Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Magic of Christmas: Touched By Cancer

"It's a special kind of love ..." 

It was a last-minute decision. When I was in Tahiti in September, my friend Dan and I decided to go whale watching on our last morning on the island. We couldn't get on a tour with some of the others from the cruise we were on, so we went with a group of people we didn't know - French and Germans. It was an amazing experience on many levels, not the least because we met a German couple, Miriam and Michael (pictured above), with whom we seemed to form an instant bond. We had boarded as complete strangers and left the boat feeling that we had been friends for years.

Miriam didn't know about Mark's death until we returned home, learning about it through my posts on Facebook and on my blog. Since September, she and I have exchanged numerous messages and she has often left short comments on my Facebook posts. Each conveyed love and friendship and support that again seemed to convey a depth of feeling that had been nurtured for many years instead of during a few short hours on a boat in the South Pacific and across cyberspace in the months that followed.

This morning, I sent Miriam a Christmas greeting, and she responded in kind but then went on to share something she hadn't previously told me. Her father, she explained, to whom she was very close, had died of cancer only a few weeks prior to our meeting in Tahiti.

Miriam and her beautiful father

Suddenly, I understood ... and I marveled. I marveled that life had brought us together, across thousands of miles, to create a bond forged through a common sense of loss. "Special people," Miriam had written of this bond, "are connected in a special way. It's a special kind of love..." And I marveled that the magic of Christmas had revealed the source of this bond, this love.

And as I sat in wonder at this gift, my thoughts turned toward another travel encounter - this one on a river cruise ship outside of Nuremberg, Germany. It was the fall of 2015. Mark and I were wrapping up our last big trip together with a week-long cruise on the Main and Rhein rivers. After boarding the ship and checking-in, we went to a "meet and greet." The first people we met were a delightful couple from Massachusetts. As was the case with Michael and Miriam, we seemed to form an instant bond with Pam and her husband. It was if we had known each other for years. It wasn't until the following day after we saw Pam being lovingly assisted in her scooter by her husband that we learned that she had degenerative MS.

Mark and Pam in Rothenburg

Was it coincidence that the first people we met on that cruise were also grappling with terminal illness? I didn't think so at the time, and my experience with Miriam and Michael only reinforces this belief. I messaged Pam this morning to wish her a Merry Christmas and to tell her I was thinking of her. She replied by sending me a picture of a small Santa figurine we had purchased for her (she had told us she collected them) in Rothenburg. "I think of you and Mark every time I look at it," she wrote. I had forgotten about this gift. What a gift it was to me to be reminded of it.

Cancer/terminal illness and Christmas. On the surface, the two concepts and everything they conjure up seem to be diametrically opposed. But the magic of Christmas seems to reveal hidden gifts.

I'm not going to lie. These past few days have been rough. The pain of losing Mark came back with a ferocity that I have not felt since he died last spring of prostate cancer; and when I dropped my kids off yesterday afternoon, the prospect of spending Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day alone for the first time in my life was bleak and stark. 

I came home and decided to read through some of my journal entries from Christmas 2011 - my first with Mark - and Christmas 2012. Before Mark's diagnosis. As I read, I recalled that Mark and I, despite being very much in love, had some issues in our relationship that we were working through. As I pondered this, I remembered anew what a difference his diagnosis had made in our lives and in our relationship. After he was diagnosed in April 2013, everything changed. What had once irritated or caused friction was no longer important. We entered into an almost magical place where time ceased being linear and every day was special and important. We were granted the rare opportunity to share a love that was refined by cancer. Recognizing this anew last night and this morning was a gift.

I have at various times and in various ways experienced what I call the magic of Christmas. As I dropped the kids off yesterday, there seemed little chance that magic would manifest itself this year. But then, as soon as I said goodbye to the children, I received a kind and heartfelt message of understanding and support from a friend. Then, later in the evening, I received an invitation from my ex-wife to share Christmas dinner with her and my children later today, which I have accepted. Then, of course, came the hidden gifts of being touched by terminal illness.

I am grateful this Christmas morning to be reminded of the beauty of life - a beauty that is sometimes hidden or obscured but which, when we are very lucky, reveals itself. Truly, a magical gift.

Friday, December 23, 2016

On Christmas: "Are They a Couple?"

Four words. A simple question, posed innocently and sincerely. But what lay behind that simple question!

My four younger children (the "Quads") and I had sat down to watch "Yours, Mine and Ours" last night - a 1968 comedy about a widower (Henry Fonda) with ten children who meets and eventually marries a widow (Lucille Ball) with eight children. I have watched the movie at least a half-dozen times over the years with my older children, but this was the first time I had watched it with the Quads. I thought it would be a nice "holiday" thing to do.

We weren't five minutes into the film when my twelve-year-old son asked, "What's the point to this movie?" Ummm, I think there's a lot that I could say about that question, but I'll move on.

A few minutes later, we were watching the scene where Henry Fonda brings his best friend, Van Johnson, back to his house for a drink. As the two men enter Fonda's living room full of his children, my fourteen-year-old son asked, "Are they a couple?"

My first reaction was to laugh, heartily. "No, Aaron. This was 1968. They're just friends." He smiled, pretending to know what I meant, and I let it go. 

But then the import of Aaron's simple question sank in. He sincerely believed it was not implausible for Henry Fonda and Van Johnson to be a gay couple who, together, had all these children. After all, had he not witnessed just that for the past five years? I have ten children. Aaron had lived being part of a family that featured two gay dads. It seemed natural to him that the two men in the movie could be like Mark and me.

That moment made my day. It conveyed to me the lasting impact that the 4-1/2 years Mark and I had together has had and will have on the lives of my children. It was, in a way, a Christmas present to me at a time that I needed one.

For, despite my preparations and in spite of how far I've come in the grieving process since Mark died last spring, I have found these past few days difficult. Grief, it seems, has a way of arising afresh, even after all one has done to absorb its blows, even after one is sure that one is no longer susceptible to its barbs.

I had been doing absolutely fine until this past week. I felt good about my preparations for the holidays. I enjoyed an open house that I hosted this past Sunday, laughing with friends old and new. I was very philosophical about the approaching holidays: after all, I told myself, Mark never really liked Christmas anyway, though he had warmed to it during our five Christmases together.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, I picked up the Quads after school, and their presence at this time of the year seemed to highlight anew, in a particularly poignant way, Mark's absence. Such, I guess, is the power of the holidays. I have, for example, realized this past week how much I miss being able to buy or make a special present for the person I am in love with, and I have realized how much I miss receiving a gift from that person. There will be no such gifts this year, and that, I realized, left a hole in my heart and made me sad.

Aaron's simple question, so sincerely put, replaced some of that sadness with happiness. I realized that part of Mark will always reside in each of my children; that what we shared together will always be in their hearts and minds. And that is truly a gift. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Return of Invictus Pilgrim

In October 2010, I began the process of coming out in a visceral response to a talk given my Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer at the LDS General Conference. 

Once I decided that I had no choice but to come out - at the very least to myself - one of the first things I did was go online and start looking for and reading gay Mormon blogs. Reading these blogs gave me both the courage to keep moving further away from the closet and the desire to start my own blog. In late October 2010, Invictus Pilgrim was born. In one of my first posts, I explained why I had chosen to write under this pseudonym.

I posted on Invictus Pilgrim for a little over a year, then closed it for personal reasons. Except for a brief period several years ago, I have kept the blog closed, also for personal reasons. 

Recently, however, I was reminded how important gay Mormon blogs can be to individuals who are struggling with their sexuality and/or with what to do with it - particularly to those who are deeply closeted. I have therefore decided to make my old blog available again in hopes that both my posts and the many, many comments that were left in response to these posts may be useful to some. The blog was a reflection of where I was "at" at that time. I have journeyed long and far since then; but rereading these posts provides a useful reminder of where others may be at this point in their lives.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Christmas Gift: Remembering Mark, Family and Love

If Christmas is about anything, it's about memories of special times, about nostalgia - not a clinging longing for something that no longer is, but an appreciation of a warm and happy time from the land of the past.

At this Christmas season, the first since my husband Mark's passing last spring, I am grateful for a video that my very talented daughter, Rachel, made and gave to Mark and me for Christmas two years ago (it seems like ten). As I watch it now, my heart is filled with gratitude for all that he and I and our children shared, for the family that we built from the wreckage of my divorce, and for the love than imbued our life together.

This video captures a golden period in the time that Mark and I had. Though he had been diagnosed (with inoperable prostate cancer) for over 18 months, Mark was still healthy and vigorous. We had just returned from a memorable cycling trip to Europe. Less than a month after that Christmas of 2014, however, the pain that would become an increasingly strident presence in our lives appeared in Mark's hip. From that point onward, the inevitable grew ever closer.

I have never shared this video publicly, but I do so now - at this special time of year - in tribute to Mark, to the life and family we had together (and still do, in memory and in the heart), to love, to authenticity, and to life.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

To My Russian and Ukrainian Readers

I've done this once before, and it resulted in a rich and rewarding correspondence that culminated in me having lunch with a gay Mormon man who had replied to my query. So I'm doing it again.

I've noticed that I have had quite a few page views from Russia and Ukraine. I'd love to correspond with these readers if they have a desire to reach out. Please feel free to email me at  (And the same goes for any reader living anywhere else on the planet.)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Family Dinner With the "Original Six"

I well recall the first time that we took the kids to dinner at a restaurant. My ex-wife and I had been married nearly ten years, and we had four children, another one on the way. We were living in Vancouver and had driven down to Portland to visit some of my relatives. While there, we went out to dinner at an Olive Garden.

It was quite the treat, and the kids were mesmerized. Though I was a practicing lawyer, we simply could not afford luxuries like eating out. My wife and I very rarely went out; we had never really gone on any family vacations; there simply wasn't the money. 

Hannah, Adam and Rachel in the spring of 1996

Life got a bit easier, financially, once we moved to Utah twenty years ago this past summer. There were more opportunities to go out to eat, to take family trips, to go to movies.

The Original Six with my dad and step-mother in the fall of 1999


Then came the adoptions and Levi's surprise arrival - four more children in the space of four years. It was hard on the "Original Six" (we had two more sons in the latter 90's). There were a lot of adjustments made, hardships borne. Then, of course, came the multi-year complete breakdown of our marriage, culminating in my coming out in 2010 and in our subsequent separation and divorce.

The Original Six in August 2006

My six older children have been through a lot. I've been through a lot. We've all been through a lot - both before and after the divorce. But we've all grown tremendously in the process, and I'm so very, very grateful for each one of them, for who they are, and for the relationship I now have with each of them.

L-R: My daughter Rachel, son Nathan and his girlfriend Aubrey, son-in-law Dave and daughter Sarah

This past Tuesday night, I took five of those "Original Six" (along with a spouse and a girlfriend) out to dinner here in Salt Lake. (My daughter, Hannah, lives in Vancouver, BC and was missed). It was a banner occasion, marking the first time I had gone to dinner with all five of my local children. The fact that it was the day before the 18th birthday of my son, Nathan, made the occasion even more special.

Me and Nathan

Sarah and Dave

My daughter Hannah was there in spirit.
This picture was taken in early November near Vancouver.

Nathan and Aubrey

Can you tell I'm a proud dad? And a grateful one?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

San Francisco: Wine and Remembrance

I had an opportunity to go wine tasting in the Russian River Valley yesterday with my friends, Chris and Jason. It was fun. Though it was a cloudy, misty day, the landscape was beautiful, the wine was excellent and the company was superb. 

We met up with some of Jason and Chris' friends at the sleek contemporary MacRostie Winery before finishing up at the much more rustic Joseph Swan Winery

There is something about being in San Francisco that powerfully evokes memories of Mark and the good times we had here over the years. I think that's one of the reasons I enjoy coming here. 

Yesterday, when I was wine tasting, I thought of the first time I came here with him. It was September 2011. We had met only a month before but were already deeply in love. One of the things we did was go wine tasting with our friend, Chris, in Sonoma.

Chris and Mark

Yesterday evening, I drove down the coastal road to the house of some friends north of Santa Cruz. Along the way, I went through Half Moon Bay and passed the motel where Mark and I had spent our first night on what would be a 10-day drive up the California and Oregon coast. Further along, I passed Pomponio State Beach, where we had stopped to let the dogs run and where I caught Mark writing "Mark Loves Joseph" in the sand with a big stick.

I have never publicly shared much of my experiences from those first exhilarating days and weeks after Mark and I had found each other in the late summer of 2011. I couldn't share it at the time; I had been out for less than a year and had just been served with divorce papers. My budding relationship with Mark was a secret, something that couldn't be shared. At least not then. Which is why I take pleasure in sharing a bit of it now.

Shortly after returning from that first trip to San Francisco and the coast, I expressed some of what I was feeling and experiencing in a special journal that my therapist suggested I start in the form of letters to one of my daughters. What follows is an excerpt from that journal:
“It was only recently that I discovered what it felt like to be in love, what it felt like to fall in love. And it was and is truly wonderful. Every person should have the opportunity to feel those feelings … to be able to ‘get it’ when they listen to a love song on the radio … to feel the excitement that comes from hearing a beloved’s voice, of merely being in the same room together. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience what it feels like to hold one’s beloved, to experience the emotional, physical and spiritual pleasure that comes from being intimate with one’s beloved … 
“Though I loved my ex-wife, I was – I came to later realize – never ‘in love’ with her … When I married her, I fully expected that to come, that feeling of being ‘in love’ with someone (which is different from 'loving' someone), that feeling of true emotional intimacy; but those feelings never came. In the end, our relationship could perhaps best be characterized as a ‘spiritual-temporal partnership.’ We were parties to a contract which we had entered into because we believed it was what God wanted, and we were doing our best – despite our emotional shortcomings (of both of us) - to fulfill the terms of the agreement, believing that we would be blessed for doing so.  
“But love cannot be reduced to the terms of an agreement. Love is really, in a sense, the essence of what it means to be human … and I have traveled over 50 years to find the exhilarating, revelatory, fulfilling, wonder-ful love that I have found with Mark … 
“We met online through a gay dating site that no longer exists ... Over the next days and weeks, we saw each other almost every day … I fell deeply in love with Mark. I felt a connection with him that was unlike anything I had experienced in my life. I felt like I had known him for years – in some ways, forever. I felt like he was unlocking chambers of my soul that had been shut tight for decades, if not my entire life. I suppose it could be said that I felt that he was/is my soul mate."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Torch Song Trilogy: Holding On and Moving On

Man meets man. The two fall in love, have a beautiful, magical relationship for several years, then one of them dies.

No, I’m not referring to my relationship with Mark, but to the plot of a movie I finally watched the other day called “The Torch Song Trilogy.”* An old one (1988), it had been recommended to me months ago. I had purchased the DVD shortly after; but I guess I wasn’t ready to watch it until now. 

The film opens in the early 70’s with the story of Arnold (Harvey Fierstein), a gay man living in New York. He meets a beautiful man, Ed, with whom he falls in love, but the man is “bisexual” and chooses to end his relationship with Arnold in order to be with a woman. Several years pass, then Arnold meets Alan (Matthew Broderick), another beautiful young man with whom he shares a deep loving relationship for six years. They plan a wonderful life together that includes adopting a child.

Then one day, Alan is killed. Arnold is bereft but tries to carry on with his life, which includes fostering a gay son. Then Ed comes back into his life, having married then left his wife. The climax of the movie focuses on a series of difficult encounters between Arnold and his quintessentially Jewish mother that includes a conversation about Alan’s death and whether Arnold has feelings for Ed. 

The final scene features Arnold, alone, pondering his relationships – with his adopted son, with his mother, with his dead lover, and, ambivalently, with Ed, his former lover. In a poignant scene in his apartment, Arnold sees some oranges his mother had brought from Florida, his foster son’s baseball cap, and Ed’s glasses that had been left behind on the kitchen table. He picks up each of these items and sits down in a chair, holding them in his lap. Next to Arnold on a table is a photograph of Alan. Arnold reaches for it and presses it to his chest, along with the glasses, the oranges and the baseball cap. He is holding on, but the impression is left that he is ready to move on, letting go of nothing that is permanent and beautiful and never to be forgotten, but leaving himself open to what the future may hold.

This scene powerfully affected me. In my mind, Arnold had obviously felt that he wasn’t prepared to “leave” his relationship with Alan. He wanted to hold on, but he wasn’t sure he could move on, holding onto that relationship. Then, in a moment of clarity, he realized he could do both.

I have passed through many phases of grief since Mark left last spring. I have learned some things about myself, about relationships and, I think, about love. Sometimes, it appears, one learns a great deal about something in its absence - perhaps only in its absence, once it is gone. (Come to think of it, I guess a lot of songs have been written about this very thing.)

There is no Ed in my life right now. Perhaps someday there will be. I hope so. I already know, however, that if and when he does come, I will leave nothing behind that is permanent and beautiful and never to be forgotten—not clinging to it, but nevertheless holding it gently yet firmly to my heart while being open to what the future may hold, daring to hope for more that is permanent, beautiful and never to be forgotten.

* "A torch song is a sentimental love song, typically one in which the singer laments an unrequited or lost love, either where one party is oblivious to the existence of the other, where one party has moved on, or where a romantic affair has affected the relationship." – Wikipedia.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Reflections on "How To Survive a Plague": Hospital Rooms

I have started reading the recently released book, "How To Survive a Plague," by David France. In so doing, I am a student of a period of time in American history that I lived through, but was not a part of. The book is a history of people like me, who were born in the same time period in which I was born, who were raised and came of age in the same time period in which I was raised and came of age, and who were, like me, gay; but the difference is they came out and lived their sexuality, but I did not. And many of them died of AIDS, and I did not. And that made all the difference.

And so I read. To learn. To understand. To reflect.

Reflection came yesterday as I read the following passage:
"[In the early 80's] Most hospitals restricted boyfriends [of patients with the yet-to-be diagnosed AIDS] to formal visiting hours, if they let them visit at all, and no hospital in New York would allow them to enter the ICU; nationwide, only one hospital had a 'significant others' rule acknowledging gay couples" [emphasis added].
After I read this sentence, my thoughts turned turned a hospital room here in Salt Lake. It was October 2014. The United States Supreme Court had just rejected an appeal by the State of Utah to reverse marriage equality in this state as mandated by a Federal district court and affirmed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal. I had accompanied my husband, Mark - who 18 months earlier had been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer - to the hospital for a surgical procedure.

Mark's intake nurse had gone through a list of questions with him while I sat by his side. I had not introduced myself, and at one point she started referring to Mark's "family." She hadn't paid much attention to me until she asked Mark whether he had an advance directive. He said he did. She asked if he had brought a copy with him because there wasn't one in his chart. He hadn't.

That's when I piped up and said, "I have a copy in my car if you need it." The nurse looked at me somewhat quizzically. I took the leap and said, "I'm his husband." 

From that moment, everything changed. Her face brightened and she said, "Congratulations." (I wondered if she thought we had just been married after the recent Supreme Court decision.) I smiled and replied, "Thank you. We were married in Hawaii, but as of Monday, our marriage is now legally recognized by the State of Utah." Once again, she said, "Congratulations!"

From that point forward, she included me in the conversation just as she would have done had I been Mark's wife. She asked my full name and wrote down my phone number. A warm glow spread inside of me, recognizing as I did that there would - thanks to the Supreme Court decision - be no issues relating to me being with Mark, no question of who was next-of-kin. The State of Utah (of ALL places) recognized me as Mark's next-of-kin. We were treated as a couple, as a family, not just two men who lived together.

That is why my breath was taken away when I read that, in the early 80's, at the dawn of the AIDS plague, only one hospital in the COUNTRY would recognize "significant others." There then followed a moment of mourning for all those "significant others" who had been denied so much, and a moment of gratitude for all those gay men who had gone before who made possible my moments of dignity and respect with my husband in that Salt Lake hospital room. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

On Christmas: "In An Increasingly Dark World ..."

"In an increasingly dark world, we can be a bright light to those around us and a shining example of Christlike love." 
~ LDS Church Website

Introductory Note: I have expressed the following thoughts as an open letter to my children in response to something I recently read on the official website of the LDS Church.

Dear Children,

When I read the words set out above, I knew I had to write about them. They appear on the official web site of the LDS Church in connection with a program the Church has announced of encouraging their members to do specific activities every day during the month of December in order to be "a light to the world."

Normally, I wouldn't have even heard about this program because, as you know, my interactions with anything Mormon have become increasingly distant and infrequent since I officially resigned my membership five years ago. But one of you mentioned it to me, and I had heard a brief reference to it on one of our local news channels; so out of curiosity I went to the Church's website.

The very first words I read on the page dedicated to the program were those appearing above, and I didn't read anything further ... for quite some time. The reason: this sentence, which sounds so innocuous, immediately struck me as representing so much of what I find troubling about Mormonism and how it has affected me and you in the past and still affects you today, some more than others. For the first time in a long time, I have decided to write on my blog about Mormonism, and because I have discussed some of these issues with several of you in recent years, I am framing my response as an open letter to you. 

I know very well that Mormonism teaches that we live in the end times and that the world is becoming increasingly wicked and that the gulf between "good" people and "bad" people is growing ever wider. But was the phrase, "In an increasingly dark world," really necessary as a lead-in to the above-quoted sentence? Wouldn't it have been so much more uplifting if it hadn't been prefaced by this dark thought (i.e., "We can be a bright light ...")? Why was it necessary?

I suggest the answer is, in part, because of the belief that good cannot exist in the absence of evil. As a well-known phrase from the Book of Mormon puts it, "there must needs be an opposition in all things." So much of Mormonism, as well as much of Christianity as a whole, seems to be not so much "for" something as "against" something. There is so much good in Mormonism, so much "for-ism," which generates light and love; but it is all too often overshadowed and negated by the "against-ism," which tends to generate darkness and hate. 

The belief in the end times and the increasing wickedness of the world also teaches us to view the world as a dark place, divided into good and bad people, that is all too often a place to be feared rather than embraced. Some of you and I have had numerous discussions the past several years on this point - how this belief engendered in you (and me for a good many years) a fear of the world around you and a tendency to view everyone and everything as "black" or "white," "good" or "bad." Among many other things, this worldview teaches people to view others as suspect, blinding them to the light, life and goodness that exists everywhere in the world if one but has the eyes to see it.

Which leads me to my next point. I find the whole idea of being a light to others a bit offensive. I know very well how it is meant in the Mormon context, but quite frankly - and I know most members of the Church wouldn't see it this way - it's more than a bit arrogant, self-centered and opportunistic. It is, after all, nice to think of oneself as being a light to others and "a shining example of Christlike love." But if Jesus of Nazareth was anything, he was someone who didn't so much seek to be a light to others as to be a kindler of the light within others. (In this regard, think of Mark. He would never have set himself up as a light to others, but he respected the light within others - as equals - and sought to honor that.)

In far too many instances, these attitudes of insisting on being examples to others prevents those who seek to follow Jesus of Nazareth from seeing what he would see - the inner light, beauty and knowledge within those for whom we so earnestly but arrogantly seek to be an example. I have seen so many manifestations of this, from being a missionary to being a father.

So I hope that you will always live your lives FOR something, rather than AGAINST something; that you will not live your lives out of fear but out of love for both yourself and for others, as well as the world at large; that you will resist the temptation to divide the world into "us" against "them"; that you would honor the light within others as well as honor it within yourself; and that, rather than seeking to be an example to others, you would seek out how others can be an example to you. 

* The lead photo was taken in August of 2016 of a stained glass window in the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Mary on the island of Mljet in Croatia. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Incredible Shrinking Christmas Tree

I was so proud of myself.


After the near disaster last year of coming home to find our real tree leaning perilously close to face planting in the middle of the living room, Mark had suggested we go out and buy a nice artificial tree. I was astounded. I had taken all the ornaments and lights off the real tree and was ready to call it a day, even though Christmas was still almost two weeks away. Mark had never been Mr. Christmas, and that's why I was surprised when he made his suggestion. We found one we liked, brought it home, and Mark even offered to assemble it so that I could then decorate it. (He drew the line at putting ornaments on the tree.)

It was beautiful. And I was happy that we had the opportunity to pick the tree out together and that it would be a lasting reminder of our last Christmas together.

The new tree last year

As this year's holiday season approached, however, I was a little anxious because I hadn't been home when Mark assembled the tree last year. Would I be able to figure it out? (Even after earning a law degree, I still have times when I have serious doubts about the level of my intelligence, especially when it comes to assembling things.) 

Imagine my pleasure, then, at putting the tree together 1-2-3. I was so pleased with myself. Over the ensuing days, I decorated it. The kids came over this weekend and loved it. 

It was only yesterday morning when I was rummaging around in the Christmas closet that I made my discovery: I had left out one whole section of the tree, which was in a big lawn and leaf bag on a shelf next to the box the tree came in. It was then that I remembered that I hadn't been able to fit the whole tree back in the box and so I had put one section in the bag (which I suspect was the base segment). Ugh. The tree should be two feet taller than it is. (Remember the comment I made about my intelligence?)

So, for the second year in a row, I find myself with a Christmas tree predicament. But I'm just going to let it be; there's no way I'm taking all the ornaments off to fix it. The good news is that I have lots more room to add future ornaments!


Speaking of ornaments, I posted every year on my blog about the ornaments I collected that year. I admit it got to be almost an obsession for me to collect ornaments while on our travels; but they became a sort of metaphor for what was going in our lives: I was trying to assemble as many memories of Mark and our time together as I could during those three years after his diagnosis, knowing that, one day, those would be all I would have left - memories. (Not quite all, but you know what I mean.) Similarly, my Christmas tree is full of ornaments that I collected during that same period in which are stored memories of the time Mark and I had together.

As I took the ornaments from years past out of their boxes and put them on the tree, there were moments that I was taken back to when and where we had purchased an ornament. There were a number of times when a smile came. And there was one particular ornament that brought a few tears - the one I gave Mark our first Christmas together:

And here are the new ornaments from this year. First are two "mermen" ornaments. I started collecting these starting at Christmas 2011, when I purchased one of a doctor to represent Mark. This year, I added "Octotini" to represent my trip to Tahiti and "Orlando" to commemorate the massacre that killed so many beautiful young gay men. 

Interestingly, when the kids saw the tree, the first thing they checked for and asked about were this year's additions to the Mermen collection. They thought they were awesome.

Then there were a couple of ornaments that I purchased when I was in Croatia in August. The first one is from Dubrovnik, and I bought it from the same woman from whom I had purchased a couple of ornaments when Mark and I were there in September of last year. 


Then there was this one, a lavender sachet from a beautiful little town on the Croatian coast of which I have special memories. 

Lastly, there's this one that I purchased of Christ Church in Philadelphia during my visit last spring with my cycling buddy Tom and his husband, Michael. Since this was the first ornament I purchased after Mark left, it has a special significance for me. I hesitated buying it, then went ahead. I'm glad I did.