October 27, 2019

Crossing paths with Damon Janis

“It is no matter if we meet as strangers. Where there is friendship, and affection, there is a place to learn to love.”

Crossing paths with             Damon Janis

Early December 2016

I am cleaning up the kitchen when the doorbell rings.  Brandon has been dead for 8 weeks.  No one rings our doorbell anymore.  

It is Bryce Ferguson, a neighbor, a friend, a doctor, my new bishop.  He is dressed up and looks "official."  I don't address him as Dr Ferguson or Bishop Ferguson, but simply speak a tired, "Hey, Bryce."

"Hi Mitzi.  Ummmmm , can I  talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure, come in."

"Ummmmmm, would you mind stepping outside."

My brain suddenly awakens to alert level....what is going on?  Has one of my children done something strange?

I step out into the cold air and pull the door closed behind me.   I notice he has a paper in his hands.  He extends it to me.  I scan the jumbled text and notice the word WIDOW.  No content message registers in my brain.

(One bonus side effects of enduring a very traumatic event is the loss of comprehension. I can see the words.  I can read the words.  But assimilating it into a message.....is soooooo......hard.)

Bryce begins to speak, "The Stake President asked me to bring these invitations to all the widows in our ward."

There is that word again.  Is he really referring to me as a Widow?  I almost laugh, but then I don't.  We are both uncomfortable in this situation.  

"Thank you."

I come in and close the door.  I am immediately met by some of my adult children.  I hand them the paper.  

"Mom, are you going to this widow / widower conference?"

I concentrate on the flyer.  Sure enough.  In January.  A "get together" for widowed people.  This is ridiculous.  I work full time.  I have two children having surgery over the Christmas Holiday.  One is a major Achilles reconstruction that will result in months of wheelchair dependency, the other is a wisdom teeth extraction. Both seem crushing, yet completely necessary.  A widow get together?  I know everyone means well, but I can hardly believe the audacity.

Why in the world would I ever desire to meet other misfortunate souls?  

And that word "Widower".......I'm positive that means men will be there.  I feel something close to panic.   Just what is being inferred here?  I'm not interested in meeting "someone."

Brandon and I had had "that" conversation many times over the 24 years we were married.  Probably  more than most married people. I noticed when people died young.  In fact, I  was quite positive I would die from cancer sometime in my 30's...... for no other reason than my mom and my grandpa had both died young from cancer.

He needed to be ready!

Brandon, Remarry.  You have a dynamic personality that attracts many.  You're so social, smart, and  giving.  You won't forget me.   If she is kind to you and loves you and loves the girls, it will work!  Happiness and a new normalcy will  be forged.  He agreed!  (Amazing and hard things I learned in my youth.)

As for me?  No thank you, I'm staying single.  I have no desire to be tethered to a man's career, additional young children, or extra domestic duties.  I can take care of myself.  I'll travel. I'll enjoy my grandchildren. I'll enjoy introverted solitary freedom.

And with my naive understanding of  the complete devastation that had blown through every particle of my life,  I do not stop to consider anything else.  

January 3, 2017

I can not believe the number of widowed people at this event.  The chapel is overflowing.   I feel self conscious and a little nervous.  My widowed Australian friend Julie is with me.  It's her first event too.  Upon first observation, most of these people know each other.  It's almost like watching a family reunion.  Smiles, waving acknowledgements, hugs.  We take a seat.  We melt in easily.  

A few weeks prior I had mentioned my strange invitation experience to my dear neighbor, Camille.  She's around my age and has regrettably been at this widowed business for a few years now.  I explain my disdain. She laughs and tells me to go. She explains she will be there with some widows coming in from the midwest.  

"It's nearly all women.  Most of the men are old.  It's not a dating thing.  I'll look for you if you decide to come."

I am mildly shocked that she is a willing participant.

"You know how you feel like everyone is sadly staring at you every place you go?"


"No one will look at you this way here.  You might actually feel normal again. At some point you should attend a W/W event."

She was right.  No one looked dismally in my direction.  We were all in the same boat. It felt so good to just be....typical.  I enjoyed some of the classes and interacting with people again.  I left with information on how to join their online support group.  

I felt mildly vulnerable submitting the online request, but Camille reassured me no one would even know I had joined.  There is nothing you have to post or respond to.  You can simply be a silent observer.

"Some posts will make you laugh.  Some posts will make you cry.  Some posts will make you grateful for your own ridiculous situation."  

January 15, 2017

It's a Sunday.  The hardest day of the week.  Oh, church is a heavy burden.  I am working on dinner when I sit down for a minute to wait for the corn bread to finish cooking.  I pull out my phone to be entertained.

It makes me laugh.  I "like" the post.  The buzzer rings and the 5 of us sit up to the table to eat dinner.  Since Brandon has died we often use this post church time to let off steam and share weird experiences we have endured at church.  

Anyhow, I share Damon's post. We all laugh.

Although people  comment on posts all the time, even more than in regular social media circles, I have never dared.  As I work on cleaning up, I think deeply about commenting.  

I did it!  And I survived :) A few hours later, the author, Damon Janis, sends me a friend request.  I accept.  Now we can see each others "regular" social media traffic.

(post note:  how interesting it is to go back and find this old post on the W/W group, to see my name changed to Janis and the profile pictures up to date...... with a ski trip and grandchildren.  You'll have to imagine, it was an entirely different world back then :)

Damon here – all the italicized parts throughout are Damon :)
I was having a slow Sunday with nothing going on when this idea popped into my head out of nowhere ... 'write about the crazy comment in Sunday School from last year, the w/w group will get a kick out of it!'
So I sat down, wrote it, posted it, and looked forward to reading what people responded with. Mitzi's comment was my favorite! I felt like she totally got my point. It made me smile to think about her family sitting around the Sunday dinner table pointing out funny things people had done and said at church that day.
There were just a handful of people (ok -- women) I had sent friend requests to in the 19 months I'd been in the w/w group. Mitzi's comment gave me the desire to connect with her so I immediately sent her a friend request. I was very pleased when she accepted it as I felt like she was someone I would like to know more.

January 23, 2017

I go to bed much later than I used to.  Falling to sleep and staying asleep is a momentous task.  This makes teaching school hard..... but teaching school keeps me busy and eventually demands sleep.  The house is quiet, and despite exhaustion, sleep is not coming.  I scroll through social media......  

That's the Sunday School teacher.  The one with the funny story.  The one who requested to be my friend.  I scroll though the post.....obviously something he is tagged in.  A wedding, maybe a child's wedding?  And the baby.  Maybe a grandchild?

I've been through enough social events in the past few months to know how terrible it feels to be there alone.  Who ever that baby is, she is a life line of diversion for him. Something to hold onto in a most uncomfortable  and lonely situation.  

Before I retire for the night I scroll back up and look at the picture again.  I decide to screen shot it.

Our family shares our photos through photo stream.  A few days later Madalyn notices the photo and asks, "Who is this?"  

"I'm not completely sure.  A widower I'm friends with through the support group."

"Why did you screen shot it?"

"I thought it told an interesting story."

This was at Spencer and Laura's wedding in Katy, Tx. Damon & Macall's baby Navy (my first and at this point only grandchild) was my lifeline. I clung to her for security. Events like this are hard after your spouse dies. You miss them terribly and feel alone and vulnerable and like a fish out of water.
Baby's have always been comforting to me. When my little brother and sister were babies I was about 10 and 12 years old. My mom let me take them to my classes at church and hold them. Holding a sleeping baby is one of the most comforting things to me.
So at this wedding were I was struggling, I held on to Navy. To the point that when the wedding march started and I was the grooms father and had to walk down the aisle first and take my seat at the front, I wouldn't let anyone take Navy from me. Several people offered and I declined. I walked down the aisle with her in my arms as she slept. Laura and her mom never expressed any displeasure that I had done that and I'm so grateful and appreciative for their understanding.
It makes sense that Mitzi immediately saw the story in the picture. I love that about her – how perceptive she is to the human condition and how understanding she is for the pains humans quietly and many times hidden inside are suffering.
I didn't know this picture had been taken. I was talking with some old friends from our Katy church and was pleased Laura liked it and posted it on her feed. And I'm super glad it got Mitzi's attention :)

January 31, 2017

It's Tuesday.  A normal school day.  I'm on my 23 minute lunch break eating some oatmeal at my desk.  I clean up my email and then click on social media to fill the remainder of my free time.  

Interesting. A week in Belize?  He has a blog?  Of course I click on it.  Wow. This guy has documented his widowed life for 2 years.  I begin to read.  The dang bell rings way to0 quickly and my lunch time is over.

I ration his blog over the next few school days.  I don't read it at home.  Just at lunch time.  It is something to look forward to.  

On February 6th I read the last of his posts.  Before the bell rings I send him a quick thank you through messenger.

By dinner time, he sent back an acknowledgment.

I appreciated how Mitzi found what I had written helpful and relatable. And was so pleased it had made her laugh! My sense of humor is a little out of the mainstream and not everybody gets it :)
Her note was pleasing and kind and made me want to get to know her better. She already seemed like someone who I could connect with and relate to.

February 2017

The reality of my situation is taking hold.  I begin to think about my ability to continue teaching  7th grade. That's 12 and 13 year olds, 150+ of them each day, for how many more years?  

My over all capacity, energy, endurance, patience, pretty much everything ....is shot. I know it is still early in the ballgame of widowhood, but I have to start looking at alternative income options.  

No, I am not thinking of the Sunday School teacher:)

I knew I loved teaching and had taught college students and adults before.  This seems like a more humane way to endure life.  If I go back to school and earn a PhD, I should have no problem landing a university job.  

March 4, 2017

Maddy is a Senior in High School this year.  She will head up to the U in a few short months.  She has been super kind to me this spring. Her schedule allows her to bring me lunch sometimes.  I really look forward to it!  We have fun discussions and enjoy sharing some take out.  She studies the gospel a lot and I appreciate what she shares with me.  

I loved what she shared with me and thought others in the W/W group would benefit. Ummmmmm, lets just say it did not resonate with many.  10 likes?  This group is usually very "like" happy.  10 is an outlier!  And one comment?  Unheard of.

But it's from Damon.  And to the both of us, it's like finding the missing piece to a puzzle.  It fits!

March 13, 2017

Yahoo!  I am accepted and excited to start working on diverting life in a new direction.

A few days later I am sitting in church when I feel my phone vibrate.

And with that exchange, a volley of communication began.  Short messages, sent every other day.  Inquiring about family, church, navigating daily life.  

I so looked forward to the days he would type back :)

When I saw this post from Mitzi that she was accepted into a PhD program it encouraged me to reach out to her. My thought was that if she was moving forward with her life in this way it reflected an ability to move forward. I saw that as healthy and positive and therefore safe for her if I were to reach out and hopefully get to know her better.

April 10, 2017

Last night as Lizzie, Maddy and I were finishing up our scripture and prayer time I asked the girls if we had anything special going on this week.  Maddy piped up and said, "We are coming up on 6 months this week."

"Yes we are. What day is the 12th on?"

"It's on Wednesday, which means the 10th is tomorrow.   The same day of the week we experienced it in October."

Oh man, obviously a memory burned hard into her brain.  What a cruel way to wake up on a Monday morning....... we sit in silence for a moment and then I say,

"Be Brave!  Tomorrow will be Great!"

(My poor children, sometimes I have no idea how to respond in helpful ways?)

I wake up feeling kinda sick, that tightness you get in your chest and your gut when you remember something bad.  As the day ticks on I can't help but look at the clock and think....he was still in brain surgery at this time...... this is when they took me back to see him..... this is when a million family and friends and strangers started showing up.   I have not relieved that day like that ever!  Thank goodness I am at school and have a lot of distractions.

When I get home from school I realize I have about 90 minutes until I need to pick up Liz.  I am home alone with nothing I have to do.  This is a rare occurrence.  The thought comes to me, "Go ride the route.  Today is the perfect day!" I have not been on my road bike since the accident.  

Sometimes the spirit gives you the best Brave advice!  I quickly dress and leave. I ride 14 miles on that dang stupid safe route.   Every mile goes fine.  My mind is clear. It feels just like old times, plus some tears.  When I return home, I feel empowered in continuing to move forward with my life.  It feels like I just slew a Dragon :)

I hop in the car and drive to the High School to pick up Lizzie.  As I sit there feeling peace I notice Damons message. It is his day to write!  I open the message and see 9 short paragraphs.  Each responding to conversation threads we had shared previously.  Expect the 9th one .....  

Holy smokes.  I read it again. And probably again.  We had discussed our local W/W chapter get togethers.  St. George chapter had planned a group dinner for Thursday April 13th.  He was asking to come.   I told him I would like that, and I would think about what to tell my girls.

In the end, I told only Sydney and Logan, my married kids.  I had no idea if this would go anywhere or what it even meant?  They were supportive but a little hesitant on the safety side.  

"Mom, what if he is a Ted Bundy type of guy?"

I laughed, "Then I will see your dad real soon!!!"

She didn't think it was quite so funny.

April 13, 2017

Damon is flying in around noon. We have decided to meet up before the dinner and go on a picnic / hike.  A chance to get acquainted a little bit before we show up at the group activity.

I have taken the day off of  work but have an early morning meeting I need to attend. As I am leaving, a work colleague asks me about getting together at lunch time to do some planning.  I tell him I am taking the day off and just came into the meeting.  He is a good friend and follows up with, "What are you doing today?"

I freeze like I am doing something illegal.  I whisper, "I think ...I am going on a date?"

His eyes bulge....... then he smiles.  "Good for You!"

There ....... I said it.  Only to him..... but I said it.  It's scary, fantastic, and super weird to find myself in this most un-natural and un-expected situation.  

Damon sends me a text with his exact eta.  He knocks right on time ;)  I open the door to see the same kind face I had seen in pictures.  He is wearing a bright lime green shirt.  It surprises me to see him in such a bright color.  Online he seems so quiet and reserved.

It's funny to me that Mitzi found it surprising I was so exact in my estimates. My recollection is that I said I would be there in 12 minutes. That's pretty exact :)
When I'm anticipating something it's very helpful to have an accurate estimate of when it will happen. Makes a huge positive difference. I didn't want her wondering when I would show up so I let her know as close as possible :)

I invite him in and we walk to the kitchen.  I have begun to pack a picnic.  I ask him what kind of chips he would like, apple or orange, treats?  He just smiles and says he likes all of that.

Sydney and Logan are home, close enough to hear conversation, but out of sight.  

We leave the house and walk towards Damon's rental Jeep.  He looks at me and says, "I am so nervous, I can barely think."

"Me t00!"

I tell him how to get to the grocery store.  We have decided to buy sandwiches there. As we walk into the store, it occurs to me that I may see someone I know!  Here I am skipping school and with an unknown man!  I pray we don't run into anyone.  

We make it to the counter where the pre-made sandwiches are kept.  We both just stare at the options.  Unable to make a quick decision.  It feels like it takes hours. We finally select our options and head to self checkout.  

Damon is adamant about buying.  He slides his debit card.  He can not remember his PIN.  Ahhhhh widowed nerves!  We have a little laugh.  He tries again and gets it!

I was so nervous that it just skipped my mind. Then I worried that maybe Mitzi would think I had money problems if I couldn't remember my own PIN! And that made me more nervous! So then I had to work hard to get my brain focused off of these worries and on to processing that 4 digit PIN number which I did finally remember. The joys of a single focus brain :)

We drive to a park, eat lunch, talk, walk, laugh, and have a nice time.  

I know he is staying with some family in Hurricane.  I ask him if he wants to take me home, go visit his family, and then reconvene for the W/W dinner.  He asks if I need to go home.  I tell him no.  We decide to stay out and go for a drive.

We drive the Gunlock loop.  Tour the Jacob Hamblin home.  Stop off at another park. It's getting close to dinner time.  I ask Damon if he would like to go to the W/W dinner.  He smiles and says he would prefer to just keep hanging out with me.

He asks if I know the Durango's in town.  

"Heck, Yes!  My daughter loves it!  We go there often.  In fact, I have an interesting story about Durango's"

Damon seems surprised.  He tells me he has a story as well.  We decide to go there for dinner.  I tell him my story while we wait in line.  He shares his story as we sit in the back corner and eat our meal.

We leave the restaurant and get inside of the Jeep.  Damon begins to tell me how hard life has been for him since Tiffany was diagnosed with cancer and then died.  He has been at this a few years longer than I have and has had some tough experiences.  I listen.  We are there in the parking lot for hours.  He doesn't look at me while he is talking.....just straight forward.  Like he just needs to unload a lot of heavy thoughts.  

At one point he is talking about how he feels about remarriage.  He is very uncertain if he can ever really love anyone again.  He's tried a few times. It has not worked out.

He pauses and says, "The reality is, we could be married longer, than we were married to our first spouses!"  

I know that the word "we" doesn't mean "us."  But it sure comes out that way.  He stops, looks straight at me and says, "I mean we are both widowed, and if we chose to remarry other people,  we could be married to them longer than we were married to our first spouses."

I find it hilarious, but I don't laugh.  Months later, I joke with him about proposing to me on our first date :)

Around 10p we pull up to my home.  He lets me know he isn't going to kiss me....... just in case I was worried about that.  Thanks :)  We say goodbye with an awkward quick side hug as I fetch my bag out of the trunk.  

Mitzi had told me a week or two before she would love to proof-read a new book I had written but not yet published (67 Minimalist Changes – That Take 5 Minutes or Less). Just before she climbed out of the car she handed me a folder with her notes in it. I was so pleased she had taken the time and effort to read it, write notes, and share it with me true to her word.
Her notes were right on and helpful. I felt like she understood me and was reliable and kind to do that.

As I walk to my front door I think about the realities of widowhood and the devastation it leaves in people.  I can tell he is a kind tenderhearted soul.  I can also see he is so wounded.  I am not sure if I will ever see him again.  Sadly neither of us took any photos that day.

The look on Sydney's face is pure relief when I enter the house.   She is happy to see me alive.  She later tells me she has been tracking my phone all day..... pondering a million criminal thoughts.  

We have a house full of guests that have arrived for the weekend while I have been gone.  She has been awkwardly lying and entertaining.  (another epic parenting moment)

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with Mitzi all day. It was a wonderful day. I felt very comfortable with her and our conversations were natural and interesting. I felt like she got me and I got her and there was a connection between us. My main take aways were that she was practical, unpretentious, and beautiful. Very attractive qualities!

May 9th, 2017

I am attending a PhD conference in Santa Barbara this week.  It is my first "trip" since Brandon died.  I'm here alone.  The hotel is right on the ocean.  I find the conference, the people, and the location very helpful in a healing sort of way.

Surprisingly, Damon has continued to communicate with me through text since our "date" in April.  Today he is asking about my return trip back to St. George.  I tell him I have another plane switch in Phoenix, and when I am there, I will think about him:)

I am shocked that he is suggesting this, and I am shocked at how much I am looking forward to seeing him again.  

May 10th, 2017

I walk up the long incline out of security.  He is standing there smiling.  We walk to the "Wild Flower" eatery in the concourse.  Choosing an item is a little less nerve racking than last time.  Damon again insists on paying.  He remembers his pin on the first try :)

We sit in a corner spot and ask each other questions.  The time passes so quickly.  It's time for me to head back through security.  We talk about the big W/W event in Provo at the end of the month.

We embrace as I leave to catch my flight.  An actual hug.  A huge wave of peace fills me.  There is also a discernible connection. It feels tangible, measurable. Basically a lightening bolt.  Something that I think about for days.

This hug was legendary. It felt warm and good and electrifying. It came to my recollection many times over the next few days, and still now it brings back a wonderful feeling of love and comfort and belonging. Oh how I loved that hug. Mitzi's embrace is wonderful!

May 18-22nd, 2017

Damon is flying up to St. George in the morning so he can drive with me to the W/W conference in Provo.  We are going to caravan up behind my kids.  They will sleep at the condo I have rented, but head off in their own direction each day.  Damon is staying at the Hampton Inn.

Late in the evening Madalyn tells me she does not feel comfortable driving her own car up I-15 tomorrow.  I text Damon and ask him if he will drive one car, and I will drive the other. Maybe one of my children can ride with him (whom he has never met).  He is super cool about it.  He drives 1/2 way with Maddy and 1/2 way with Lizzie.  They both enjoy getting to know him.

Lizzie drove with me the first half of the trip. She was kind and mature and a great conversationalist. We connected on reading because we both like to read. And particularly we had both read and benefited from a book called "Tuesdays With Morrie". I'm writing this on Nov 8, 2019 and want to say that Lizzie has been kind, accepting, and a good friend to me starting with our drive up to Provo. She's never treated me in a negative way, not even a tiny bit. She's amazing and I'm so grateful for her maturity and friendship and acceptance.
Maddy drove with me the second half. It was wonderful! She is also a great conversationalist. Mitzi had told me that Maddy was socially reserved, something I can totally relate with! I was surprised that Maddy wanted to ride with me and was really glad she wanted to. And Maddy was very open and interactive and we had a nice and comfortable time getting to know each other better. Maddy has also always been kind, accepting, and a good friend to me.
Sydney has also always been kind, accepting, and a good friend to me. I've heard so many instances of teen and adult children in a situation like this being unkind, unloving, and mean to the new person their parent is getting into a relationship with. All of Mitzi's children have been and are wonderful to me, there's never been a single instance of anything negative. I am so grateful – my sensitive soul thanks them too :) I love them and hope they feel loved and appreciated by me.

We take a long walk once we arrive in Provo.  He holds my hand for the first time.

We had walked around the several blocks a time or too and I didn't want to stop. The conversation was so interesting, I was enjoying holding Mitzi's hand and feeling connected to her through the physical touch and conversation. I think we ended up walking around the several blocks about 5 or 6 times! Delightful! I was wearing new Crocs shoes and they were cutting into the skin on my feet but I didn't care, it was worth it.

We decide to go to the Payson temple in the morning instead of the W/W conference. We do an endowment session together and enjoy sitting in the celestial room for a while. Damon asks me, "Who were you in the pre-existence?"

"I haven't ever though about that.  Who were you?"  

"A builder."

He is indeed a builder. I have come to understand that extensively.  

The next day we attend the Provo temple and do sealings.  We snap our first picture together. Damon takes me to "Taste," and we have a chocolate sampling and share a chateau board.  It's delicious.  He buys me a Hungarian chocolate bar with star anise and caramelized lavender. It's out of this world amazing!

I meet two of Damon's sons and their wives.  Also his darling little granddaughter.  I meet his parents twice.  They are all very nice to me.

We go on a hike up a canyon and see a gigantic anaconda snake..... Damon might disagree on the type and size ;)

I think it was a couple feet long. Mitzi saw it before I did. She let out a semi yelp/scream and jumped back. Ok maybe it was three long :) It was pretty good sized. I thought we could just walk around it and started to, but Mitzi made it plain that wasn't going to happen. We decided to turn around and walk back to the car.

Damon has made a list of everything he thinks I should know about him.  He tells me about his financials, medical history, feelings about the church, his aversion to manual labor, some last tender memories with Tiffany.  He wants there to be NO big "surprises."  It's a very kind and open gesture.  I have never met anyone like Damon. I try to return the favor.

I was familiar with several instances were a man didn't tell the woman he was marrying things about him that she should have known. I DID NOT WANT TO BE THAT GUY! It's so unfair. People need to make an informed decision about marriage and it's unfair and plain wrong to not be open about it.

Over the past few years I have reflected on this day.  I have been thankful for his honesty and frankness.

We drive back to St. George.  I take him to my school and show him where I spend my working days.  We get in the car and he asks me if I mind if he lays the seat back and naps for a few minutes.  I have come to know this is common for Damon. He sleeps for about 15 minutes.

When he wakes up, he tells me he really likes spending time with me.  He would like to continue our relationship.  He has a desire to kiss me, but what he wants the most is to develop a healthy relationship.  He has learned that adding a physical component just muddies the waters, so he's not going to kiss me.  

"Would you mind reading a book?"

(I feel like I am constantly caught off guard by what he says.)  

"Ummmm, okay.  What is the book?"  

"How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk."  

The title is shocking! He explains the research and thought process beautifully.  I have studied human development extensively.  It sounds like a brilliant idea.  

I download the book.  Damon flies back to Arizona.

June 8 - 10, 2017

Damon invited me to Arizona for the weekend.  He booked me a hotel at a Marriott close to his house.  We attend the temple in Gilbert, I learn more about Damon's food preferences, I meet his two daughters, we watch "Mr. Beans Holiday" (something new to me), we go to a nature preserve.  We spend a lot of time talking about the Jerk book. He wears that iconic green shirt again ;) I feel very comfortable around him.

(Lizzie made Damon the "What's wrong with being #2" sign.  On their long drive a few weeks ago, they discovered they share a favorite book and a favorite quote from"Tuesdays with Morrie." She hand-lettered it out for him :)

The picture with the sandwich – I made a peanut butter and cornflake sandwich. Mitzi thought it was strange so I had to dramatize for a bit of fun. I love the crunch and think it's awesome. I made her a brisket. She's doesn't like meat very much and eats is conservatively, so I was happy she liked the brisket! Going to the temple with Mitzi was very comfortable and peaceful. I was very happy and content to be there with her.

We both have some busy summer plans for the rest of June, in fact, Damon is heading off to Ireland!  We decide to get together again in July.  I figure out Damon does not own any shorts...... hmmmmm I may see some in his future ;)

July 2 - 6th, 2017

Damon has made plans to be in Utah County during this week for a Janis family reunion.  He has invited me to join him.  I talk to the girls and Logan.  We decide to rent a house on the banks of Jordanelle Reservoir.  We will make a family vacation out of it!   It's a large house.  Maddy invites a friend.  Lizzie makes plans to meet up with friends.  Damon decides to stay with us as well.

Damon rents a convertible and we enjoy trips through the canyon with the top down. We attend family parties on the Janis and Woolstenhulme sides, hike Mt. Timp, go boating.

.....and we decide it's probably okay to share a first kiss......that lasts for 4 hours.  I remember making out for hours as a teenager..... those days before marriage and sex. And now..... it's just like then :)   However, experience reminds me this phase does not last long..... either the relationship will end, or I will marry him :)   Oh man, life seems too weird at times.  

July 10th, 2017

It's a Monday.  Damon is back in Arizona and we are all back in St. George.  Damon sends me a text and asks me if he can call me tonight.  He has never called me to chat.

In the evening my phone rings.  He tells me the home he is leasing in Arizona will be up for renewal in September.  He is thinking that instead of staying in Arizona, he would prefer to move to St. George to explore our relationship further.  How do I feel about that?

I am scared, shocked, and happy.  I just happen to be wearing my Janis Family Reunion shirt today. Damon's mom was very kind to make sure I had one at the reunion.  I take a selfie and send it to Damon.  I think I would enjoy him living closer.

July 20 - 29th, 2017

Sometime early in 2017 I make it a goal to stay sane :)  Make it to my birthday.....July 29th.   Push through the surgeries, teaching school, Maddy's graduation, getting her resettled ........ Then I will take a break from my new life and take a trip by myself somewhere for a few days.  I don't mind vacationing alone one bit!   A birthday gift to me....... for surviving thus far!  Sounds a little weird and extreme, but life is so heavy.  I need a goal set out there in the distance.

As July approaches I share my plan with Damon.  Really for no other reason than to let him know I will be gone for a week or so the end of July.  As usual, his response surprises me.  He asks if he can come.  I think about it.  I'd like his company.

In early July I purchase a condo in Salt Lake City for Maddy to live in while she attends the University of Utah.  It will also provide us with some extra income for her college expenses.

For the past week we have been dismantling part of the Pebble house furniture to pack into a truck and take up to the condo.  Damon offers to fly up to St. George and drive the U-haul truck to Salt Lake. We all work on setting up the new house for a few days.

On the 24th of July the kids are back in St. George and Damon and I are headed to Oregon.   When we check into the airline they offer a First Class upgrade for a reasonable fee.  I have never flown first class.  Damon jumps on it!  He loves first class!!!  While we are in the air I smell chocolate chip cookies baking!  They bring us hot cookies on a glass plate with milk!   Mine is delicious!  (and so is most of Damon's cookie ;)  

Mitzi sent a text and the picture of us on the airplane to her girls and said, "We may or may not be in first class!" That made me smile and very happy to introduce her to the experience.

He arranges for us to rent my all time favorite vehicle..... a Land Rover.  He sings along to his play list as we drive.  We rent a two story cabin on a river.  It's beautiful and peaceful.  I have some homework to keep me busy.  Damon teaches a Lifestyles class and endures some technical problems with Discovery.

I introduce Damon to "Father of the Bride." We find a chiropractor that can help Damon with his back. We hike to several beautiful waterfalls.   We share all kinds of delicious food.  He introduces me to Pho...... Mmmmmmmm!  We spend hours sharing life experiences.  We talk about the possibility of marriage and decide if we still like each other at the end of October..... that may be a great time.  

August 19th, 2017:

It's Damon's niece, Elaine's wedding. I attend the ceremony with him in the Bountiful Temple. His family is very nice to me. Her reception is at a park and the food is so unique. A week ago I was at another temple wedding, but I was there alone. The feelings of widowhood are magnified at family and church functions.  It is so nice to be to this event with Damon. On the way home we stop and spend some time with Navy.

August 30 - Sept 3rd, 2017:

Damon flies up over Labor Day Weekend.  It is his last visit before he moves to St. George.  We spend time celebrating Lizzie's 16th Birthday!  We take a drive up to Pine Valley, hike around the reservoir, and share a pizza.  

As we walk back to the car, Damon asks me if I think we are healthy enough to be considering marriage. It's a question I have wondered about at times.  It's also an area I don't really want to dive deep into.  I'm afraid of the answers.  I'm afraid of what grief has permanently done to me.  But I feel hesitantly positive things will work out..... so I spew forth some words of encouragement about our situation and we drive home.  

However, quietly I continue to think about this in my head for the next few months. Prior to Brandon's accident, I had been though some very tough situations.  These situations had, at times, left me feeling sad, anxious, overwhelmed.  But I still felt like me.  

The accident and aftermath was different.  Life and myself as I once knew it, seemed to be gone.  I experienced all consuming grief.  The ability to plan or look forward was completely wiped out.  Every bone and muscle in my body constantly ached. I could sit still and think of almost nothing for hours. Every once in a while, when I was alone, a racking sob would course through my body.  

Others who had carried this kind of grief before reassured me it was all normal.  I guess it seemed only logical after losing my love and my life.  They told me I would find ways to live with the grief and forge a new life.

The real question for me then is: Can I carry this grief, this extreme loss, into a new marriage? Can I make a new life with someone who also feels the same type of pain and complete loss? I am not sure.

I do know that despite the grief, I have found joy along new paths.  Damon is one of these new paths.  He is different than anyone I have ever met.  His friendship and perspectives have caused me to re-think my ideas about remarriage and the value of companionship.  I am actually hopeful for a future that involves him.

Sept 8th - Oct 28th , 2017:

I fly to Phoenix to help Damon pack up his belongings into a small U-haul.  I am happy, but this task feels serious and heavy.  It seems a bit like we are venturing into a great unknown.   He tells family members in Arizona goodbye for now.  There is a definite shift from the thrill and excitement of dating, to a new Real Life..... Can we make something of it???

We settle into a routine of work, family life, and responding to regular life demands. All the while, we continue to learn new things about each other almost daily.  

There are unique items to check off "the list" when one decides to remarry after widowhood.  Medical tests, family gatherings (inspections),  lawyers drafting up  pre-nups, emails to announce plans to extended family members, figuring out which pot pays for what?   Things that don't even cross your mind when you are young and poor.  

And then there are the simple logistics:   Old marriage routines that the both of us had been participating in for more than a quarter of a century.   What is going to work?   What is going to be a problem?  What side of the bed do you sleep on?  How do you launder your Sunday shirts?  Oh, there's interesting things to consider the second time around :)

October 27th, 2017:

I woke up and went to work for 1/2 the day today.  Why?  Because this new life seems so uncertain and strange at times.  I need to stick with a routine that is familiar to me...... so I work 1/2 the day.  (I'm so weird!)  Damon is a wonderful person whom I love very much, but am I really getting married today?  

My two work colleagues, Chad and Mark, swing by my room with breakfast to celebrate me embarking towards a new life.  It is a kind welcomed surprise!  I haven't told anyone else at the school I am getting married today.  I simply arrange to take the following week off.  No one dares ask questions to a widow.  

I teach sewing to about 90 kids during the AM hours.  Just like normal, I take pictures of their finished creative work....  and then my sub arrives.  I walk out the back door, drive to Harmon's and buy fancy bread, fancier cheese, and some treats.  I drive home to meet Damon and then we head to Manti.    

It was a wonderful, peaceful experience.  (You can read the details in Damon's "Beginnings" blog post)  I felt beautiful and loved and like life was going to be okay.

October 27th, 2019:

Today's the second anniversary of the day we joined forces.  As I reflect back, I am surprised at the bravery we both showed.  I am also surprised at the life I have lived the past two years. I would have bet on winning the Powerball, before I bet on experiencing this chapter of life ;)

During the past three years I have learned that having your spouse die changes EVERYTHING within you.....from food preferences to self confidence.  From family / friend relationships to financial status.  From mental and physical abilities to future goals.  It’s not all terrible, just disorienting, and at times, a bit overwhelming and alienating.

As the reality of the old me returning has diminished, I have felt bad for Damon.  He’s been sold damaged goods!  I wish I could show him just how capable I was in my old life, but it's just not there.  He has listened to me and acknowledged my losses, and then reassured me that he’s fine with this version of me.  After all, that’s all he’s ever known ;)

Around the two year mark of Brandon’s death, 3 of my 4 kids had moved out.  They were doing a great job making independent lives for themselves. I was proud of them, but struggling to keep up...  work, the house, the yard.... they had helped me so much in those first few years.

Damon suggested I hire some help..... and possibly consider retiring from teaching and living a life that would work better for me.  I could not wrap my head around it.  One day he said....

“I’ve noticed you really like the Royal Family.  Do you think it’s bad they get help with their gardens and their castles?  Do you think it’s bad that they live off of passive income streams?”

“No.... ?”

A few days later, I received a crown in the mail......

Of course, this new life has been far from trial free.  And I am in no way trying to give the appearance that life has been easy or we have been perfect in helping each other through new life adjustments, but for me,  the scales are tipped far in the positive direction.

Damon, thank you for your patience and love as I have continued to figured out this new life.  I hope it lasts long.  I cherish my time with you.  Love, Mitzi