A lot of you will ask me at Sam’s celebration on Monday how I am doing. Since we might only have time for a quick exchange, I might say that I am “doing ok.”
If you don’t mind me changing the order of things, I’d like to give you a better answer than that in advance.
In many ways, I am doing very, very badly. I am sad in a way that is so encompassing it feels physical - like a broken limb. I’m limping and on crutches, but in sadness. I’m sad for your loss of a friend, for justice’s loss of an advocate, and for my loss of my most special person. I am also, selfishly, quite upset. Not at you, but just at the fact that our lives are all going on. It seems so upsettingly unfair that people (including me!) get to do normal, even trivial, things though Sam is gone. I’m also really scared. I’m scared that I don’t know how to do life without Sam helping me at it. There are a mind boggling number of categories to what “doing life” means, so I’ll just leave the scared category at that. But it’s a biggie and a lot of responsibility. I expect many of you might share these feelings of "doing bad"-ness with me.
However, many beautiful things have happened in the last 10 days that have made my grief easier. These are harder to talk about, which is too bad. If I just say I am “bad” or “sad” then I get to put that sticker on my forehead in your memory, and reserve my feelings of grief for later when they are overwhelming me and I can’t remember anything happy to talk about. Yep, it’s just easier to say, “I am sad.” That wouldn’t be wrong, but I am other things too. I know Sam wanted Monday to be a celebration of his life. Given this, I’d be remiss not to share all the beautiful stuff I’ve experienced in the last week in case it helps you be more in a celebratory mood along with me.
First. Yes, there are moments in every day that I feel lonely. I expect him to be home every time I walk in the door and then feel devastated all over again when he isn’t, and worse, won’t ever be. But I don’t think I could say accurately that I am lonely. I got an incredible second family (if you know any of the Weises, you know what I mean here) and many, many friends thanks to Sam, which I cherish daily. Additionally, my family and my community have wrapped me in their love and support so thoughtfully and thoroughly that being ‘wrapped in love’ is barely even a metaphor. Yesterday morning, Sam’s obituary was printed in the Alaska Dispatch News and seeing it in print shattered me. (Yes, even though I wrote it and 100% knew it was coming.) Because of that and other things, I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed and do normal things with my Sammy’s face looking at me from the obituary page of a real, actual newspaper. Knowing this, a friend drove across town to bring me coffee, lay in bed with me, and then take our dog for a walk. I have at least 35 stories like this. So, I’m lonely for Sam, but there is no way I can say I am lonely.
Second, I feel overwhelmingly grateful. Today someone asked me if I’d ever go to Seattle again. I expected to say what I’ve been saying for the past few months (“hell no”), but instead I surprised myself when I instead thought Seattle sounded a little comforting because it is a place I was really, really close with Sam. It made me realize one really beautiful thing about his awful leukemia: it brought us closer together than we had ever, or could ever have been. I know the downsides overwhelmingly outweigh the positives and still, #fuckcancer all day every day, but hear me out. When we were in Madison, and then Seattle, and then while caring for him here at home, we were close on an almost spiritual level. We checked in with one another in the most beautifully gaping, wide open way - regularly, multiple times a day. Our lows were terrifying and awful and unjust, but our highs were the highest because we appreciated every single thing about anything resembling “good.” That is beautiful and rare. We spent quality time together. A lot of it. More than we ever would have if we were just living normal life. That time was valuable and precious, and we knew it was and treated it that way. It was so hard then, but it is so beautiful now and I’m so grateful for the closeness that his disease, and our fear, curated.
Third, I feel prepared. I know I said I was scared of “doing life” above, and I am. But in reviewing nearly every photo, hearing and rehearing so many stories, and turning over every metaphorical rock in regards to our time together, it has become so clear to me how much he gave me that I get to keep. Yep, his death painfully stole away many things, but I kept more than I originally realized, and I keep it very close. Sam gave me the skills to enjoy and explore the outdoors that I had never experienced or really considered before we met. This is the world’s greatest gift. He also gave me confidence in myself (Well, I won’t give him full credit, but we worked at it hard together.) In so many events - personally, athletically, professionally, emotionally - he told me he ‘knew I could do it’ again and again. I knew I had to prove him right, and I did. His confidence in me changed me at my core. Death doesn’t take that away. Not even a little bit. He also gave us all courage and conviction and joy. We get to keep that.
Fourth, I feel positive. Sad, yes. Overwhelmed, yes. Heartbroken, yes. [Long, long list of every emotion here, including whatever the one is that causes you to have incessant diarrhea], yes. But every time I feel one of those, I know he wouldn’t want it. I know he wouldn’t want his death to be a part of causing anyone pain. Trust me, I know there is a lot to mourn and lots of pain to be felt, so I won’t tell myself or you how to feel. But I will remind myself and you that there is so. much. more. to. celebrate. You all have been so helpful in joining me in this. Sam did amazing things for his friends, his family, and this world. He was a good human, through and through. Better yet, he was a good human who acted on his goodness. He was also wacky and clumsy and slow and had ears that were three sizes too big for his head. The stories of his life have so much richness, joy, and humor that they’re where I want to spend my mental energy - as much as I can possibly make myself - focusing on. When I do that, I feel genuinely happy. Since my community and my family have not let me feel lonely, they have also, handily, been available to tell a good ‘ole Sam story or two that makes us belly laugh and then shake our heads. That feels genuinely good. These stories and memories bring me a joy that is so immensely unexpected that I can only imagine that Sam’s incessant demands about how he wanted his life to be celebrated instead of mourned after he died were plotted and meticulously designed as part of an elaborate and mysteriously successful plan to ensure we were all going to be OK. Sam Weis strikes again.
Fifth, I feel loved. In the early days, Sam and I would lay on the couch together and talk about how lucky we were to have found each other, and how so few people had a great love like we did. We were so humble about our love. (Not). In the middle days, we’d lay on the couch together and talk about our lives while feeling contentment and pride that we’d molded our days into something meaningful and happy, earnestly looking forward to continuing to live them. Toward the end, we’d hold hands and look back on it all with no regrets and a continued gratitude for a mutual love that carried us through hard times. What a gift. We knew that we had made the most of almost every day and we experienced a love so deep that my soul can’t and won’t ever shake it off just by the physical loss of him.
Sooooo … how ‘bout that for an answer?
Yes, I am doing very bad, as you expect me to be. But I am also really good - and really grateful, prepared, positive and loved, too. That’s what I’ll want to say on Monday. “Doing OK” seems to be a decent summary and middle ground. And really, I think I am OK, thanks to Sam. So I’ll probably just say that.