Sandy died August 7, 2006. This blog was mostly written by me, her husband Dan, but inspired by Sandy’s strength and spirit. This is the story of her last few months of life, and going through two brain surgeries. The beginning of the blog and subsequent entries, can be found in the Archive links to the lower left, starting in October 2005. Note that you have to go to the bottom of each month page to start at the beginning.
And though I’ve posted a few entries since her death, this site was her story so I now only post about the LiveStrong Challenge every year. But this site will stay here as a legacy of her spirit and because she would want the sharing of her experience to help others.
Thank you for reading her story.
The LiveStrong Challenge 2010 is on June 20 in Seattle.
Click here to unite with me in the cancer fight and support my fundraising efforts in memory of my wife Sandy
Sandy died two years ago today.
I would just like to mark this time with a poem that has recently found its way through our circle of friends.
In honor of Sandy, Bob, Jennifer, Tom and all of our loved ones lost to us too young…
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
–by Mary Oliver
Thirteen… Sandy’s favorite number (the day she was born),,,
And on this New Year’s eve at midnight, it’s also the temperature… 13 degrees F.
I’m hunkered around my campfire in the garden that is covered in more than two feet of snow…
Trying to stay warm, whichever side of me is not facing the fire is frozen… must be an allegory there somewhere… so I keep moving and turning around the flames.. and watching the sparks fly upward through the bare branches of the tree toward the cold dark sky and the bright scattered stars…
“Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.” - from an Eskimo legend (and PVD)
Blessings to everyone for the New Year,
From our backyard, December 24, 2007
And on a slightly twisted holiday note, and in the spirit of trying to still believe it’s a wonderful life without Sandy by my side, a little movie starring Sandy and I and assorted family. We love this movie, but I think Sandy with her sense of humor even through the darkest times would approve the new casting…
click here… It’s a Wonderful Life
(You may have to click play or replay a couple times to see the whole thing, since it stops sometimes while playing)
But when the holiday hope fades and a sick sense of humor won’t always make me smile, I have the old song by Joni Mitchell in my head…
It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
But there’s too much snow on the river, so I guess I’ll go back out cross-country skiing.. maybe tonight in the moonlight like Sandy and I always loved doing.
PS — 10:00 pm… The dogs (they seemed a bit perplexed, but happy, at this nighttime jaunt) joined me as I skied around the meadow at the end of our road a few times… along both rivers with the mountains glowing silver all around… there is nothing quite so beautiful, magical and peaceful as skiing in the light of a full moon… this photo I took tonight doesn’t really capture it, but maybe hints at what it was like… a good way to spend Christmas Eve….
I just want to thank the Friends of Sandy team (including those who couldn’t make it but raised money), and all those who donated money through our team to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, for being a part of this year’s LiveStrong Challenge, and to my family and team members for braving the weather…
It says a lot about the thousands of participants who turned out to walk, run and ride bikes in extremely bad conditions — 48-degrees, high winds and pouring rain — putting into practice the words Live Strong. Almost 3,000 participants and 700 volunteers helped raise $1.7 million for the fight against cancer. Even more inspiring was the fact that most of the people participating were cancer survivors — like 10-year old Johan! We met again a few of the people we had connected with last year… such a powerful and loving community. I feel honored to be a part of it.
The spirit of the event shone even brighter through the grim weather. And Sandy’s smile was brighter as well — photos of her from last year’s challenge were displayed on a large video screen and on a poster in the middle of the event village at Nike headquarters. Seeing those photos again, and hearing from people how she still inspired them, was both overwhelming and motivating…
I rode 70 miles with Sandy’s brother Eric, and we had a great and nearly hypothermic ride by the end. We had planned to ride 100 miles but the organizers wisely eliminated what would have been a very dangerous 30 mile section that included a lot of elevation gain and a very steep twisty descent. As it was, 70 miles in those conditions felt like more than 100 anyway. But I felt good most of the ride — motivated to keep moving not only for warmth, but also to pound those pedals for Sandy. A few times during the ride I felt overwhelmed by the emotional intensity of the event and memories of Sandy at last year’s Challenge. Fortunately the driving rain masked my tears and then washed them away…
After the Challenge, we had a great 2-day family/team member reunion at my mom’s house on the Oregon coast… sailing in her husband Jim’s classic wood sailboat, hiking to a lighthouse and rocky capes with huge crashing waves, and long beach walks, and of course mom’s home cooking.
The ocean was again a powerful healing force… of my cold, very sore body,,, and my soul that feels Sandy’s presence and love for this place and this life… feeling blessed that I am here to soak it in — in all its grand and wild, wet and cold fury — and to keep trying to Live Strong like she did…
This Sunday, September 30, our team “Friends of Sandy” will participate in the LiveStrong Challenge in Portland, Oregon. Some of our team will be walking and running a 5k course and other team members will be riding bikes up to 100 miles, myself included.
We return to honor Sandy and her strength and spirit and live life attitude that brought us all to the challenge last year. It was her finish line… she died one week later on August 7, 2006.
Lance Armstrong meets Sandy
It’s not too late to donate to the Lance Armstrong Foundation to help and empower those affected by cancer. Click the link below to go to our team page and click on any of our team member’s names to make a donation…
Sandy and I at the LiveStrong Challenge
[from the Lance Armstrong Foundation website]
But you only have until Thursday September 27 at 7am pacific time to donate for this year’s challenge. Thanks…
Today was looking like another sad anniversary to mark the time without Sandy in my life…. my 50th birthday.
It took me a awhile to get motivated this morning but I decided just hanging around home wasn’t going to honor the day or Sandy. So I decided to go for a 50-mile bike ride… it was the 50 miles to get back home that were the tough ones. I hadn’t ridden a century, 100 miles, since before I got hit on my bike in 2004. It took me 7-1/2 hours of riding to do it, instead of my old usual five to six hours. But I survived. I’m in a huge amount of pain right now, whole body feels hammered especially my injured knee is on fire, and I’ll be paying dearly for it for the next few days, but it was worth it. Isn’t there an old saying that you should be able to ride twice your age? Hope so.
It’s not the hitting 50 that has me sad (and sore!). Sandy and I always used to say that 50 is hardly old, and you should be happy to make it there, and why do people make such a big deal of it anyway The hardest part is not receiving one of her always sweet and special birthday cards. But then again, maybe I did…
Early this morning, just as the sun was coming up over the ridge, I took the two dogs for their usual walk down to the river. And there, floating on a quiet and calm part of the river, was a large flock of Canadian Geese. In the early light they looked especially beautiful just floating peacefully on the water, not even bothered by the dogs. It was an unusually large flock to be in such a small area on the water I thought, so something made me count them… 50, exactly… and a Raven watching the beautiful scene from a nearby tree… perfect.
One year ago today Sandy died. Every day that passes without her by my side is an anniversary as well. But today is different — I had hoped not as painful as her birthday/our first date anniversary July 13 — but these markers of time passing are like… markers of time without her.
I had planned to spend today quietly at home. Sandy must have had a hand in changing the schedule just to keep me occupied and thinking about other things. Most of my days are not scheduled or arranged at all, but today, of all days, I had to go through a court deposition being questioned by a lawyer for three hours (related to when I got hit by a truck while riding my bike), and a couple of other appointments I had no control over, and at the end of the afternoon… I’m firmly dedicated to donating blood every time the Red Cross comes to town every 6 weeks — and of course today was the day. So all that kept me running all day, but tonight the waves are rolling in… but before I go…
I have wanted to share something with you, but I wanted to wait until they were all safe and out of the nest….
You might remember that on the morning of this day a year ago I read the last several chapters of The Secret Garden to Sandy.
Here’s the first paragraph of Chapter 15 almost at the end of the book…
“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles. In the robin’s nest there were Eggs and the robin’s mate sat upon them keeping them warm with her feathery little breast and careful wings. At first she was very nervous and the robin himself was indignantly watchful. Even Dickon did not go near the close-grown corner in those days, but waited until by the quiet working of some mysterious spell he seemed to have conveyed to the soul of the little pair that in the garden there was nothing which was not quite like themselves–nothing which did not understand the wonderfulness of what was happening to them–the immense, tender, terrible, heart-breaking beauty and solemnity of Eggs. If there had been one person in that garden who had not known through all his or her innermost being that if an Egg were taken away or hurt the whole world would whirl round and crash through space and come to an end–if there had been even one who did not feel it and act accordingly there could have been no happiness even in that golden springtime air. But they all knew it and felt it and the robin and his mate knew they knew it…”
Almost a month ago, just before Sandy’s birthday, I was sitting on our front porch step watching the dusk turn to darkness. Usually I would be sitting in the garden behind the house but the neighbors were having a loud party so I went to the front porch where it was quieter. As I sat there in the darkness, feeling sad, I slowly became aware of a bird chirping loudly and insistently from a tree across the road. I recognized it as a Robin call and thought what a strange bird to be chirping so indignantly to the night, because by this time it was almost totally dark. And then all of a sudden the chirping stopped and I heard the bird swoop into the tree right next to me. Then it dawned on me… there must be a nest in this tree.
The next morning I quietly and carefully looked out the bedroom window into the tree. To my amazement, and very close to the window, was a Robin’s nest with four newly hatched birds in it. I could look down into the nest from about four feet away, seeing everything — the parents feeding their young, the baby birds snuggled into the nest. It was beautiful and amazing… and if I had not been sitting on the front porch that night I may never have known about and been able to witness this miracle right outside the window.
Every day I would check on the birds, watching them grow and change. And they became aware of me — both the parents and the young — but they didn’t seem afraid of me. They would stare at me - and at such close quarters it seemed like a real stare - and then resume their feeding or sleeping.
Very quickly it seemed, the young birds grew so large they were almost pushing each other out of the small nest. I was worried I would see one fall out. But soon the young birds were flapping their wings, standing very unsteadily on the edge of the nest and launching themselves off for a first flight. To think that we humans are thrilled, rightly so, to see our children take a first step… but these guys are taking a first FLIGHT. I felt like I was in that nest with them trying to help… but over a few days I watched them take that leap out of the nest (the last one I was worried about because it was about four days after the others had left before he finally decided to go, just a few days ago). But they all appeared to fly away safely…
And now the nest is empty… but I still count my blessings that I was able to be a part of something so beautiful…
Thirteen. Sandy always said it was her lucky number. She would have been 46 today. And July 13 is also the anniversary of our first date. Sandy called me on her birthday in 1989 and asked me out for dinner. I almost said no, but something made me say OK. Turned out to be the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life. So 13 has been my lucky number too.
Feeling real sad, I was going to stay home just so I could stay closer to Sandy here in our garden. But something made me get going and head out to go to work. My office is about 25 miles away. So despite the forecast for a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, I headed out on my motorcycle. (I just started riding two months ago - first time ever on a motorcycle - a story for another day. Don’t worry mom, I’ll be OK.) I was about five miles from my office when all of a sudden dark and ominous clouds rolled over the mountains to the south, coming my way. Since I figured it would only get worse as the day went on, I got to my office and turned around to head back home. Too late… about halfway back I found myself riding through a huge thunderstorm — lightning strikes all around me and pouring rain. Some of the lightning strikes were very close and thunder shook the ground. I kept riding… all the while thinking “lucky number 13″… and it’s a Friday no less.
And I was also remembering the huge thunderstorm that evening of our first date, holding each other in my house and watching the storm. We always thought that storm was a good sign for us.
As I got close to home a big lightning strike hit a mountain ridge straight in front of me. By the time I arrived safely back home smoke was rising from that spot on the ridge and helicopters were dropping water on it all day. And as it turned out, that was the only thunderstorm all day.
Riding through that storm set the tone in my heart for the rest of a sad and special day…. waves of rain… flashes of light…
Yesterday, June 22, would have been our 11th wedding anniversary (though Sandy and I always celebrated our real anniversary as well, the day of our first date and her birthday - July 13th). So to honor the day yesterday, I had my master gardener friend Barb help me pick out a large quantity of flowers to plant in our garden. It will be really beautiful when I get them planted today. And it will help me remember how blessed I am to have had what we had…
“…I have found in you, Sandra, an unexpected teacher (and not the 3rd grade kind). A teacher of what is important in this life. There is an unstoppable compassion in you for other people and, of course, other creatures as well. You put care and concern for others ahead of your own needs, and you do that just because it has to be done, not for praise or reward. You are my rock of love, kindness and powerful, heartfelt emotions. When my Irish cynicism starts getting the better of me, you’re right there with that incredible Scottish smile to set me straight again.
I believe it’s true that to have lived a good life, you must strive to make life better for someone else. I believe that both of us are doing that for each other. And that is part of what makes our love so great.
You and I have shared so much the past seven years, and it has all seemed so easy and right, that I try not to take for granted my good fortune. And that’s what today is all about… to celebrate our love with family and friends, who also help make our good fortune possible. And I look forward to much more with you Sandra… All my love…”