September has always been a special month for me, partly because it is the month of my birthday, partly because it is also the month of the birthday of my oldest child, and partly because it marks what for most of my life was my favorite season.
During the past eight years, however, September has become even more special to me. I realized the other day that this will be the first one in eight years that I have mainly spent at home ... and as I reflected back on the past seven Septembers, I realized that, in addition to everything else, September has become a month of memories for me ...
As September 2011 dawned, I had just met Mark several weeks before. I had also been unexpectedly served with divorce papers. Mark had long planned a road trip up the northern California and Oregon coasts, and he asked me to go with him. It was a tough decision: my professional and family situations were precarious. On the other hand, I knew instinctively that this was an opportunity to follow my heart in a way that I had never done before. I chose to go, and as a result, my life was forever changed.
|Wine tasting in Sonoma|
|Mark drawing "Mark Loves Joseph" in the sand on a California beach.|
|One of our all-time favorite pics together, on the Oregon Coast.|
We hadn't been home long from this first trip together when Mark scheduled our second: a cycling trip in Europe the following September. I basically hadn't been on a bike since my mission days in the mid-80's, but never mind. Mark had confidence that I could do it, and after training hard the summer of 2012, we went.
|One of the highlights of that trip was taking my partner back to where I had served as an LDS missionary 27 years before.|
|In the interior of Corsica during our bike tour there.|
|Cycling up to the Col du Galibier in the French Alps.|
Our world was rocked the following spring of 2013 when Mark was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and he was given 3-5 years to live. As we recovered from the shock, we decided to have a commitment ceremony in late August, followed by a honeymoon to Maui and Japan in September. It would also be a homecoming for Mark, as he had spent most of the first 11 years of his life in Japan where his father was a Lutheran missionary.
|On Big Beach on Maui prior to traveling on to Japan.|
|One of my most memorable birthdays: Mark took me to dinner at the Four Seasons on Maui and surprised me with what had become my traditional birthday treat - a piece of pumpkin pie.|
The following September of 2014, we went on another bike tour in Europe, from Geneva to Nice. Afterwards, we went to Rome and Athens and did a week-long cruise of the Greek islands -- something Mark had long wanted to do.
|One of my favorite pictures of us, during the cycling tour in France.|
By the following September of 2015, Mark's health had begun to seriously decline. Nevertheless, we went on a six-week tour of Europe, visiting Venice and Rome, cruising in the Adriatic up the Croatian coast, visiting London, Amsterdam and Bavaria before concluding with a river cruise from Nuremberg to Amsterdam. It was a magical time for us.
|In the Dolomite Mountains on a day trip from Venice.|
|With new friends on our cruise.|
That was to be our last trip together. Mark died the following March of 2016. The cruise company that had organized the Croatian cruise was offering one in Tahiti the following September, so I went on that, partly in connection with the film I had become involved with, partly to see friends I had made the year before. It was one of my first forays into a world without Mark in it.
Upon returning home from that trip, I celebrated my birthday with eight of my ten children. It was to be one of my most special birthdays because of that.
|Eight children, a son-in-law and two grandchildren. A wonderful evening.|
Moving forward with life after Mark's death was one of the most difficult transitions I have made in my life. There was much I needed to process, much I needed to learn about myself, much I needed to ponder as I felt my way forward. I took up cycling again and went on a couple of tours during the summer of 2017. In September, I went on another gay cruise, this one from Rome to Nice. Afterwards, I ventured out on my own with several day trips from Paris, followed by a visit to Berlin where I celebrated my birthday with my friends Dan and Russ.
|With my friend Dan in Rome|
|Mont Saint-Michel in France|
|In Berlin on my birthday with Dan and Russ.|
Now, here I am in September 2018, getting ready to celebrate a landmark birthday. As I look back on these past eight years, I feel gratitude for all that I have lived, for all that I have seen and for all--most of all--that I have felt in my heart. I'm grateful for the love I shared with Mark and for all that we were privileged to see, do and feel together.
But I'm also grateful for the process I went through in the two years after he died and grateful for where I am today, ready for life's next great adventure ...