one less thing to worry about.

Four years ago, when we were about to leave on a cruise, we wrote down our advance directives so there would be record of our wishes in the event anything untoward happened. This was fortunate, since it was because of this that I knew what Dan’s wishes were: a simple burial, no funeral, no embalming, but throw a party in his memory. At least I could provide firm answers when the funeral director asked what we had in mind when I first spoke with him over the phone. We arranged to meet at 5 PM on Monday to discuss details.

I arrived at 5 PM, followed shortly thereafter by Dan’s mother. I should say here that Ma is an amazing person, an incredibly kind woman who has welcomed me into their family with open arms, and I love her very much for that. My feeling about all of these arrangements was that, while necessary, they were not for my benefit but for the benefit of Dan’s family. I had said my goodbyes the day before and would again in a few months at the memorial party. Even so, I was going to do my damnedest to make sure that everything Dan’s mother wanted, she got. The negotiations with the funeral director were a little odd because he pointedly looked to me for all decisions, which is appropriate since as Dan’s legally married husband I was the one legally responsible. I was happy to defer to Ma, though. I could see that if our relationship were less cordial this could have been an excruciating experience.

The discussion with the funeral director made my head spin. Because hey, the best time to be  negotiating these details is when you’re in complete and utter shock, right? I had naively assumed that because Dan’s wishes were simple, this would be a quick and relatively inexpensive event. I was mistaken. We spent the better part of an hour and a half hashing over every single detail, with the funeral director preparing a quotation as we spoke in a way that unfortunately reminded me very much a car salesman might do so. As we talked, the numbers spiraled upwards. Transport of the body. Washing, preparation, and makeup (with additional cost due to autopsy). Viewing versus full funeral. Ceremony at the graveside or not. Use of the hearse. All of this came to $4,480.

Next: Silly me, I had assumed that it would be possible to place a body into a biodegradable casket and within months the body be returned to nature. No, the cemetery requires that the casket be placed in a concrete vault. There’s a charge for the vault. At this point, biodegradability is moot. The least expensive caskets are sheet metal, and even those are several thousand dollars. Wood caskets are even more expensive. We walked into the funeral home’s showroom (!) and chose a nice dark-blue metal casket that was $3,100.

Then there were the various ancillary charges: cemetery charge for opening and closing the grave. Installation of the vault. Permits to dig the grave. Charges for death certificates. Obituaries ($325 for one newspaper, $175 for another). All of this came to $2,361. With additional charges, taxes, and fees, the final bill was a little over $11,000. At the end of all of this I signed off on the estimated bill, still very much in a daze and not quite sure where the money would be coming from. (The final quotation is shown above. The full “menu” of costs is shown below.)

There is a slight bit of good in all this news, at least. Dan had life insurance through his employer for four times his annual salary. The life insurance company moved with astonishing alacrity, and had the disbursement check in my hands a week after Dan’s passing. As part of their services, they subcontract with another company that will handle a lot of the details that we dealt with face-to-face at the funeral home. If I had known about that I could have spared us some of this unpleasant process. When I did call this subcontractor they immediately took over the process (with my blessing) and I never had to be involved in any exchange of funds after that. They took the payment directly from the life insurance company, which was deducted from the disbursement.

I will admit that this has been hard to write, but I think it’s important. I don’t write this to complain or to tell some lurid story, but to educate. I would ask everyone who reads this: DO NOT BE SURPRISED BY THE COSTS AND ARRANGEMENTS OF DEATH. Make preparations, please. Do not leave your loved ones to try to figure this out in the midst of their shock. We had no idea what was involved, or what we might encounter. If even one person heeds this advice, this will have been worth it.’

As for advance directives, if you don’t know where to start this is a useful form that you can fill out. You may also want to check around for one specific to your state. I thank you and your loved ones will thank you.

Edit to add: Some may look at this and say, “Man, you got ripped off!” That may or may not be the case, and it’s water under the bridge at this point. What does matter is that even at half of these prices, you want to be prepared for the sequence of events to come, and the financial shock involved.

Hi! Remember me?

Wow. This may be the longest I’ve gone without a substantive public post to LiveJournal since I started this journal. What has happened since I last updated? Here’s the short version:

  • Midwest FurFest happened. It was a great convention, though it was the usual blur for me. It was my second and final year as convention chairman (MFF has a tradition of two-year terms for its chairmen). I didn’t accomplish everything I would have liked, but I feel that I was able to keep the convention on its upward trend and overall people seem to be very happy. How do I know? Well, we’ve got this nifty survey up, and if you take it you can win a free room night at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare! My biggest personal regret from the convention is that it sounds like there was one hell of a party in our suite on Sunday night but I was just so exhausted and done with socializing that I wound up taking a nice relaxing bath and going to bed early. Oh, and rest assured that I will not be disappearing from Midwest Furfest staff! I will be taking over the position of Hotel Liaison for MFF 2010, just as we’re going into a new hotel. Whee!
  • Thanksgiving happened. We were pleased to welcome Roho, Genet, Bander, Shawn, Shadowstalker, and Tarin over for Thanksgiving dinner, with a delicious turkey made by takaza‘s mom. The food was delicious, and the company was fantastic! Incidentally, if you were at Midwest FurFest, you might have met Dan’s mom – she was Staff Liaison, and her job was to go around the convention and make sure that folks who were stuck in one location got an occasional snack and drink and had everything they needed. She was a tremendous help during the convention and I’m so glad she was able to make it!
  • Dan’s birthday happened. We rounded up a bunch of folks and went out for dinner at Wildfire Restaurant, which was really excellent. Dan ordered the martini flight (!) and even drank a few of them. Great steaks, and really tasty desserts.
  • A doctor’s visit happened. I found out that what I thought was carpal tunnel is in fact tendonitis. This led to a nice cortisone shot (ow) and orders to wear an arm brace for two weeks. I’ll be living on Advil for a while, I think.
  • And finally, a brief visit down to Urbana happened. mirkowuff‘s neighborhood revived the “Candlestick Lane” tradition on short notice, so he threw a small short-notice party to celebrate. We had a lovely time and got to see some great old friends and meet some new folks as well. It was a very pleasant weekend.

So now we’re pretty much caught up. What’s coming up? Well, we’re going to dog-sit this weekend, and hopefully visit either Evanston or Milwaukee to go to The Spice House and do some restocking. We’re flying down to South Carolina for Christmas. And of course there’s Wuffmeet coming up, for which we really need to start making specific plans for food. December is a trainwreck, as always, and it doesn’t look like January will be much better! But we’re having fun and all is right with the world, regardless.

The Fire Still Burns

We’d seen each other at a few Lake Area Furry Friends (LAFF) events and at Duckon, though I don’t think we had ever really talked much.

Then, in December I attended a Christmas cookie exchange party at wyldekyttin and crim_ferret‘s place. We chatted a bit at the party and had an amusing time during a game of “Truth or Dare” (nothing too exciting, you pervs! The clothes stayed on, thankyouverymuch). Interest was expressed by both parties, though not to each other.

Then came the LAFF New Years Eve party. Signals got crossed, unintended messages were sent, and neither of us knew where we stood. Finally, in February, e-mails were exchanged, and we set up a date: dinner and a movie. Dinner was a forgettable sandwich place. The movie was Mel Gibson’s Payback – a heck of a date movie, eh? After the movie, we went back to his place and stayed up very late talking. We talked about our lives, he showed me pictures and videos of himself and his friends. I left his place very late, but elated. What had started with a spark two months earlier became a fire.

February 27, 1999 was my first date with takaza. Ten years to the day, I can say that fire still burns brightly. I love you so much, Dan!

Never More Than Now

Last night was a bit rough for me. I was stressed, worrying about the convention, worried about alienating my friends, worried about annoying takaza, worried about all the stuff we have left to do in a very short time. Dan saw how stressed I was and snuggled me close and we talked. He helped me see how it will all work out, and how my fears are for naught. He calmed me down, and he made me happy. I was reminded yet again of how lucky I am to have this wonderful man to share my life with. And while today marks the seventh anniversary of our celebration of lifelong commitment to one another, it’s just a another date. It is much more notable that Dan brings joy to my life every single day, and makes me so happy that we are together with every moment that I spend with him.

I love you so much, Dan!

Dates to remember

This is a remarkable day. Thirty years ago today something happened that would change the world – something that would make many, many people happy, something that would improve the lives of even more people, whether they knew it or not. It’s something that would change my life for the better and make me feel happy and loved.

Thirty years ago today, takaza was born. Happy birthday, love!

Now That Was A Weekend To Remember!

First off: Happy birthday, linnaeus!

So, when last we left our heroes, they were about to venture forth on a romantic weekend getaway. Takaza made all of the plans in secret, and I had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. I picked him up from work at 4:00 PM on Friday and I was instructed to drive…north.

Where did we go? Click here to find out!

Another year

Another year has passed. In that year, we survived living 700 miles apart, a cross-country move, new jobs, and working for two large conventions. We also marked our sixth year together. You continue to bring me comfort, and joy, and hope. You astonish me with your patience and care. And I continue to be the luckiest guy on earth. Happy 29th birthday, Takaza. I love you so much.