Let’s be honest - you are a month of conflicts. I think we both know that you are a tricky month full of treats. In your dwindling daylight, you ensure we have respite with pops of brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges! Your colors wave proudly on tree limbs awaiting a gust of wind to disperse them wildly onto the earth's floor, “leaving” us quite an act of labor to ensue.
I love you October, but you have been the hardest month to pass through since Candice's death. Here I am, with you, but absent my favorite pumpkin. It's just not the same and the reality has settled in. I am here and she is not. We had plans for you this year, but they were not to be and the pain runs deep and my heart aches in a different and more heavy way. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy your beauty and given that it is a "spirited" month, Candice doesn't disappoint me with her continued companionship (albeit a different form). It is just-I miss her and it is just - that simple. I continue to run my parallel life-the one where I am part of the living whilst also embarking on a spiritual relationship with Candice. I know for sure, this dichotomous adventure feeds on appreciating life and trying to live it to the fullest. I live for two now.
But enough about me-back to you- October.
You have the honor of holding some very important dates:
So October, as you come to a close and we enter a month of “giving thanks”, I wish to thank you for your gifts. I also can't say thank you enough to my steady and ever growing support system. I am overwhelmed by the constant stream of kindness and love of so many of you. I feel like I am falling short as a human trying to show my gratitude in return. However I know - in time I will be able to "pay it forward".
Captain and Tenille "Love Will Keep Us Together" was Candice and my wedding song. I must admit that I picked the song! What can I say, I am a 70's love song junky in large part thanks to my grandfather. This is yet one example of Candice's tolerance!!!!
Today (Sept. 30th) would have been our 8 year anniversary. I love Candice so very much. What I can say is the day Candice and I got married, this did NOT create a new found sense of love. We had already been in a relationship for 7 years; so after our wedding, our relationship went largely unchanged. However, what I did feel was an enormous shift in how people viewed our relationship. I could not be closeted about being married to a women but neither could my friends and family. We were legitimate - this was a bigger deal than anticipated.
When we got married, we asked our guests to stand by us and support us. I always thought this seemed odd-to be honest. But when sickness hits, and friends and family gather to help and assist, you quickly realize that a marriage requires that very support.
I also know a day will not pass the rest of my life, when Candice will not enter my thoughts. In a tearful moment in the hospital Candice looked at me and said "I bet you wish you didn't pick me now"---I cried and looked at her and simply said - "if I knew in the beginning that this would be our ending, I wouldn't have changed a thing, because you gave me so much happiness and love and you made me such a better person and I wouldn't trade these years for anything". This is my truth.
Excerpts from our wedding ceremony ~ officiated by my sister
Welcome to everyone on this special occasion. Regardless of the wonderful and loving relationship that Stephanie and Candice have shared up to this point, today, that relationship takes on a dynamic and special form. You have come to witness this exciting occasion as they demonstrate their love and faith in one another. It's a day of hope and celebration. The beliefs and thoughts about love shared by Stephanie and Candice are perhaps best expressed in the words of this poem:
"You were born to be together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in your silent memory.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness.
And let the winds of heaven dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bondage of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup, but drink not from one cup.
Give one another your bread, but eat not of the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each other be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together.
For the pillars of a temple stand apart.
And the oak and cypress grow not in shadow"
Heather's reading: Stephanie and Candice asked me to say a few words on their behalf before we started the ceremony. For months I have bounced some thoughts around in my head and on paper. Thoughts about some funny stories or some tender moments to share, but when it came right down to it, all I wanted to say is this. To me, one of the greatest gifts in life is having someone to smile and laugh with through all those great moment in life; someone to support and carry you through the bad, and someone to just sit next to you on the sofa for the rest of those days that fall in between. Obviously I have known Stephanie her whole life. I have to say in all honesty, I don't think I have ever known her to be happier, or more secure in who she is as a person. I would think I could probably say the same thing about Candice. But then, that's what makes a successful couple isn't it? When you find that person that you can grow with and share interest with; someone who encourages you and grounds you? Over the past seven years, I have watched them grow into an exceptional couple. You never know what lies ahead or where the road will take you, but I know with all my heart that these two women will see it through together. All I could ask for Stephanie is that she would find someone who would love her whole-heartedly and unselfishly and that she would feel and do the same. I believe with all my heart she has found that with Candice...........
Today marks 6 months since Candice has been physically separated from me and there are days that the pain is unbearable, including today. However, every morning I have gotten out of bed and on the toughest days, I hear Candice tell me to move-just keep moving. Parker is her backup if I ever insist on arguing with her. Whether biking, walking or running; I am always in her company and I see her in many things. Some people are not spiritual in this way, but I can tell you that I have had many amazing memories since Candice has passed away because I have continued to pay attention to her. I know that I am not the only one who has felt her presence. Candice was so strong and so amazing that her energy and love continues in many of our lives daily. With her help, she built an army of love and companionship for me so that I have never felt alone.
Above is a gift that I received today from my sister, Heather. This gift brought me to an "ugly" cry. Ugly in the sense that I know I looked like hell, but not ugly in the sense that she totally captured Candice and my connection and our love for one another. I am so blessed to have the family that I have and when I say family - I extend this to my friends near and far. Thank you all for your love and support these past six months. I could not have stayed as strong without all the constant phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook messages, visits, and invitations, thoughts and prayers.
On another note- in a moment of complete insanity, I applied to join Katie on the BIDMC Team to run the Boston Marathon in 2015! I received the email today that my application was accepted. Stay tune for my progress! However, it just felt right to run to raise money for BIDMC- a hospital that set the stage for the worst year of my life by being full of doctors, nurses and staff who provided a comfort that allowed Candice to be herself and want to "survive" her last days in the hospital with laughter, love and learning. Their team shared the magic of Candice ! I am crazy to do this race but I have no doubt that Candice will be with Katie and I and I am pretty sure she will be disguised with wings and an orange breast!
If you pay attention, you will find that every person who comes into your life was brought to you to serve a purpose. Sometimes we never get the opportunity to reflect on this and sometimes we don’t get the chance to let people know how they are valued. If you are open to it, one of the gifts of death for a survivor is the appreciation for how precious life is and how important human connections and love really are. Losing something causes great pain, pain that only comes from our abilities to also experience great joys. The two are very connected and often written about. We can make different choices when we suffer from a loss. Some may need solitude while some may reach for support. What I know is there is no wrong or right; there is just what we as individuals need to do in our own way to survive the heart ache.
When my mother died, I was 22 years old and I took a very different path of grieving than I am currently. I was protective, closed, and angry for some time. I was afraid to have that joy again for fear of it being stolen. It wasn’t until I met Candice 3 ½ years later, that I started to truly let new love back into my life. She was hysterical, intelligent, and confident. She also drove a hot sports car and wore short skirts. What else can I say, she was hot and SMART. I fell for her pretty quickly!
We were together 14 ½ years when Candice passed away. We both spent a lot of time the first few years taking turns going to graduate school. The hours of painful studying paid off by allowing us to pursue our career choices that brought us joy. Through the years, we had our losses and our gains, but we always had each other to love and support one another. We were a team and we understood that relationships required some sacrifice, compromise and work. After all, if you made time for the “painful” parts, you would find a connection that would give you just as many joyful moments too.
On August 31st, I had the great honor of witnessing a love that paralleled so many aspects of my relationship with Candice. AC Kim and Kim Pratt tied the knot after a “mere” 14 ½ years together. As a “first” wedding since I lost Candice, I was very scared that I would be so sad for a variety of reasons that I would have to run out. However, to my surprise, I was mostly filled with pure joy.
In order to explain this “pure joy”, I need to explain how these two individuals came to play in Candice and my life. In 2010, I joined a basketball league and honestly, there weren’t many people that would come out and watch the Sunday games. However AC and Candice were loyal and attended and this is how they formally met. It was an instant connection through humor and maybe “kindergarten crushes”. Their affection for each other soon become palpable….literally. They would get these big smiles and hug each other with great ferocity. Kim and I probably should have been a little jealous, but who could get in the way of such happy moments and besides it was adorable! Candice instantly placed AC at the top of the “list” as a great bear hugger. Note: AC replaced my father, who finds this unfair – but mostly because he is uber competitive.
As AC and Candice were busy hugging each other, Kim and I were busy working on a legendary film documentary for the basketball league that included Slumdog street begging, break ups and new connections, basketball trivia and of course our “peeps” affinity for cats. And by “we”, I mean mostly Kim (I played a small cameo role). Kim has an amazing gift for capturing things on film and with her good natured, welcoming and very funny charm, she creates an ease for anyone who meets her.
Shortly after that season, AC and Kim moved back to the Bay area. We would see them a few more times over the years at events like the Gaymazing race in Provincetown and we would always reflect afterwards about what great individuals Kim and AC were but also an amazing couple. Through Facebook, we would occasionally connect but we did not know each other like those in the same circle of friends over many years. I know that Candice and AC connected in 2013 via Facebook when both of them lost their mothers months apart. Although Candice never explicitly told me, I know that she ramped up her annual fundraising and team efforts for the NOCC (National Ovarian Cancer Coaliton) race in 2013 for AC.
When Candice was in the hospital, I would spend the majority of my days setting daily goals/wishes with Candice. I would do everything in my power to make them happen. These were mostly just simple pleasures, like ordering her favorite foods, having friends visit, ect... However on one particular day, Candice was feeling ambitious and announced a BIG request. She looked at me and said I could use a bear hug from AC. I was shocked! I was quick to tell her that I wish that could happen, but AC was too far away.
Little did I know that my network of human angels would go to work on this immediately. Needless to say, Niki was off connecting with AC and Kim on the task at hand. Candice’s illness was rapid and her time was limited but AC and Kim managed to make the trip from California (for one day!). Candice had already spoken her last words, but she had the ability for one more sign and it was a thumbs up after receiving an AC bear hug. Words cannot describe the gratitude I have for these two women and their enormous act of kindness.
What I knew that day was that AC gave Candice a moment of “pure joy” during a time of extreme pain. This is the kind of thing that I believe only comes from love. Witnessing AC and Kim getting married had moments of sadness for me, but with Candice in my heart and my whole being, I was able to feel pure joy for these two women who I have grown to love so dearly!
AC and Kim share a relationship with the same tenants of marriage that Candice and I tried to live by. I was thrilled that AC paraphrased and applied a quote from my blog into her vows to Kim: In truth though, I never thought our marriage was "equal" to most marriages ……. In fact, I always thought we had a far "superior" relationship. She couldn’t have been more accurate and it made me feel like I was passing them Candice and my baton knowing they would finish off this crazy race we call life with the gold metal.
Although, I couldn’t help being envious that I didn’t have the years ahead of me with Candice, this is my wish for you both as eloquently expressed in your ceremony: -“If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.” Winne the Pooh
Thank you AC and Kim.
With Joy and Love Always,
Stephanie (and Candice approved)
The hardest thing about firsts for me is the internal conflict. Part of me doesn't want to do it, so I think maybe it would be best to avoid it all together. The other part of me wants to do the things that connect me to Candice. We vacationed in Provincetown pretty much every year for 14 years together. If we missed the summer, we would go in off peak (which I strongly recommend). It was "our" place as it is for so many people in the LGBT community. There wasn't a place or a moment where my mind was not flooded with memories that Candice and I made together but also with Parker, Aunt Maureen, my siblings' families, and our friends. We had so many moments of laughter, exercise, tranquility, love, and well - there is always a little drama in Ptown;)
This trip was no different in many of those regards, but it was extremely sad for me to be there without Candice and the reality of my loss set in many times. There was an internal tug of war between being in a place with so many memories with Candice and yet beginning to form new memories without her. I hate that I have pictures without her big smile and although I know she was with me, I see a huge gap that exists. I was fortunate enough to have friends and family tag team and visit to keep my spirits lifted. (Thank you Auntie Maureen, Shannon, Julia, Katie, Paula, Melanie, Heather and Sarah). Sorry we didn't connect Carly, Mo and Clea.
The good news was that the weather cooperated, which I give Candice full credit for. I am not really in the sitting stages of grief but Katie Majeski did get me to chill out for a few hours and take in the beauty -thank you buddy! Katie also accompanied me to the top of the monument which I had never been. Candice and Katie had gone up together during the "Gaymazing Race" a few years ago and one of Candice's request when she was in the hospital was that I go up each year. It was only fitting to do this with Candice's mini me! Let me tell you- she was there all the way!
I was able to enjoy all that I love about this special place (biking the dunes, running the coastline, walking the jetty, swimming at Herring Cove and I even learned quite clumsily how to paddle board courtesy of Melanie). Paula Callaghan (aka "Pineapple Pandemonium") and I thought we knew how to swing dance after a few glasses of wine (I am not sure that was really the case-but we did have a blast) and then we hit the dunes on a bike trip the next day. My sister (Heather) and niece (Sarah) arrived for the second half of the leg and I finally met my match-those two wore me out! We did it all-two days in a row.
Aunt Maureen hooked up with me a few times but she was also very busy walking the jetty and climbing the monument with Jean (Candice is so proud).
Needless to say-I got through this first. It was tough but also full of wonderful memories. Exactly what Candice would have wanted!
It has been 4 months today since I lost my best friend, my true love and my "old and beautiful" life. It feels like it has been years! I don't blog all that I do and think (obviously). I have so many thoughts I want to share about this grief process but the enormity of it all sets in and I don't know where to start. So - I run, walk, bike ---move. ALOT!
I was on my way up to the north shore a few weeks ago for a bike ride and "Free Life" came on. People, who knew Candice, knew she was a huge Dixie Chicks/Natalie Maines fan. I had bought her latest album and never really listened to it. When this song came on though-it resonated and I played it a few more times. I felt comforted that Candice loved her "free life" and that she did something with it, even if it was cut short (no pun).
My experience with grief is that I am not on calm waters. I am out in the middle of the ocean and the waves are colossal. This means I experience absolute highs and lows- with very little in between. I look at the world with a heightened lens. The world is beautiful and I want to follow Candice's lead and maximize every moment and live! On the flip side of the wave, I want to be with Candice and the pain of her physical absence is unbearable. Time moves slow and my body is exhausted while at the same time full of energy.
My therapist (and everyone) says I need to take some time before I begin to make major decisions. I am doing my best to be patient, which is not a natural state for me! I feel like I am standing still while others are racing by me, maximizing their lives. This was how Candice and I lived our lives together. We lived and I have all sorts of thoughts and ideas, but I know execution requires some things I don't have right now. So I will hang out on the side lines for the time being and continue to heal. "But in the air, the questions hang" ....
Miss you C!
Kim-thank you for sharing this video of AC and Candice's 1st meeting. I have watched this video several times and it makes me smile. Candice was so funny. Miss miss miss that dry humor.
As time goes on, I find the laughter is making it's way back into my life. I smile a little more regularly and laugh a little longer. When I do, I think of her and know she is with me laughing. Thank you for all the other funny people in my life who continue to make that a priority for me!
I often like to think of Candice being captured in all her beautiful moments. The picture to the left was taken a year ago while we were basking in the gorgeous Aruba sun. Things can change suddenly and no matter how nimble, nothing prepared me for this loss. What has kept me strong is the enormous love that I continue to feel from Candice.
Today, Candice's ashes were placed in her final resting place. This has been a three month process for me and a journey that was very personal as I wanted it to reflect my undying love for her. I felt strongly that Candice's service was so beautiful that a private internment was best, and so Candice's dad, Aunt Maureen, my dad and myself were in attendance.
I am happy that friends and family now have a place to visit on their own time and in their own way. The cemetery is large so a map is helpful. Candice's Marker is located very close to the main entrance (between section X and AA). When entering the gates, veer left (stay on the far left when it splits- on Consecration Ave.) You will come to the first left on Magnolia Ave - turn on to this road. Candice is on this hillside on the Alpine Path.
Although Dennis and I said a few words today, I was very moved by a letter that Auntie Maureen addressed to Candice (sharing with her permission) and a poem my father read written by my great grandfather J. Wilson McKearin.
LETTER FROM MAUREEN
Here we are on a beautiful day to lay you to rest in this beautiful spot. Stephanie made sure it was the perfect place. She looked at several spots here in Forest Hills Cemetery and after much deliberation and soul-searching she decided this was the spot for you. Here on Magnolia Street… pretty cool, right? She also designed your stone. She did an awesome job, it's pretty perfect isn't it?
The last 3 1/2 months have gone by in a haze. It's hard to believe you're gone, hard to wrap my mind around it. You have left a void. A hole in the world... not just in our world but in the world of all your friends, coworkers, and extended family. I'm sure you know how they all stepped up to help when you were in the hospital and how they have continued to do so even now. Reaching out to me, your dad, and to Stephanie. They have kept your Facebook page active because they need a place to say hi, I'm thinking about you, I miss you, I love you or I saw a rainbow today and it made me think of you. You have people running around JP wearing T-shirts and bracelets that say I Heart Candice... strangers shouting to each other, "I heart Candice, too!" Your amazing wife and those amazing friends together raised over $14,000 in your name for pancreatic cancer research. Amazeballs!
But back to that void... sometimes it feels like you've been gone forever and other times it feels like just yesterday. I think about you all the time... I hear something on the news and wonder what you would think of it, see a movie and wonder if you'd like it. I know you wouldn't be happy with the Supreme Court after last week's decision and I wonder what you think of Orange Is The New Black season 2. I know you'd be happy about David's promotion but sad that they have to leave their little cabin in the woods.
I know you're proud of Stephanie... the way she's handled everything, made the hard decisions, gone back to work and most importantly she's taking very good care of your memory. She recruited the I Heart Candice team to run in Westborough, she designed the I Heart Candice T-shirts, she's one heck of a fundraiser! Her blog is an incredible tribute to you and to the love you shared. That blog has also been like a lifeline to your many friends and family... those who are nearby and those who are scattered across the country.
Candice, our world is a darker place because you were always our shining light. Maybe we can fill that void a little bit at a time. With a happy memory, a funny story, or a Candice witticism. Hopefully it won't always hurt this badly. But for now I try to face each day with the same strength and courage that you faced each of those 37 days in the hospital. You were pure dignity and class.
Like the song says, "you showed us how we're supposed to live and now you showed us how to die."
I love you sweetheart, and I always will.
POEM READ BY MY FATHER -
THE GIFT -by J. Wilson McKearin
God sends us gifts;
such lovely things
to make the world seem bright:
The brooks, the birds,
the flowers, the trees,
the stars that shine
The gentle rain that
cools the earth
The snow so soft and white,
That glistens in the
Like jewels flashing
The scudding clouds that float
On the deep, deep sky so blue;
But the sweetest gift of all
Is a little girl like you.
This month all across the country, people in the LGBT Community are celebrating pride. I haven't attended any of the community parades and block parties this year. Mostly because crowds and anxiety are a bad cocktail.
I spend a lot of time looking back at the things Candice and I did this time last year. Last year, Candice and I celebrated the repeal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). The Federal Government would now recognize our marriage and with this came a number of benefits. This was of particular importance given that Candice worked for the Federal Government. I must admit that I have often taken for granted that everyone accepts my marriage. However this is not the case and there are so many people across this country who are still fighting for equality.
I also assumed that when I started this blog, people would look at Candice and I just like any other married couple. This is definitely a benefit of living in Boston. I have since learned that my blog hasn't been just a place for me to reflect and heal but also a place for some people to come to understand/learn about the gay community. If this blog has had that impact, I know Candice would be so thrilled.
So I wanted to take a moment to share some of my PRIDE about my LGBT community. When Candice was in the hospital, a whole community rallied and they taught so many people from doctors, nurses to family how amazing we are. Our friends were by our side nonstop. They haven't left after my loss. Friends continue to keep me strong - texting, emailing, calling, visiting and constantly trying to keep me moving. The love and support has surpassed any that I could have imagined. I know I am as strong as I am from the strength of my friends and this community.
So Happy Pride to everyone! It is really simple: LOVE CONQUERS HATE.
If you would like to learn more about Marriage Equality (by States), please visit and consider donating to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) at: http://www.hrc.org/