Candice was born on November 26th. As a way to celebrate this special day – Sarah and I decided to start a “new” family tradition with Aila by declaring this "Candice Day". On this holiday, a Candice"ism" will be introduced into Aila’s life. Of course, we will stick to the "kid" friendly version these next few years.
We certainly welcome others to join in this holiday "spirit" with a good pun or a muppet move, dusting off your musical instrument, taking a drive in a sporty convertible, making kale soup, playing a flag football game, partaking in trivia, challenging yourself to a NYT crossword in pen, rattling off quotes from an 80's movie, sharing in a prost with a really good quality beer and friend, buying a book that might “stretch” you intellectually, donating to a scholarship program for those in need, snuggling a puppy you don't know on the street, putting on a bright orange shirt, calling an aunt to say hi or just spending a moment with your favorite Candice memory. I can guarantee you it will put a smile on your face the way she could always do!
I love and miss you so very much Candice. You continue to be a guiding light and strength to me. On your birthday this year, I close my eyes and see you splitting your birthday cake with my uncle Steve (who shared your special day), chiding my Aunt Pat on how much Facebook sucks and even more so since her departure, snuggling up to Roxie, playing scrabble with both our moms while simultaneously reading. Mostly, I close my eyes and see you as I did on so many Sundays- with a super big grin, a cup of coffee and your guitar jamming to a song like playing below.
Six months ago today I received a beautiful "token of love" from you as I stood in the ocean. I happened to look down and see this amazing gift between my feet. I could not believe it then and still can’t today as it seems too unbelievable. But it happened, as did many things these past three years that will forever seem “inconceivable” to me.
These days have seemed particularly rough for many and it is in these times of trial that I miss your wit and ability to make me laugh out loud each day. I may not laugh as frequently these days, but you do continue to seek me out and give me precious moments of peace, tranquility and pure love. I reach for these gifts from you as I know I am blessed to be alive and that even with your curse of death; you penetrate a barrier between our two worlds and offer me faith. And on this particular day of happiness and guilt, I dove down and it was there that I plucked from the ocean's floor this most unique rock that sparkled from below the surface and also magically dried with sheen in the very color and shape of a big orange heart.
On that same day six months ago, I also happened to be getting married to Sarah and it was requested that guests bring a “token of love” to our ceremony. It was never a doubt that this pre-ceremony gift was your way of telling me you were there and your way of giving me a big shout out to tell me that you were giving your blessing.
Candice, you seem to understand that joyous days can also be wrought with heartbreak and guilt for me and I must thank you as you have continued to show me your love and acceptance through these difficult transitions. I believe this is because of our strong spiritual connection with not only each other but also our belief that if we pay attention, nature intersects in very powerful ways. I love that we believed in the unity of the earth and all living creatures and you have never allowed an opportunity for me to doubt this truth in your parting.
I write you this letter today because Sarah and I had a “big” ultrasound this morning and there were amazing images of a healthy 20 week old little baby girl growing in Sarah with developing organs, limbs and digits right on track for a delivery in mid-July. Today was a wonderful day as I looked at so many images of my future. It was a dream I shared with you and for this, my heart aches. Yet somehow, I believe you are not far and that you might have had some doing in this creation of “love, magic and science”.
Sarah Joyce Shoemaker and Stephanie Anne Hunt
August 27, 2016
Long Point Light House
Order of Events
Welcome: John Hunt
Reading: Kirsty Carey
Gifts of love: All Present
Reading: Robin Stouder
Homily: John Hunt
Promises: Stephanie Hunt and Sarah Shoemaker
Kiss and Celebrate
Wedding Ceremony: Sarah Joyce Shoemaker and Stephanie Anne Hunt
Hello and welcome to all family and friends of Sarah and Stephanie. Welcome to this wedding, an eternal celebration of living, loving and commitment. Just as this ocean represents the origins of life and the light house offers guidance; so does the commitment of marriage lead us toward eternal living, loving and commitment.
Kirsty Carey Introduction
To speak of the eternal love, the commitment of marriage, and the blessings of healing and being able to move forward in love, again
The video above is from a recent musical I went to see "If/Then" about a woman in her late thirties who has two paths she could follow. The play takes us on her journey ... if she picks one path/then … or if she picks another /then. Either decision leads her to amazing victories but also tremendous loss...and this song captures it well. This is a touching and amazing musical and I would strongly recommend listening to the whole soundtrack! And yes-this is a widow song and yes it applies to me!
I haven’t blogged the past few years. Not because of a lack of desire but a lack of ability. I needed to turn inward and the reality is I am/was just plain pissed off! Over two and half years ago, I sat in the same chair I sit now. In seconds, my life changed forever. Everything I knew disappeared. It doesn't take much to see the moment vividly. I try to quickly push it away as I do with the weeks that followed. Not because it doesn't resurrect itself frequently, but because I refuse to have 14 + years memorialized in a trauma and I don't want pity. Yes, so many rallied and there were so many beautiful moments, but in the end, we were watching my love die. In 5 weeks time, my precious Candice left me and that doesn't fast disappear. I fight these profoundly devastating moments so that I may remember Candice. Her sickness didn't rob my memories (so frequently flooding my mind and thoughts), but it stole a life which profoundly impacted my whole being. I can describe in great detail the moments that led up to my calling 911 because Candice was having a stroke (even at her insistence that she was fine). When the two men arrived, I found myself being grabbed by one of these compassionate men hugging me, holding me up as I collapsed in grief that my wife was having a stroke...while the other focused on Candice (prepping her to get in the ambulance). I wish I didn't remember every second so clearly. I wish I didn't see her fearful denying eyes. I would do anything to erase the pain of the following five weeks and trauma. We had no time to think, reflect or hurt about the complete injustice that Candice was enduring. I hate that I couldn't save her, I could only show my love, show my dedication, show my pride. God knows I loved her more than I loved myself. I would have chosen and still would choose to switch places with her. But we didn't get that option. So I have had to try to learn to live for the both of us. It has embodied moments of redemption, laughter, hope, anger, depression, anxiety , and most importantly love. We have two options when life hands us a shitty card...we can hold anger/hate or we can hug the love out of our loss (because that is exactly what loss is- a successful execution of loving something you now no longer have). My only option was to thrust toward finding love because Candice guided me that direction.
This has been a rough process. Shifting emotions, relationships and priorities. We all lose and must grieve. However, if we allow/force ourselves, we open ourselves to the possibility that we can survive and we are worthy of love and we continue to seek hope. Through this process, we might just be given a second chance to appreciate all that life has to offer and an ability to start again.
Candice J. Costa- not much goes on in my life where I don't think of you, talk to you. I always love you- you gave me the gift of having an open heart and you taught me that we must always choose love. You sent me many angels to help me survive these past few years. Yes there may be some "If/Then" moments, but ultimately I met Sarah and when our eyes met across a room at the same exact moment, we connected. She has been steadfast and loving; most importantly stood by me in terrible grief. She asked me to marry her and I had much resistance. How could I marry another? The guilt! But I love this girl - she is open, transparent, family oriented, loving and so very patient. No - she is not Candice, but she is as loyal and loving in different ways and she has taught me to love again and for this, I am so grateful.
To love another after a great love is hard to explain. What I do know is that this love does not replace the love of those who pass. My heart has expanded and the new love holds up hope for a future of more....
I have not been open to sharing that Candice and I were trying to start a family. However I am sharing this now because this was very much front and center in our lives before Candice got sick. I often think about what an amazing parental team we would have been. If I am fortunate enough to have a family with Sarah, I know that Candice will be there in spirit raising our collective family. Whether we are physically here or not, loved ones shape our future and we don't always get to witness our successes in the next generation-but they exist.
I will be marrying Sarah Shoemaker at the end of August in a small private ceremony on Long Point (weather providing) in Provincetown. This is a very special place for the LGBTQ community and was near and dear to Candice and I. We shared many wonderful moments there with our family and by ourselves. I know that this day will mostly be a joyous occasion. But like most days I live, I will be thinking of Candice. I am sure I will be thinking of my first wedding day (and one that I thought would have been my only). It is a difficult dichotomy for me and I often feel like a polygamist. I am sure Candice will be watching and like me feel sadness but also happiness for me and of course she would find the humor too.
2015 -My year of fumbling grace or should I say a fumbling mind with physical grace. I could be frequently found running or biking. My need to move and be physical in part helped make up for my mental deficits. Grief robbed me of my attention span and often my concentration and filled my body with anxiety. I was in a daze and mostly thinking of Candice, our life together and how much I missed her. Everyone would encourage me and tell me how strong I was and this often left me feeling genuinely phony (not to reference Holden Caulfield). In the end, the year was a collection of many personal victories but also continued losses. I am not unique in this regard as this is the world we all roam in. If given our druthers, some of us like to ride the rapids, some walk the banks, and some of us like a combination with thoughtful preventive measures. Eventually though, we will all be pushed into a strong and scary current where we are propelled rapidly downstream without warning or a life jacket. When this happens, we get pretty banged up. To survive, we are forced quickly to take a leap of faith and through this we uncover a tremendous amount of learning opportunities. These challenges test and redefine relationships and our own sense of being. Some say that grief is something we all feel but we must go through alone. In many ways this has been the case, but it was clear from the onset - that my core would be transformed and in this I have received many gifts. The one bestowed in 2015 was the year of the “warrior”
This year was the first full year without Candice. I woke up on January 1, 2015 with one concern - will I continue to survive and even strive for greater heights without her? However - for those who love her, we all know that she was ever present and continued to send her amazing love and strength from the other side and with this I stretched.
For many years Candice encouraged me to take up yoga. She insisted it would be good for my uptight self. I laughed and said no way. But when I signed up for the marathon, it was recommended and I thought Candice would approve. So I took my first Yoga class for runners and it was at this time, I learned about a position referred to as the “warrior “pose. As I stood there, I felt transformed. Here I was - in the battle of my lifetime and I needed to be a warrior and standing there in this position somehow confirmed that I could be. But I also realized I was in a room full of strangers in the same pose with their own struggles and their own victories and losses. Suddenly, I was not a lone warrior.
I look back and there are many things I can write about, but in 2015, it will forever be filled with memories of my inner warrior but also with an undeniable truth. I could not have conquered these struggles without my fellow “warriors”. We all did it. We all survived and lifted our hands to help others and hopefully (if we are lucky) these helping hands were altruistic. We are always shifting and therefore timing in combination with our skill sets relocate us constantly. As warriors, we must understand that a person that gives them self to you may not be the same person you will help when your time comes (and it will).
I initially wanted to pay tribute to certain warriors on my blog but when I thought about it – that defeats the purpose of this very message. Perhaps one day – we can expel the notion of recognizing warriors as individuals and a new form of human evolution will open. When this is realized, my hope is that it may dismantle so many explosive and contentious places we let our minds sit. We can’t do it alone and any one person who is exclusively recognized for their good deeds had an army of warriors who willingly and generously gave of themselves sometimes anonymously.
In closing, Candice provided my armor this year. It was not physical but spiritual and she was with me on many journeys, keeping me safe. She will forever be my spirit warrior. Thankfully for me, she had some pretty spectacular reinforcements who still physically walk the earth.
What can I say? I survived another tough weekend. However this one felt different than the past waves. I had a sense of gaining a little more acceptance of the grief and a little less willing to fight it but instead to go with it. It has been a year since Candice left our home and honestly, I have made only minor changes. However, I think it is time for me to start this process.
All the people who told me this past year to be patient and gentle with myself; well it finally resonated a little bit. I had my typical anxiety, insomnia and flashbacks when I hit a milestone. And Yes- my friends never disappoint with their ability to support me. I read the book “The Prophet” by Kahill Gibran (courtesy of Tina Cincotti). One of the poems in the book was one that I had selected for Candice and my wedding to be read. I had never read the whole book but I did this past weekend and I have found myself reading some of it over and over again because I felt so connected with these feeling and beliefs this year. “ Your joy is your sorrow unmasked….the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain…when you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. They are inseparable. Together they come and when one sits alone with you on your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed” Kahill Gibran
After this weekend, I realized that I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself and that I need to step back and take some time “offline”. I have been so fearful that if I wasn’t blogging or posting on facebook or fundraising in Candice’s memory that she would somehow disappear. I couldn’t handle that thought. The truth is, I feel her most in my silence and solitude and I have never generally been able to capture into words all that we shared and I don’t think I should try. So I am going to take some time to slow down. I am going to focus on my running and completing the marathon. I am going to take some time to just be.
I am blessed by so many friends and you know who you are and you know how much your love and support has meant to me, but I can’t keep up with all the thank you’s that I feel like I want to make daily and I know that you all don’t give to me in expectation of public gratitude. I am just a little compulsive - but I am learning that I need to take it down a notch to reduce my anxiety.
I want to write in this blog because it makes me happy and not because I am afraid that Candice is being forgotten. How could that ever happen? She was too memorable! I started this blog to heal and it has provided a great deal of that for me, but I once read a quote by CS Lewis that essentially stated something along the lines that when you let go of the mourning, she will be best remembered. I need to remember Candice again in a way that makes me smile and I need to do that privately.
I also need to give myself permission to start anew and this is the hardest step. I know this will be a place that I will continue to utilize but I need some space from the “interwebs”. I just didn’t want anyone who follows this, to think I am deserting this site since my compulsive nature requires that I explain myself. Something that I am also working on! Anyway--- I heart Candice. Come to my event on March 8th and help me raise money in Candice’s memory, have some fun and laughs. And thank you one and all who donate time, love, food, kindness and laughs to my life!
I have been finding myself reading articles about happiness a lot lately. Overall - they all sum up the same basic concepts. Eat right, exercise, meditate, find your passion, get outside, practice gratitude, surround yourself with support, journal, try new things, practice forgiveness and so on.
These practices all make perfect sense, right? However even after incorporating as many of these as I possible can - it doesn't mean that I still don't fall apart. Yes- these things can definitely provide a better overall view of the world and without them, I would not have been able to survive this year. However I can't always be happy. A daily reminder of a list of things that help facilitate happiness is a good exercise for me right now but it doesn't hold permanency. Grief generates high peaks of anxiety for me and unbelievable moments of despair. However it has been the flip side perspective that I wasn't prepared for. I have also had moments of enormous joy and hysterical laughter. Does that generate feelings of guilt? At times-very very much so. How can I be happy when Candice isn't here to share this with me. However I snap out of that frame of mind because ultimately I know that Candice is with me and she guides me and wanted so much for our happiness.She wants me to be happy - this I know!
Since Candice's passing, I have had a lot of time in my head and I have thought often about life and what it means and how to maximize moments particularly as I witnessed Candice do this after her terminal diagnosis. There are no guarantees and each day is a gift. I am forever changed by Candice in my life and also her absence. I have had to take my future orientated brain and I have had to attempt to have it focus on the "present". When my brain starts to look out to far- I crash hard. What is my life without Candice? It is not a question that I ask because I was co-dependent; it is a question I ask because I didn't see a future without her in it. My brain was in a fully furnished cozy condo thinking upgrades. When I think about the future now, it feels like someone came in and robbed every possession and smashed down the walls while they were at it. I need to rebuild. This has started, but rebuilding is not easy when you weren't prepared. I have had to learn a lot of skills this year and in turn I have moved away from fears that once limited me.
So I found myself thinking about an article that I read yesterday. In my quest for the "happy factor", it mentioned something about how people who are happiest are able to say the three hardest things openly. What are those things, you ask???
Interestingly enough, in this year-I have felt freer in my ability to articulate these three concepts and they have made all the difference. It still isn't easy by any means and it can certainly leave you feeling vulnerable. When I have expressed these things, have they been fully reciprocated? Not always. When they are not, does it hurt? No-strangely enough! I ask myself why this is the case and I think the reason is - when you state any of the three things above - you open yourself up and yes you are vulnerable BUT that has a very powerful intrinsic truth and freedom. We can not walk this journey alone during our darkest hours, nor can we always walk perfectly and sometime others have a skill set that we can use.
I think about Candice and my relationship. These three "hard" things came very easy to us as a couple. It isn't always easy to extend this too far but I glad that I have been able to be more open because there are so many amazing people out there!
I'm sorry, but I love you all - now please help me raise money in Candice's memory for the BIDMC Cancer Center!
11 Years Ago- A very special baby was born! Happy Birthday Sarah.
2014 will forever mark one of the most challenging and sad times of my life. Although this singular year holds one of the most profound losses of my life, it also has captured the most beautiful moments of human love, compassion and laughter I have ever experienced. So I leave 2014 with a new lens and as a different person than I was at this time last year.
I closed 2013 on FB by sharing moments of blessings- Candice loved loved loved that I concentrated on all the wonderful experiences. So I thought I would continue in this Candice approved frame of mind.
Everyday I work on trying to have a moment to embrace. Today I was running around the pond, and there were a number of birds dancing in a tree. I stopped and looked up to see all the commotion and found myself witnessing dozens of robins dancing among the branches. I stood there for some time and I smiled and then I cried. As I stood there one robin swooped down to the lowest branch within a few feet from my face and stared at me with great intensity - I smiled again and thought how lucky for me to see the world in this new light. A light Candice showed me in her graceful passing.
To enter a new year without Candice physically by my side is terrifying. What will 2015 have in store for me? I don't have all the answers and I have certainly learned not all the control. However, as I say farewell to 2014 - I reach for hope and a continued quest for moments of happiness. I know I will visit 2014 often to draw upon strength, wisdom and love that I received.
A broad overview of my 2014 Blessing in no particular order as they are all equal in importance to me!
Candice and I decided to write down three things that we were grateful for each day as our New Year's resolutions for 2014. We went out and purchased pretty journals and kept them by our bedsides. I must admit, this was an Oprah thing but Candice's mother passed away in 2013 and it was a difficult year, and this was something that I thought would be good for us.
Neither one of us read each other's journals This was meant as a personal exercise. So after Candice died, I waited until everyone had left and I was alone in the home and searched for her journal. It was something I was eager to open as it was her last written thoughts before she knew she was dying. Although neither one of us kept up with our journals, what Candice wrote deeply moved me and has been a reference point during my dark days this year.
Below are some excerpts from Candice's gratitude journal in January 2014:
People tell me that time is the only healer for the pain that my heart feels each day.I know this to be true. However Candice and my journey together has helped guide me to move forward. I remind myself daily of our lives together and our priorities and I continue to ask myself-how would Candice want me to live?
I have waited to share part of Candice's journal until this month. My family has always had a tradition of going around the table to express what we are thankful for. This always felt silly growing up, but holding Candice's journal makes it clear to me just how important it is to be thankful particularly during difficult times. Candice wrote in her journal during a very difficult period in our lives personally.
No week has been easy this year. But next week will be particularly challenging as I face another series of "firsts": Candice's birthday and Thanksgiving. I will be spending the holiday with my sister's family in DC (where Candice and I celebrated her 40th birthday last year). I am not sure I will be able to openly talk about what I am thankful for at the dinner table next week as I think it would be just too difficult. However, if I was to create a list-it would mirror that of Candice's.
All I know is that I was so very blessed to have Candice in my life. I am grateful that I know that she felt the same way about me. In the end, this is all that really matters.