The seventh anniversary of Leslie’s death passed on March 31st, 2022. A friend took this photo of me by her memorial tree three days before that date.
I put this slide show together from a collection of photos I had.
It’s November 24th and Denver has still not seen any snowfall, which is a record for the latest date to receive any accumulation. So what do we do under these conditions? We fret about climate change, worry about how it will impact future generations, feel smug about the solar panels on our roof, the hybrid cars we drive, the bicycles we commute to work on, and play in the seventy-degree weather as though Denver were Miami or San Diego.
Yesterday I took a bike ride with five friends from Confluence Park down to the Chatfield Dam and back, stopping for lunch at Hudson Gardens. On the way back through a complicated detour on the trail one of the riders told his wife of about a year (a second marriage for both retired individuals) to lead the way, and when she took off he teased her to slow down because she was leaving the rest of us behind. I asked him what he was thinking, hooking up with such a strong rider, and he replied that they had met on a bike ride. This, of course, started me talking about Leslie, and all the riding we had done together, and her competitive spirit on the bike. I had to stop myself.
I am reminded by others that I mention Leslie often. Do they mean I have become tedious when they tell me this? I don’t know. It will be seven years since her death the end of March. I often find myself returning to my neighborhood thinking about what a nice place it is to live, and remembering the process Leslie and I went through before settling on this part of Denver. I am always struck by how much more I would be enjoying my home and my neighborhood if she were with me, but even more I can’t help thinking of all the joys of living she has been denied. Even with the anxiety of climate change, the political divide and lack of civility our country is experiencing, and the uncertainty we face, every breath is a privilege, every step is a gift, every sight is a treasure that she has been denied. As long as the weather encourages riding outside, I will take her memory riding with me, and if it ever snows again in Denver, I will remember her in the snow.
I opened Facebook yesterday and there was a memory I had posted from 2013 announcing that Leslie and I had been selected by lottery to participate in Ride the Rockies. It turned out be be a great vacation. I’ve posted Leslie’s diary of the trip on another page of this website. Coincidentally I met Jennifer, a woman I dated for a while a year ago, for a bike ride later in the day yesterday, and we talked a little bit about bicycle vacations. Jennifer is a very different person than Leslie but has some of the qualities that I valued so much in Leslie. She and I had some good times, and I don’t know if our relationship would have continued if the pandemic had not hit. I think we were both recognizing that we saw our relationship from different perspectives and that ultimately it would not have worked, but it is nice that we have renewed our friendship. I like that she is independent, active (cycling, skiing, camping, playing music) and is politically progressive without being obsessed (which I cannot say for myself [yes I’m progressive, but also obsessed]). All this is to say that I am lucky to have made some good female friends over the past few years, but I think about Leslie as much as ever, and still miss her very much.
Spring is only a few weeks away. I was thinking about that as I drove home yesterday. The weather will be getting warmer, the country will be opening up as more people will be getting vaccinated. Today is about three-weeks shy of the 10-year anniversary of our moving into this house. Leslie and I had three great years together here with her in good health, and one year making the most of knowing she was terminally ill and taking advantage of every day she felt well. It’s now coming up on the six-year anniversary of her death. I really try not to think about what life would be like if she were still with me, but neither do I suppress those thoughts when they come. I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing I was coming home to an empty house, and especially feeling sad that Leslie was being denied for another year a chance to watch the pelicans return to Sloan’s Lake, watch the crocuses and daffodils break through the soil, watch the fruit trees blossom, and feel her legs ache riding up Lookout Mountain for the first time after spending three months on a trainer indoors. And of course I selfishly felt sad for myself, knowing that I would not feel her arms around me when I got home.
I’ve kept the covers on the patio furniture on the front porch. One of these nights the overnight temperature will stay above freezing and that will be a sign that it’s time to take the covers off, and maybe sit out front and practice some fiddle tunes (Interesting that they call them fiddle tunes but a lot of them, though perhaps traditionally played on the fiddle, have been made famous by the likes of guitar players Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Tony Rice, and Brian Sutton) that I have been struggling to learn. I’ve been talking for a long time about having my friends Norma, Ruth, and David over for a whisky tasting when things warm up and people are comfortable with relaxed social distancing. I’ve also be hosting a song circle every Wednesday night. When things open up we can start playing live music together again. Yes!
Today has been an emotion-filled day. It was the second day of the United States Senate hearing of the case for the impeachment of Donald Trump presented by the United States Congress. Yesterday was heartbreaking as America watched videos of violent mobs storming our nation’s capitol and sending our elected lawmakers into hiding out of fear for their lives. Today was more of the same, and my resentment toward Republican lawmakers can only be described now as a total lack of respect for them as it becomes apparent that they will make any excuse they can find to avoid convicting Trump of inciting this riot. All honest people know he is responsible. Perhaps listening to the impassioned speeches of Democratic members of the House of Representatives led in part to my several weepy moments throughout the day. I also finished watching` a short HBO series called “The Night Of” which was very moving but hard to watch. The show included a cast of characters that are more typically cast in terms of good and bad. This series was much more subtly written than most TV dramas. In this show, the viewer was forced to feel some sympathy for the most hardened criminals, and had to accept that the hero of the series was at times dishonest and weak. Even the most sympathetic character commits an act which is devastating to her and others, for which she is completely responsible, while a seemingly weak and flawed lawyer is shown to have a side that makes one’s heart break for him.
When I’ve had days like this before I’ve sometimes later realized they coincide with anniversary dates of one event or another. I went back to read Leslie’s diary entry from exactly seven years ago. On this date we met with a neurosurgeon from the University of Colorado who was a co-investigator on a clinical trial for glioblastoma. This date is not especially significant, but the entire first two weeks of February are, since this was the period when we were coming to grips with Leslie’s diagnosis of a terminal disease. I read on to the next day’s entry in her journal and it helped me remember that she decided very quickly that she did not want to participate in a clinical trial that held very little promise of extending her survival or improving her quality of life, and would mean she would have to make personal sacrifices in order to meet the demands of the trial. I remember at the time some of her family did not initially understand why she would not pursue all available treatment options.
Going back to the impeachment trial, I am especially saddened that I have people that I care very much for that don’t view Trump’s behavior the same way I do. I know I can never talk to them about what is the largest event in our recent national history without breaching our friendship, but I don’t know if it can be avoided. One friend in particular, I fear, has been avoiding what has become a pretty tight-knit group through a Zoom song circle during the pandemic. He is a talented and valued member of the group but has not participated since the January 6th riots. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but we all miss him and wonder if he either doesn’t want to risk hearing the rest of us weight in on what has been going on, or else is glued to Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity for support during these divisive times. Who knows? As an aside, although Joe Neguse is not my representative in the House (Diana DeGette is), he is from Colorado, and we should be proud as a state to have him speak as someone representing us.
This website is devoted to Leslie’s memory, and is not supposed to be about me, but I see that my posts are starting to be about my own thoughts and state of mind as I adjust to life without Leslie. I suppose that is natural. I don’t want to stop updating the site, so I will continue to add my thoughts from time to time.
Leslie has a granddaughter – Noa. She was born in September of 2019 and I will create a page for posting pictures of her when I have time. When I think of how much Leslie loved her step granddaughters Ainsley and Elliot it is heartbreaking (maybe heartwarming) to think how thrilled she would be to hold her own granddaughter, the daughter of her son Lukas. When she died I don’t think Lukas knew for sure whether he ever wanted to be a father. But I am proud to say that both he and my son Jeff are two of the three most loving fathers I have every observed. These two children, Noa and Owen, who are only a few months apart in age, will grow up experiencing guidance and support that few children know. I am looking forward to becoming a very old man just so I can watch them grow, along with Ainsley and Elliot, as they also both prosper under the equal devotion of their father Sam.
Finally, I’ve been thinking about my experiences with romance since being widowed. These thoughts also contributed to my shifting moods today. I don’t know if I am typical or not of upper middle-aged men (do I have to say elderly at 70?) who start dating again after the death of their wives. I should come with a warning that any woman interested in me will have to accept being shared with the memory of Leslie that I will carry to my death. This is not a choice I make. It is a part of who I am. I was told by the woman with whom I was most seriously involved that I had had enough time to forget Leslie. This seriously damaged our relationship. My memories for Leslie would have in no way limited my ability to care for her, but her attitude did. Of the several women I have gotten close to in the past five plus years (the majority strictly platonic) I feel a great deal of gratitude and affection, in a way that is very different than if I were in my late teens or twenties thinking about finding a mate. Somehow I feel a permanent bond, even though some I might never have contact with again. I can’t really explain this, and I doubt that the feeling is reciprocated. And that doesn’t matter. It is nice to know that in my mind a connection was made.
Today the United States Senate begins hearing arguments on whether or not to proceed with the trial to convict Trump of impeachable offenses. I think all in the world who are paying attention and are honest with themselves know that he is responsible for the January 6th riots, and that his actions were an attack on American democracy. But he will not likely be convicted because he has a loyal following among right-wing voters and Republican politicians are fearful of alienating those voters. This is very sad. When a large segment of a country turns superstitious and ignorant, or more accurately when the superstitiousness and ignorance of a large segment of our country becomes increasingly evidence and influential in our political process, why is it that our leaders become obsequious rather than try to educate and enlighten? Is this the end of our country’s evolution toward a fully-free, fair, and democratic society, or simply a stall in that process? We shall see.
It has been not quite six years since Leslie died. In that time I have watched several friends receive diagnoses or cancer, have witnessed friends and relatives contract COVID-19, and seen others come down down with heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic conditions that require ongoing treatment and limit their ability to take part in physical activities that have been important parts of their lives. A friend who had been living a long time with a treatable form of blood cancer finally succumbed a few weeks before Christmas. A hiking and music companion was diagnosed last spring with multiple myeloma. Although a stem cell transplant promises to give him a good quality of life for years to come, he is clearly not the vital outdoorsman that he was but one year ago. A woman that I became friends with shortly after Leslie died was diagnosed with bladder cancer not long ago and has undergone very unpleasant treatment with an uncertain long-term outcome. Last week I met a very good friend who had told me a little over three years ago that he had been recently diagnosed with lung cancer, even though he had never been a smoker. At the time he said new treatments were likely to keep him very healthy for another three years or longer, but the disease was not curable. About six months ago he told me that his treatment was no longer working and that his oncologist was switching to older, conventional chemotherapy and radiation to treat tumors that had spread to his brain and kidneys. I just met his last week and found that he is now confined to a wheel chair, bringing back memories of Leslie when her disease had progressed. These are only a few examples of the many friends, relatives and acquaintances of ages similar to mine who are facing health challenges. I consider myself very lucky at this point to only have to take one medication to treat complex partial seizures, but I think about my own mortality more often these days. My seizures are well controlled and the medication doesn’t seem to have any side effects.
As of this morning, about 4.2% of those eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Colorado have received their first dose. I am among the lucky, having received my first Moderna inoculation on January 21st. I am eager to get my second, which is scheduled for February 18th. Now there are reports of several mutations of the virus with uncertainty of how effective the vaccines will be against it. I’m not sure what all this means, but just like current events in the United States highlight the fragility of democracy and civilization itself, the ease with which the Corona virus has spread across the globe and now mutated to evade prevention and treatment, I’m aware of how fragile human existence on this planet is, not just for us as individuals, but for the entire species. The mantra we kept hearing when it was apparent that the virus was not a fleeting thing was, “We’ll get through this.” Many of us have not. Many businesses have not survived the pandemic. Relationships have suffered and fallen apart, foundations of faith have crumbled, and we have watched the ability of our country to unite in addressing this challenge fail. On the other hand, we have come up with new ways to communicate, engage in commerce, entertain ourselves, and create. If the vaccines are successful in establishing herd immunity, and if we can avoid new pandemics in the near future, we might emerge stronger, wiser, and humbler. We shall see.
When I was six my little sister Beth came down with the flu one evening. She was pretty sick the next morning when I went to school, and the last memory I recall is of the doctor, having made a house call, pulling a tongue depressor out of her mouth with a long strand of mucous attached to it. Later that afternoon my father walked into my first grade classroom, picked me up from my desk, carried me to the car, and drove home without speaking a word. For the rest of the day my parents were unable to speak when I asked where Beth was. Days later, in an effort to comfort our whole family and help us accept Beth’s death, my Grandfather, a Lutheran minister, along with my Grandmother, told us Beth was so special that Jesus had called her up to sit by his side. When my Mother protested in angry tears, my Grandfather said that we had to accept God’s love and his will as an expression of that love.
I’m not sure if this was the moment that set me on a course toward agnosticism and ultimately atheism or not, but I never thought Leslie’s contracting cancer or our hope for her survival had anything to do with God, although I don’t think either of us ever doubted that love and hope between and among humans has powerful emotional and possibly physical healing potential. I never blamed God for her cancer, nor did I appeal to God for her recovery. I’m fairly certain Leslie did not either. But we do have friends who are religious who told us they were praying for her.
In the past year I’ve had a number of friends and relatives who have experienced health crises, and have asked me and others to pray for them. Of course I want to channel all the positive energy I can toward their survival, recovery, and good health, and send them my love and hope for the best. But I would be a hypocrite to let them believe I am appealing to God for a positive outcome. Each time I see a post, receive a note, or have a conversation wherein I am asked to pray for recovery from a serious health condition I am reminded of my Grandparents’ words, and the reasoning that follows. If I were religious, and if I accepted their words, then I would have to accept that God had a reason for inflicting Leslie with brain cancer, and similarly had intentionally given cancer to my friends and relatives, given that God is all knowing and all powerful. Therefore, in asking me to pray for recovery and cure, I am being asked to ask God to change his mind. Either this, or I would have to believe that God perhaps had not been paying attention or his powers had slipped when they contracted their diseases. But then, God is the creator of cancer, is he not?
My heart breaks for those I care about who are suffering and scared, and going through uncomfortable treatment with no guarantee of success. And I cannot hear about or watch what they’e going through without being thrown back to the fourteen months that Leslie went through. Most, I hope, have better prognoses than Leslie did, and are suffering from conditions for which medical science has developed much more effective treatments. A network of loving, caring, hopeful, well-wishing friends and relatives can only add to the odds of long-term survival and complete recovery. In the meantime, I won’t pray, but I will contribute to organizations that fund cancer research and provide support for patients and families of cancer survivors.
Sunday I was headed downtown on my bicycle to meet some friends and together we were going to head down to the demonstration protesting the brutal killing of George Floyd. On my way there I realized I forgot to put my mask in my jersey pocket and so thought better of joining a large crowd, given the risk of either contracting or spreading COVID-19. Instead I continued riding down the Cherry Creek Trail to Washington Park to ride a few laps before heading back home. It was a warm day and lots of people were out, and very few were wearing any facial protection. Recent reports dismissed the risk of contracting the virus while exercising outside, as opposed to standing shoulder to shoulder shouting or singing in a crowd, and the risk to cyclists and runners/joggers is deemed to be especially low. It was nice to see so many people being active, but it also creates a hazard on the trail. Walkers with headphones and earbuds don’t hear warnings from cyclists approaching from behind; inexperienced cyclists either don’t handle their bikes well or are inattentive; other cyclists who are used to less crowded conditions on the trail ride recklessly, not adapting their riding style to the more congested circumstances (I might be a bit guilty of this.).
Washington Park is home to the Eugene Field House. Built around 1875, this house was the home of the well-known journalist and writer Eugene Field, who was the managing editor of the Denver Tribune and lived in the house from 1881 to 1883. After Field moved to Chicago in 1883, the house fell into disrepair until a local group of preservationists convinced Margaret Brown to purchase the house and donate it to the City of Denver in 1927. As part of this preservation effort, the house was moved from its original site at 315 W. Colfax to its present location, where it has served as a branch of the Denver Public Library system and more recently as the headquarters for Park People (www.historycolorado.org).
Behind the Eugene Field House lies a quiet space where people come to enjoy the shade, beauty, and solitude of the Hazel Gates Woodruff Tribute Garden. You can commemorate a person, relationship, organization, or event with a personally inscribed brick paver. Requests are processed and installed three times each year. The cost for an engraved paver is $100. (http://theparkpeople.org/What-We-Do/Park-Legacy-Program)
After Leslie died I purchased an engraved paver in Leslie’s memory, as did an anonymous friend of hers. I decided on my first lap around the park to stop and spend a few minutes in the quiet space alone, thinking about how much I miss and will always miss Leslie, how much my life has changed in the five years since she died, and how difficult a time she would have believing today’s state of affairs. I still cannot get on my bicycle, pick up my guitar, or go out onto our back patio without thinking of Leslie or wishing she was with me. I have met several wonderful women since losing Leslie and while I have recognized each for the unique and special individuals that they are, I may still unconsciously and unfairly project qualities of Leslie onto them in my mind, or create expectations for a new relationship that are unrealistic. I don’t really know. Leslie would be horrified to learn that Donald Trump is our president. She and I worked together to help get Obama elected in 2008 and really believed that our country was on a path toward true progressive reform after he took office. As a nurse whose most recent job was to promote wellness and lead teams on disease prevention she would be disappointed at our country’s response to the corona virus, but would no doubt be on the front lines combating the pandemic. She would be so disappointed at how divided our country is over race and social justice.
I completed my afternoon by riding back to Confluence Park on the Cherry Creek Trail, on around Sloan’s Lake and up to Crown Hill, thinking about the many privileges I have had in my life, including the privilege of still having my life, my health, my family, my friends, a sense of love, a desire to love again, the privilege of generally being treated fairly by our social justice and economic systems, and the tremendous luck I have had to be able to stay comfortable and safe during the pandemic. I continued to ride, pondering the responsibilities and obligations that come with these privileges and this luck.
When I got home I picked up my guitar and put a few chords together and began composing a song that I completed and recorded the next day. I know that throughout the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and since, music has helped motivate us and helped us vent our frustration. It might just be a selfish, vain indulgence for me to write and record these amateurish creations, but I will continue to do it. I hope by sharing them they make some difference.
Sixty-two years old is still very young, in my mind. I’ve been riding bicycles with a group of retired people this summer who are mostly that age and older, and all are fit, active, mentally sharp, and healthy. Of course, there are many people much younger who must live with chronic health conditions, and others who have not had the luxury to tend to the things that keep them healthy. I have said many times how ironic it is that Leslie’s field was health promotion and disease prevention, and she lived her work (sometimes to the annoyance of friends who hadn’t quite drunk the cool aid), and that in spite of her habits she was stricken with brain cancer at age fifty-six.
I carry Leslie’s memory with me always, and I always will. Not everyone understands this. Some people think I am hanging on to grief. That is not the case at all. My love for Leslie, and our relationship together, changed who I am. I would never want to deny that, or go back to who I was before I met her, or live without the gift of her memory. I recently had a relationship that ended, in part because the woman I was seeing kept waiting for me to “get over” losing Leslie. I am over losing her, but my time with her is a very big part of who I am. Anyone who is going to get to know me well is going to have to understand that part of me. I know anyone who has been in a truly loving relationship and has experienced the death of a partner will understand that. We don’t ever forget our parents after they die. They shape who we are. It is the same with a spouse we have loved. There is room in the heart for new love, but asking for it to replace the memory of someone you loved before who has died is to not understand.
I went to a charity event last night at a local brew pub. It was an auction of bicycle parts and accessories to benefit an organization that promotes cycling in low income communities. While there I encountered a colleague of Leslie’s from the VA, someone who had been a good friend of hers, whom I had not seen since her memorial service. I recognized him immediately and we enjoyed touching base, and it was an immediate reminder of how respected Leslie was professionally, and also how delightful she was to work with on a personal level. At the same event was another mutual friend who had paced Leslie when she ran her first marathon. He was an experienced and excellent runner, having completed many marathons in well under three hours. Leslie’s goal was to finish in under four hours, and this friend was sure he could keep a pace that would get her in under that mark (They succeeded). I was able to introduce both these men to each other at the event last night, and share a moment of remembrance on the eve of Leslie’s sixty-second birthday.
As I meet new people I come across some with qualities that are similar to those I admired in Leslie. When I meet women who cycle I think of all the times I chased Leslie up the road to the Sandia Crest or up Lookout Mountain. The women I see swimming or running make me think of her dedication to fitness and the hours she spent training for the sprint triathlons she entered. The people I meet through the acoustic music community in the Denver/Boulder area remind me of her playing the mandolin and fiddle, and the fun we had writing parody lyrics to old songs. I hear a lot of talk about various bluegrass festivals around Colorado and elsewhere, and remember Leslie’s account of running off to Telluride with her mandolin in one of the early years of that festival. And, of course, her love of nursing and her devotion to health care had so much to do with who she was and how she lived her life. And I will always think of her easy laugh, and her delight in being around the people she loved.
Before Leslie had her surgery, she knew there was a chance she would not survive it. She asked that if she didn’t we would have her cremated and distribute her ashes at the top of Lookout Mountain, one of her favorite cycling spots. Luckily, her surgery went very well and she enjoyed another thirteen months of life. When she finally died she was cremated and her ashes were divided into three sets. One set was distributed at the base of the memorial tree that we planted along the eastern edge of Sloan’s Lake in Denver, a flowering crab apple tree that was made possible through a donation in Leslie’s name to “People for Parks.” (This was to fulfill a later request of hers.) Another set was distributed at the base of a red maple tree planted in Leslie’s memory in Vorheesville, NY, the town where she grew up. I also kept a small set, thinking that I would have a small vase, sculpture or some other piece of art made that would incorporate her ashes into pottery or glass. After more that four years I never had this done, and after reading through her diary posting that she made before her surgery, and being reminded of her wish to have her ashes spread on Lookout Mountain, I finally gave up on the idea of a piece of art, and decided that a resting place on Lookout Mountain would be most fitting for the set that I had kept.
Today was Denver’s “Bike to Work” day. I used to participate in this event every year, although it was just a formality for me, being a fairly regular bicycle commuter anyway. Since I’ve been retired, I’ve felt a bit left out by all the publicity in the weeks leading up to “Bike to Work” day. So today I decided it would be a good day to ride up to Lookout Mountain and distribute Leslie’s remaining ashes.
In the local news last night there was a story about a local hiking trail (not on Lookout Mountain) that had been closed due to mountain lion activity. I’ve seen bobcats in the wild but never mountain lions. It’s fairly common for trails to be closed temporarily in the fall due to rattlesnake activity and sometimes due to bears, but I had not ever heard of trail closures due to mountain lion activity. I went to sleep last night having made up my mind that I would carry out my plan this morning, and as I slept I dreamed that a mountain lion attacked me as I was kneeling and spreading the ashes. I awoke thinking that it would not be an entirely unfitting way for me to die. Then, this morning, about a mile from the top of Lookout Mountain, I passed a sign warning of recent mountain lion activity in the area and telling people how to deal with a confrontation with one. A little further up the road, I was startled as I rounded a corner by a buff-colored animal only a few feet to my right on the side of the road. It took me only a moment to realize it was a deer, not a mountain lion, but I’m sure it caused a jump in my already elevated heart rate.
I found a fitting spot to ceremoniously empty the pouch of ashes on the north side of the road that winds up to the Boettcher Mansion and the Nature Center and Preserve. It was a beautiful day to take a bike ride, and the mountain top was lush and green after an unusually wet spring. Today was the first day this year expected to reach a temperature of ninety degrees. I’m lucky to be able to do this ride during the week when the traffic on the road is light. Because the descent is full of turns cyclists can ride down a lot faster than cars can drive, and on weekends you will find many frustrated cyclists having to break behind slower cars on the way down the mountain. Today I was able to ride back down into Golden without a single car in front of me, imagining Leslie right with me the whole way down. Oh, how she loved flying down that mountain on her Trek Madone!