Friday, July 21, 2017

All my trials

God does not give trials.
Sometimes we have the misconception that a divine being is sitting up in the clouds handing out afflictions based on people’s needs or misdeeds. And of course we never receive anything greater than we can cope with. I call BS on that idea. My idea of a loving God is not one who inflicts such horrendous pain and suffering upon his kids like some kind of disgusting medicine. Can you imagine doing that to your own kids!? “Hey JJ I love you to pieces but I know what’s best for you and here’s what the doctor ordered...heartbreaking agony!”

I sure hope not!
JJ's first southwest trip
Sharry in 2013


Here’s what I have learned from a year of suffering and from others much wiser than myself.
God does not give us trials. Life can be magical, joyous and full of light but it can also be miserable and full of absolute difficulty and suffering. And there is no rhyme or reason to it except that sooner or later we all will face be knocked down by some inevitable pain, trial or heartbreak.

I believe God can help us find support, strength and meaning from life’s very unfortunate storms. In a year where I have missed my beloved Shar more than I ever imagined possible and have shed innumerable tears I have been incredibly supported. Family, friends and strangers have been God’s hands and voice in my life as they have reached out with compassion and love. I am amazed that I have survived this year with strength I didn’t know I had. There were many nights where I longed to be dead and with Shar whether that be in a paradisiacal afterlife or simply in the dirt. Those nights now come further and further apart. I have found much meaning in my new life in diverse forms. JJ, our baby boy, gives me a reason to live and live well. My suffering has been a seed for great compassion to grow in my heart which I can use in my job as a counselor and generally as a human being toward all living things. Sharry’s life and legacy also bring extraordinary meaning to my life as I want to be more like her, cross off her bucket list and live life to the fullest (x2) for both of us.

Here is a poem that has touched me deeply about finding meaning from sorrow
Kindness by NAOMI SHIHAB NYE

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

In closing who do you think JJ looks more like...at one year?


Thursday, June 15, 2017

One year

JJ turns one year old this Friday. On 6/15/16 of last year, Sharry and I were anxiously and excitedly waiting for our new baby and our duo to become a trio. Life seemed so full of promise, hope, and excitement as we attempted to coax out baby boy by walking around the block of our newly purchased first home. I sincerely felt on top of the world. The next morning on 6/16/16 came the cataclysm and in an instant our world was torn asunder. My Sharry, my best friend and twin soul of 11.5 years was lost from this Earth as she gave her life for her beautiful baby boy.

It has been one hell of a year. A year of absolute heartbreak and complicated grief. A year of learning to live in a new dismal normal where the absolute worst case scenarios can and do happen. A year of intensely struggling as a single parent. A year for faith trials full of doubt and despair.

Yet it has also been a year of tremendous learning and growth. Here are a handful of lessons learned this year:
  • I have learned that life is incredibly fragile and we must absolutely consciously and explicitly cherish and love those closest to us
  • Life is both extraordinarily magical and utterly miserable
  • There is pain, suffering and heartache everywhere. When you go through a severe trial people begin to open up and share their own storms creating a network of love and compassion
  • Compassion is my new very favorite word in the English dictionary (com=with, passion=suffer) and it is now one of my life’s missions to live and teach compassion along with its needed sibling, empathy
  • Searching for truth and life after life are definitely worthwhile yet slippery pursuits
  • People, very much including complete strangers, can be so good, generous and compassionate in the face of suffering
  • I love Deckers and Buhanans more than ever. Our families have been the critical life raft upon which JJ and I have clung and survived despite the torrential storms
  • Babies are extremely exhausting and so damn cute. JJ is both my anchor to this life, my literal piece of Sharry and the number one source of stress and exhaustion.
  • I no longer judge parenting. If they are not abusive and doing their best then my hat goes off to them.
  • Humans are resilient. If someone like me can survive the very worst of nonviolent tragedies than so can you. In Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Option B she writes about losing her husband at a young age and describes resilience as a muscle that we can strengthen. I agree.
  • Love is expansive and not limited. After losing Sharry I thought my broken heart would never be able to truly love deeply again. That has not been the case but quite the opposite. My love for Sharry has not been diminished in the least and my capacity for love has expanded. I love JJ more than I thought possible. My love for my students, family and friends has only deepened. As Mother Teresa and other wise teachers have taught, suffering carves out our heart to love more deeply.
  • I can, I must choose to believe in hope and joy

JJ and I will strive to continue the legacy that Sharry lived and espoused, to cherish experiences and relationships above all else. I choose to live a full life with love and adventure and in her place JJ and I will need to work twice as hard to fill the void her light and life leaves in the world.

And I offer my heartfelt gratitude to you reader whether you be a family member, friend, acquaintance or complete stranger for your love, generosity, prayers, good vibes, compassion...everything over the last year. I believe Shar is grateful to you as well.

Here are some adorable one year birthday pictures (taken by my talented sister) of the cute little JJ and I know if his angel mama has any choice in the matter she will be with him on this day of celebration and loss. Also you can play a JJ by the month quiz game and/or offer him birthday wishes, embedded below or link here.









Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day

This Mother’s Day is a very difficult day.

I of course am poignantly reminded of my missing love, best friend and JJ’s mama. I am reminded just how cruel and heartbreaking life can be. We live in a reality where a completely innocent baby boy is robbed of his loving mama in a freakish turn of events and she is deprived of a future for the crime of wanting to bring more love and life into the world.

Last year, Mother’s day 2016, was one week before Sharry’s baby shower at a time when she was anxiously awaiting the arrival of baby George (that was our top name choice at the time). We had just barely moved int our first home where Shar had created a beautiful nursery. She was nervous with anticipation feeling JJ’s movements and jutting baby parts and couldn’t wait to meet this new human who she already loved so incredibly deeply. Of course 39 days later when JJ did make his entrance into this existence Sharry was on her way out. They never even got to meet...at least not physically.


It would be very easy to throw up my hands and say what kind of hell on Earth creates situations where motherless children exist!? But that is not the entire truth of the matter. JJ has not been left motherless. I really hope and choose to believe that he has a guardian angel mother watching over him. Is it the same as having her in the flesh? Of course not but unfortunately for whatever reason that was not a choice for us.

JJ has so many loving mother figures in his life. One day a week he spends with one of my cousins who is a mother of two school age boys who look forward to seeing JJ every week after school. She is intuitive, kind, patient and loving with JJ. He loves spending time with her and her family. Another day every week JJ spends with one of my sister in laws. She is a mother of two darling girls who dote on JJ as if he was their own baby brother. She is loving, skilled, generous and compassionate. I thank God and Shar for both of these moms.

JJ and I are both so blessed to have my mom and Sharry’s mom here in St George as an intricate piece of her lives here. Sharry’s mom watches JJ at least three days a week. It is a beautiful sight in the morning when I drop JJ off to see him light up and reach out to Grandma Buhanan. This relationship is a powerful connection for both of them to their missing mother and daughter. Grandma Buhanan is so sweet, loving, patient and attentive AND she is able to share with JJ some of the powerful love that she has for her angel daughter through stories, toys, experience and presence. If Sharry does still exist and has some autonomy I’m sure she spends many days with these two.

My own mother for all intents and purposes is JJ’s adopted Earthly mom. This is both incredibly heartbreaking and so deeply fortunate. He looks to her for comfort, love and support and he finds it. I am so grateful for the emotional, physical and parental support that Grandma Decker brings to mine and JJ’s very complicated lives. When the foundation of my former life was ripped from underneath me of course my world came crashing down but my mom, just like when I was a child myself, has been a significant part of rebuilding my life in the last 11 months. I am so deeply grateful to her and I know Shar is/would be too.

The mothers in our lives teach us what true love is. Yes love can be exciting, expanding and so deeply fulfilling yet it is also selfless, patience and goodness in action. I know one of the most important lessons these moms (Shar very much included) have taught me in my life is that relationships are what make life worth living and I hope to live according to that legacy.
Two pictures by another amazing mother Sarah, who is doing the beautiful art for a children's book we're writing



Saturday, April 15, 2017

I wonder...

Ten months. Easter Sunday is JJ’s 10 month birthday. We are in freaking double digits! 303 days since I was forced to say goodbye to my beautiful and beloved Shar. Like sands in an hour glass time moves steadily on. As is typically the case the time has both felt like a blink of an eye and slogging through the hours as if I’m stuck in tar.
Easter 2015
Spring historically is my favorite season. It brings warmth, color, light and life. This spring most days after work we go on JJ and daddy hikes exploring the beautiful red rocks of southern Utah. I’m sincerely loving my job where I feel so fulfilled and supported. Nights however can very much still be a struggle. It’s ironic, compared to winter, but as there is more and more sunlight throughout the day when the sun sets I can feel ever more poignantly the weight of loss, darkness, grief and despair in the center of my chest.

Fortunately I have a pair of terrific supports (among a host of others) in my life that are helping me manage and deal with this darkness. They include an insightful and compassionate therapist who I see monthly and an intuitive and energetic spiritual guide. This spring, independent of one another, they have both challenged me to embrace creativity and curiosity. To wonder. After nearly 12 years of confidently knowing the direction and purpose of life, that is sharing the day to day adventure with Shar cherishing all the beautiful ups and depressing downs. I no longer feel that spark and meaning in my heart. I grasp to KNOW of things that humans simply cannot know. So I hope and now I wonder.
Shar at art festival 2015
art festival 


Instead of fearing and agonizing over what the utterly blank future holds. I wonder what students I may be able to help, what adventures JJ and I will go on, what beautiful souls I’ll get to meet and learn from. Instead of fearing the unknown, if Sharry and God do literally exist, I choose to be grateful she was mine and I was hers for 12 amazing years. To choose hope, belief and wonder. What is she is doing now and if she gets to be our guardian angel? To wonder what if Jesus lived and died that we may overcome the grave? To wonder what if the Buddha lived and awoke to share a message that is the key to overcoming suffering? Instead of a host of other negative places to which my mind so readily returns, I worry, I fear, I don’t know, I am not good enough...etc. I am trying to embrace my inherent curiosity and wonder what life (here and in the next) have in store. I wonder if this will work haha but wish me luck!

This is what the philosopher and the poet share in common: both are concerned with the marvelous. Amazement is the beginning of philosophy. Wonder is a kind of desire in knowing. It is the cause of delight because it carries with it the hope of discovery. -Thomas Aquinas

Continuing the "wonder" theme with one of our fave baby songs

Saturday, April 1, 2017

#livelikeShar for JJ

People often ask me how I am doing. This can be a very complicated question to process so typically I give them a generic “alright/fine/ok, how are you?” I think to break it down more precisely compared to 9 months ago I’m at like a B+ but compared to a year ago I’m still an F. It is all extremely relative.


One of things that has most helped me work up to my relative B+ is this heartbreaking realization, Sharry literally gave her life for her son, for JJ and our love. To briefly get biblical, “Greater love hath no (wo)man than this, that a (wo)man lay down her life for her friends.” (John 15:13). Sharry gave everything for her baby and the very least I can do is to live my life for our baby. No question this is easier said than done. Just holding this thought and goal in my mind and heart fills me with profound tenderness for JJ and I like to think that at least a portion of where that love comes from is his angel mom filtered through me.


I want to be clear. My life is not sunshine and nonstop JJ and Daddy fun. I struggle. A LOT. The BD3 would not be surviving if it was not for an amazing support network composed of Deckers, Buhanans and the staff and students of my school. I am not very patient, I get grumpy when I’m sleep deprived (serious caffeine addiction in the works), and between my overwhelming grief and learning to be a daddy I often feel so lost and alone. There are nights when I remind myself that JJ would have been far better off if I were the one to die and his angel mama was still here with him rocking him to sleep at night and holding him close to her heart. BTW I really do believe that but obviously it’s not something I need to have my mind dwell on...at all.


But I am trying. JJ and my job, where I’m able to love and help lots of awesome and sometimes frustrating teenagers, are the two reliably great things in my life. I adore and cherish the little guy and with Sharry as my guide (through her love, writings and roadmap) I am trying my very best in my broken B+/F state to celebrate life as much as I possibly can and to live for JJ...my literal piece of her.


Enjoy some beautiful JJ 9 month pictures courtesy of my talented photographer sister Jennifer Kastleman. Isn’t he a cutie!? And his eyes look brown like his mama's in most of these pictures!








Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sharry memory: backpacking Europe

I am so very fortunate to have Sharry’s journals and thousands of awesome pictures to remember my M.I.A. twin soul. Even with the wealth of memory aides she left me one of the absolute greatest fears I have is the inevitable fading of my own memory. This fear is one that I avoid confronting when at all possible. Of course many of the “big picture” memorable things will never completely disappear but the small things and details might. To lose what her voice sounds like when she first woke up, some of the silly little fights, how it felt to hold her in my arms watching trashy tv, the smell of her skin after a good hike, the multitude of stupid little inside jokes and all the stupid, adorable and cheesy moments that came together to create the beautiful Sharred Buhanan-Decker relationship.


After I publish our children’s book, Sharry’s scholarship is discovered, and I save Hyrule in the new Zelda game I plan on starting a LoveSharred memoir in a sorry attempt to have my say in our magical relationship. I want JJ to be able to read the beautiful words of his angel mom and also read his very human dad’s perspective as well on some of our adventures and day to day life. For now our blog will have to suffice until the memoir work begins.


Backpacking Europe
We went on many adventures together but probably one of the grandest was when we backpacked through Europe as very poor newlyweds for six weeks. Sharry had made a deal with her parents that if we did an extremely inexpensive wedding that the remainder of the budgeted money could help us trek across western Europe. So our beautiful wedding day, December 28th, 2006, was done on the cheap...pinata and all (a loveSharred memory for another time pershaps).


That summer we left to Europe planning to travel as cheaply as possible because frankly we had no other choice. For six weeks Shar and I slept in train stations, airports, parks, campgrounds, under bike racks, empty lots, and occasionally hostels. Sharry was always so brave. Half the places we stayed I would nervously hum and haw before following her lead into slumber. We never spent more than $20 on a meal. I think we ate at a sit down restaurant one time the entire trip. The majority of our food consisted of bread, cheese and some kind of fruit. I seriously doubt anyone that I know did Europe so cheap. Remember this is before everyone had smart devices so we had two backpacks with about 3 days worth of clothes (that we would wash in public bathrooms when the stench would grow too great), way too many guide books, sleeping bags and a tent and no way to get in touch with anybody back in the states aside from a calling card we used 2-3 times.


Our trip was amazing. It was a foundational experience to my life and definitely to our relationship A six week period that deepened our already strong relationship with romance, fear, excitement, beauty, passion, art, sleep deprivation and adventure. For six weeks we relied solely and completely on one another and our love and friendship blossomed as a result. I want to share some of my most memorable highlights without referencing Sharry’s journals. Of course we did the typical touristy stuff  that we loved but I wanted to share what may be somewhat unique to our experience. You can see Shar’s brief post about our trip here.


We began in England.
  • On the very first subway stop of our lives Sharry took way too long getting her stuff together and as I exited I turned around to see the doors close with her on the inside with a look of absolute panic on her face. We had no hotel, no phones, no plan and we were separated on our very first day. Fortunately she waited at the next stop for me to catch up...mostly because she was mid panic attack.
  • The Tate Modern was probably my favorite museum of the entire trip.
  • Shakespeare’s Globe. However in the cheap “seats” you are actually in the very packed bottom pit where you are not allowed to sit. We had our huge bags on our back and everytime one of us would slump over from exhaustion a very stern usher would reprimand us that such behavior was not permitted.
  • Sleeping in the Heathrow airport 2-3 nights (I can’t remember for sure). Every morning we would be woken up by airport security asking what flight we were waiting for and our plan was to say “Chicago” every time...it worked. We learned to prize chairs that did not have arms because you can lay on a row of them. Actually for months afterward whenever Shar and I saw some good benches we would comment on what a good sleeping surface it would make.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral
  • Abbey Road. I walked across barefoot to be like Paul
  • Freezing, June 2006 in London was very cold and rainy
  • Learning to check our bags at a museum first thing in the morning so we wouldn’t have to carry them all day
  • Being almost blown over by mega winds at Stonehenge but loving our van ride out to the location because it was our first soft surface to take a nap on since the plane
  • King Arthur and the holy grail. We drank the red tinted water which was supposed to lead to a long life.






Next we went to Ireland
  • We took a ferry where everyone else got sleeper rooms but we with our low funds did not. We ended up finding a quiet open spot of ground to lay down. We were woken up by the captain of the boat after all the other passengers had mysteriously vanished.
  • The Irish did not know what to do with our Eurorail student passes so instead of using some of our days there they just punched the corner...which didn’t make any sense but definitely saved us some Euros.
  • Taking a train to the end of the line when we forced off and had no idea where we were. We got off and found the nearest lodging. It was like a $100...no way that was happening so we setup our tent right by the tracks on the other side of some railroad ties.
  • Ireland is incredibly green, cold (for June), and full of very kind people.
  • I had an entire conversation on the train with a kindly older gentleman where I do not think either of us had much comprehension of what the other was saying. Even though we were both speaking English our respective accents were just too damn thick. I remember at the time having an incredible hope and fantasy that he would invite us to stay at his place with a soft bed, a shower and a hot meal haha.






France
  • When we got to Paris we scouted out some benches in their large train station however when we attempted to bed down for the night we were shooed like vermin. So past 10pm we were wandering the streets of Paris trying to find a place under $60 to stay...a very difficult task. One fun memory. After like our 4th strike we found ourself in a fairly questionable neighborhood and Sharry was crying as we dragged ourselves down the street. Being the good compassionate husband I am I got after her saying, “Shar STOP! crying only makes us a target for all the shady people around here...let’s just go home.” Around midnight we finally found a place. I think it was the only non-hostel room we stayed in the entire trip...it was paradise. We had our very own sink to do our laundry in!
  • The Louvre, watching Sharry tear up as she saw the Mona Lisa. The beautiful soul of a sensitive artist.
  • Going to the Eiffel tower late in the afternoon so that we can see Paris both in the daylight and at night
  • Notre Dame
  • Delicious street vendor cheese crepes







Switzerland
  • The breathtaking Alps
  • The kind people who speak like 100 languages
  • Setting up our tent in an open field on a stormy night realizing we put the rain cover tarp inside out so I had a steady stream of drips on my forehead throughout the night
  • Beautiful hikes with the best hiker I know
  • A hostel where they had a hot tub way up in the Alps fueled my wood fire
  • Arriving in a sleepy Swiss town after 11pm and finding absolutely everything closed. It was rainy so we decided to layout our sleeping bags under a covered bike rack. We woke up at 6am to a high pitched moped horn that had found it’s daytime resting place occupied
  • Staying in a hostel that had 1 wall that was the mountain. You sit in the bathroom and can touch the rock wall!
  • “Flirting” with two young female swiss college students and spending the rest of the six hour train ride in silence. FYI no flirting occurred haha
  • Walking along beautiful Swiss lakes







Italy
  • Arriving in the magical Cinque Terre past 10pm, where somebody was blaring the White Stripes (which oddly made us feel at home...USA, USA) and finding a little tucked away corner to lay down our mats on the cobblestones. Every time a train would come by it would wake me up and I was Shar’s pillow so I had a huge kink in my neck the next day.
  • Gelato. I think we spent more on Gelato than any other one food.
  • Italy was where we really discovered the paid city campground. You can find them in cities all over and they are significantly cheaper than hostels and safer than park benches and train stations.
  • Rome. Lots of museums and ancient sites. The Coliseum. Christian Catacombs.
  • Sharry got her haircut like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. I loved it, she could rock any look.
  • The Vatican. Rubbing St Peter’s toes.
  • Exploring ancient Christian catacombs and thinking to ourselves this would be an ideal location for slumber.
  • Street vendor Pizza
  • Calling home with calling cards
  • Sleeping in a train station and being given change because people thought we were homeless. Also in these situations people would often ask Sharry if she was ok...little did they know this was her idea.
  • Michelangelo’s David in Florence.
  • Wandering through Venice in the rain.
  • Having a very buff Venetian follow us for like 20 minutes that just kept telling Sharry in his limited English, “You are very beautiful, coffee with me? Please you are very beuatiful” She would respond thanks but I’m with him gesturing to the significantly less buff nerdy american. He literally tried 4-5 times. He was probably hoping for a test of strength in which he would have beat me with one bicep.
  • Sleeping right outside the Venice train station. Sharry was on a bench and I was on the cockroach ridden ground beside her. We were very jealous of other street sleepers who had good cardboard to sleep on. Also weird midnight deals were going on all around us throughout the night. One of the more sketchy nights of the whole trip.
  • The ruins of Pompei
  • Taking a “vacation from our vacation” in Sorrento where we camped and swam for three days

















Germany
  • WEIRD city campgrounds with HUGE bugs
  • Walking the path of Berlin Wall
  • Fighting over who got to take a picture in front of “Checkpoint Charlie” because we both wanted to be in the picture and both hated asking strangers to take our picture. Of course the picture ended up with neither of us in it!
  • Our first night in Berlin we were looking for some obscure hostel that we never found. Instead we ended up at a building that used to be a hospital but served as a summer camp that was not open yet. They let us stay there because they didn’t have the heart to turn us away in the middle of the night. It was an eery place to stay in the middle of an empty hospital just the two of us!
  • Loved the German rail system
  • Dachau concentration camp. Somberly holding each other as we had seeds for social justice planted in our hearts.
  • Munich zoo
  • Crazy Neuschwanstein castle





This is the type of thing that would have never happened if it were not for Sharry’s passion for adventure and a life dedicated to love and experiences rather than accumulating stuff and the status quo. I thank God daily that our 12 years together were so full thanks primarily to her and I plead with Him/Her that an eternal adventure together awaits.

Little thing about Shar not to forget: She would often randomly exclaim, “I love babies and bubbies (me) and cuties, and kitties”

And of course some JJ pics to this already very long post. His 9 month checkup was great!