Posts Tagged ‘Sean’

This Sunday is the anniversary of Sean’s death: March 10. I only know one thing, and that is that I will go swimming. I won’t commit 100 percent to anything else. 

Last night, after chowing down on sushi and guzzling a well-earned Sapporo at Happies, Joel got up to leave and asked me if I was going to make it to the memorial toast on Sunday.

“Possibly,” I said. Of course, the boys wanted to know why I wasn’t a 100 percent “yes”. My expanded answer is that I want to go, but all I’m planning on is swimming. If I feel up to it and trust myself to drive to the bar, then I’ll come. If not, then… “If I can’t drive myself, you could pick me up!” I volunteered.

Gary stepped forward and gave me a hug. Ben told me to “at least go outside on Sunday,” because it’s going to be beautiful. Joel acknowledged that my answer was good enough. And is has to be, because my grief is an island.

Liz’s grief is a chasm; Sean was her person. And while I don’t intend to trivialize the myriad of feelings felt by all of Sean’s friends, I can’t help but think that for them it was a shock, like being slapped in the face by a ghost: Sean was here, now he’s not.

I can’t classify how I feel, and I’m still often surprised by my thoughts and memories. My grief is driven primarily by the fact that I was there. I hate pointing it out, because there’s a tiny, snarky version of me inside my head that says, “Oh, don’t say THAT. What are you doing, fishing for extra empathy? Being there doesn’t make you SPECIAL.”

Believe me, I don’t want this event to be what makes someone consider me special, but being at the pool with Sean on March 10, 2012 does set me apart. No one else, except perhaps the lifeguards on duty that day, find themselves thinking, “What do you call that particular shade of purple? I’ve never seen a human face turn that color before.”

I talked to my friend Jamie last night, and told her that I’ve come to terms with so much that happened that day. I don’t think that the outcome would’ve been different if I’d gotten out of the pool one lap earlier. But I do wish that I’d gotten out 60 seconds quicker, and had touched him. I wish I had held his hand or patted his arm, a small form of reassurance paired with my voice. I don’t think that touching him would have kept him safe, alive. And I could have fought for that touch, but I know that it was the right thing to do — going for Sean’s wallet instead of getting in the lifeguard’s way when he started to seize. But I still wish that I had used just one moment to reach out to him with my fingers, to press my care, concern, and love into his skin like a parting gift.

They wouldn’t let us touch him at the hospital; he was already gone but they wouldn’t let us touch his hand or kiss his bald head. Liz and I were left to stand, leaning against each other for support while we stared as long as we could and tried to make sense of it. Through a fog of disbelief, we both admitted to being glad that he had a beard. We both liked his red beard. We both desperately wanted to touch him, to prove to ourselves that THIS WAS SEAN and not some wax dummy imposter. Instead we tugged on his features with our eyes. So that’s it: I wish I’d touched him. And when not mentally or physically occupied, I’ll find myself reworking through that day and trying to envision a scene where I got to do just that.

I think I’ve actually been doing pretty well, and I work hard to stay positive. I’ve focused primarily on remembering all of the good things and adding elements to my life that honor Sean, or what Sean would have been proud of me for doing. But as the anniversary approaches, I find myself unable to focus my thoughts on only the good bits. Instead, I’m remembering and reliving that day. Replaying the moments that led up to  putting Sean in the ambulance, and that lightning bolt of ice that ripped through my heart when the doctors finally told us that he didn’t make it.

My little internal horror movie is longer than everybody else’s. Liz’s starts when I called her from the pool. Everyone else’s starts later that day, when cell phones and Facebook helped spread the devastating word. Mine starts at 11:45 a.m., with a smiling Sean waiting for me at the door to the Drill Hall. A hug, and then him happily telling me about heading up the road last night to help his nephew celebrate his 21st birthday. His long, bare feet on the tile of the pool deck. His grin because he enjoyed the cold water and the exercise that he was about to begin. The disconcerting feeling of seeing him lying on his back on the pool deck. The surprise in the lifeguard’s eyes when I asked her if Sean had told her about his heart condition. Not being able to remember if he spoke to me when I addressed him, or if he just looked at me — a single look can be so loud.

The juxtaposition of these memories swim around me, in the flooding that surrounds my heart. They are awesome and absurd, bright and dark, sweet and bitter, and colorful. Like snippets of the variety of movies that we watched together: fun, dangerous, happy, sad, quirky. The shark in the water is March 10. Duuun dun duuun dun dun dun dun Sean made me watch Jaws for the first time just last year. No wait, it must have been two years ago. (Oh God.)

As the anniversary of his death approaches, I don’t know what mood will prevail: happy to have known and been friends with Sean and to now share a friendship with Liz and his Happies crowd, or a perverse lonliness where intellectually I know I’m not alone in my sadness, but the differences in what I’m thinking about and how I’m feeling make me feel separated, apart. An island floating so near a land mass of hands and hugs, laughter and tears, beer glasses clinking, and memories verbalized.

I’ll try to be there, for the memorial toast. It would be nice if the good thoughts, the ones that are easy to share and express, helped make a bridge across those troubled waters. It would be nice to not feel so alone, so recently again haunted by pictures that don’t exist in anyone else’s memories.


Read Full Post »

18 laps. Half of a mile.

But you’re not here to talk to during our mid-mile break, and I can feel my emotions threatening to become tangible, tears to join the streams of water running down my face as I pull myself out of the pool.

WHY ARE YOU NOT HERE?! I want to scream.

I MISS YOU SO MUCH! I want to wrap my arms around my body and sob into a hot shower.

COME OUT AND SWIM WITH ME! I want to bargain with the gods.

After you died, I did a pretty good job of keeping to our schedule, swimming twice a week for at least an hour or a mile. As long as I didn’t falter, I was strong. Then I got sick, and after two and a half months without my twice weekly dose of chlorinated therapy, I forgot how to be brave.

Our routine was a comfort, something reliable, a consistent support through the worst four months of my life. And I still needed our routine when I couldn’t abide by our planned and preferred exercise because of my health; I needed it but couldn’t go. The worst still wasn’t over. And a part of me unraveled, crumbled, dissolved.

Without swimming, I’ve been like that person in the desert who hallucinates a glass of water because they need it so much. But I also dreaded the reality of confronting my mirage, of disrupting the vision and discovering the aggravation of sand instead of the cool comfort of water.

Tomorrow marks seven months without you.

So you see, I had to get back in the pool; I’ve been cleared for weeks, but keep talking myself out of going. One more day. What if I start next week? Oops, my ears are hurting again. I’ll go after I spend two weekends installing laminate floors in my house. Just one more day.

You were the one to laugh at me for taking forever to get the rest of my body into the pool when the water was cold. You were the one to split the driving duties, to send me an e-mail, “Hey, we still on for swimming today?” You were the one I looked forward to seeing, to chatting with as we walked to the locker room, to figuring out where we’d go to eat to refuel after our workout.

You taught me that swimming laps could be the best meditation, a remedy to a bad day, an opportunity to share a smile. Without the rhythm of our routine, how was I supposed to get myself to the pool? In the pool? To the wall and back?

Somehow, I convinced myself that there were no more excuses. I parked the car and walked into the building. I located an empty lane. Quickly adjusting my goggles over my eyes, I let my entire body slip into the cool water. I came up once, set my watch, took a breath and pushed off the wall.

One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe.

I can do this without you. (I just wish I didn’t have to.)

Read Full Post »

Sharing is caring

My friend Sean was good at sharing. He was someone who liked to introduce people to different places, foods, and friends. He’d share his humor, his groceries, and his movie collection, but most of all, Sean would share his time. Before he died, Sean’s open attitude had started to rub off on me. I found myself saying “yes” to more opportunities, which caused me to meet new people, try Ethiopian food, sample different beers, and watch many Coen Brothers’ movies.

One of my responses to not having Sean in my life anymore was to adopt his willing attitude. Invitations to happy hour, kayak trips, a Warrior Dash, impromptu dinners, fireworks, travel… What would Sean do? Check his schedule and then say, “Yes!” So that’s exactly what I started doing.

As someone who teeter totters between shy and social, but who always has a full calendar (which can sometimes stress me out), it was important to me to remind myself of a simple equation: Saying Yes + Family & Friends = Fun. So I purchased a digital photo frame and set it up in my living room. Every time I say “yes” to doing something, I try to make sure there’s a camera around, and I upload pictures from those events to the frame. It’s a constant reminder to live with an open mind and heart toward things, people and opportunities.

Thank you, Sean, for teaching me to be better at sharing, too.




















“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love.
Love risks degenerating into obsession,
friendship is never anything but sharing.”

― Elie Wiesel

Read Full Post »

Three months

Three months ago, I lost a very close friend: Sean M. Wells. He was 34 years old.

I’ve been trying to write this post in my head since March 10. How much did I want to share? What do I really want to say? What would I like to remember when everything gets a little fuzzy? How can see through my tears to type this?

I’ll never forget the day he died. We were at the indoor pool swimming in a swim clinic we had both signed up for to learn how to swim more efficiently (and thus, faster while not working as hard). Sean pulled himself out of the pool after not more than 10 minutes, which was unusual for him. Lifeguards responded, 911 was called, I rushed to get his wallet and personal belongings. There’s no point in documenting here, step-by-step, what happened. Everyone did everything they could, as quickly as possible, but Sean didn’t make it.

Yes, he had a congenital heart condition. Yes, he was cleared to swim and be carefully active by his heart doctor. No, in the eight years I knew Sean he never showed a single symptom or complaint. Yes, I miss him every single day.

I didn’t like Sean when I first met him, and he didn’t like me. Neither one of us could remember the first time we hung out one-on-one, but after that we realized that there was room for a friendship here. Since we were both single and liked to cook, but hated cooking for ourselves only, Sean and I would switch off cooking for each other, and eventually incorporated movies into these evenings. He made it his goal to have me watch every Coen Brothers movie, as well as others that he felt I should have seen (like Jaws).

A fan of live sporting events, Sean took me to see his beloved Redskins three times, and once I got to go to a Caps game with him. I wore one of his Caps jerseys and it looked like a dress on me so I knotted it up 80s style. After the game, we went to RFD for a beer. For Skins games, we’d stop at Nick’s on the way up for subs and chips. Our first Skins game together was November 2008 — it was cold, and I ordered a hot chocolate at the stadium. They poured a packet in a cup, then filled it with hot water. Without a spoon or a stirrer, I had no way to turn the gooey bottom contents of my cup into actual hot chocolate. Instead, Sean and I took turns sipping the hot water until it got low enough to swish around inside the cup to mix up the chocolate powder at the bottom. He told me the next time we’d bring a spoon, but the following two games were much warmer.

Sean is the reason I started swimming laps. He was always asking people to join him in the activities he participated in; Sean was a gatherer of friends. I never thought I could enjoy swimming laps, I thought it would be like running on a treadmill (boring). But he was enjoying himself so much, and losing so much weight, that I figured I ought to give it a shot. Now, swimming is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable things in my life. I love him for opening that door, and for being my swim partner for more than four years.

I called him my ‘swim husband’ because he would take me to the pools on base where I didn’t have free access because I am a contractor, not civil service or military. Since we showed up together regularly once a week, then twice a week (or more)… everyone assumed we were married. Oops! We both thought it was really funny. I have no pictures of us from swimming, or from the 2011 Pax Team Tri that we participated in (because we were on separate teams).

Sean liked sushi and golf and bowling. He had a big pair of fuzzy slippers that he wore around the house, and an apron that he wore when he cooked. Money was never an issue — we always went Dutch or traded off treating one another, and tabs weren’t kept. But it did bother him when I’d end up baking or cooking a lot and bringing him goodie bags and leftovers, and he would inform me that it was “his turn” to treat next. If Sean was in town, he’d show up to whatever you invited him to… even my Mom’s annual fried sourdough birthday parties. He’d always hang out, work on the annual puzzle and talk to the different waves of people that showed up. One year, his work travel took him to England, and he looked all over the areas he visited for a particular brand and flavor of jam that he knew I liked but couldn’t get stateside. When he couldn’t find it, he brought me two of his favorite flavors back from across the pond (both strawberry).

When Sean and I would e-mail each other, we’d always re-name ourselves by working our names into some cultural trivia/reference. For example, I’d start my e-mail with “Walking on Seanshine,” and then sign off with “Jen Just Wants to Have Fun.” It didn’t have to be song titles, you could venture into any movie, song, television, pop culture reference that you wanted to. Most of the time I’d get Sean’s references, but sometimes I’d have to get a little help from Google. Sean was King of the Random Movie Quote, and knew a wide variety of artist/song/album trivia. I didn’t always “get” his humor, but he’d often take pity on me and explain himself, or save his really clever quips for other friends who might appreciate them more.

Sean let me go clothes shopping with him one year. He’d lost a lot of weight, and had a $300 Macy’s gift card from his birthday to spend on new work clothes. We went to the Dockers pant section, and I cut Sean a deal: if he’d try on the style that I picked out as well as the style of pants that he’d been buying, we’d talk about the fit of each in the mirror. In the end, I’d shut up and he could buy whatever style he liked best, no pressure. The sales lady in the dressing room watched with an amused expression on her face as I voiced the particulars of fit with Sean, who we had to explain was not my boyfriend or husband, and she provided her own thumbs up to a particular pair.

At the checkout counter, Sean ended up with a new style of pants to flaunt his slim swimmer’s physique, plus several new button down shirts including (gasp!) two with stripes. (For some reason, Sean said he didn’t like striped shirts, but I convinced him to buy two that were tonal, where the stripe was formed from a matte vs sheen look of the same color fabric.) His total bill was $300.08, and I ponied up the $0.08 because while Sean’s house was full of spare change, he almost never carried any coins in his pockets. Sean was thrilled with his purchases, often choosing to put together outfits from the new clothes on days we’d swim so he could show me. He looked great, so handsome in his new duds. I believe we finished off that trip to Annapolis with dinner and a movie, True Grit at the theater. And I think we shared a bag of his favorite — Reece’s Pieces — for dessert during the movie.

We met through a mutual friend, Amy. In 2008, Amy got married and Sean and I prepared for the reception by participating in a group ballroom dance lesson each month. I could never remember the steps, so Sean would start every dance by listening, then telling me what dance step we would use and reminding me what the cadence of the steps was. During the reception we had an opportunity to show off a bit, and it was so much fun and included a dip!

Sean participated in a happy hour crowd aptly called, Happies. He really wanted me to join him for Thursday night happy hours around town, and early on Amy and I went to one. Through no fault of Sean’s, it wasn’t a really good introduction, and I chose not to participate in those events after that. When he met his girlfriend, Liz, I told him, “You’d better introduce us early on so she knows that I’m not competition!” We arranged a meeting over lunch after swimming one weekend, and when Liz went to the bathroom I looked at Sean and said, “I really like her! She’s a keeper!” Over the past year, I had started agreeing to join Sean for more activities and events — some with just Liz, like going up to Washington D.C. for Ethiopian food, and some with the larger Happies group, like a New Years Eve party.

Since one of Sean’s goals was always to bring people together, I could tell he was enjoying watching his groups of friends finally merge. We made plans to go to a local restaurant/bar for a comedy show on March 10, but Liz and I ended up at the hospital, sobbing into each other’s shoulders that afternoon instead and trying to understand why the world stopped spinning. The following week, Liz and I were surrounded by the support, love and commiseration from all of Sean’s friends. I found myself a part of the Happies crowd, and realized that I had been remiss in not giving this group of people a second shot (like I had with Sean). Individually and as a group, they’re pretty awesome and I count myself lucky to now have them as friends.

It’s crazy how big a part of my life Sean became, especially considering how rocky our toleration of each other was when we first met. (We met at Monterey, a Mexican restaurant, both of us joining our mutual friend Amy for dinner and margaritas.) Eight years later, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t live basically right across the street anymore or that he won’t write back when I send him a text. To cope and to honor Sean’s memory, what I am trying to do is to live with a more open mind and heart. To say “Yes!” to more things, people and opportunities. And to keep my friends and family close, because people are important.

The Sean Abides,

I miss you. I love you. I’ll meet you in the pool on the flip side.

The Big Jenowski

Read Full Post »

New Years Eve 2011 required getting all gussied up (and wishing that I knew the trick to taking a good cell phone self-portrait):

Going to a party, where I stood in a corner for a full-body photo and didn’t know what to do with my arms, but was super-excited for an opportunity to wear my sexy little red and black heels:

And ringing in the new year with a house-full of dressed up guys and ladies, including my friends Sean and Liz (see below), playing my first-ever game of Wii bowling!

Happy New Year, People, and welcome 2012!

Read Full Post »

For some reason, I got really excited about Halloween this year. As in, wanted to make my own costume, go to parties and go trick-or-treating with my friend Sarah J. and her kids. It all started with a blog post from years ago, back before I knew how to star and tag posts in Google Reader so I could find things again later. Someone had posted a photo of a little kid (pre-toddler?) dressed up as a Viking, and manohman do I wish I could find it to share with you here.

[This is about as close as a Google search is going to get me.] The fur boots! Oh my goodness.

This cuteness + [Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series + HBO’s True Blood (hello, Eric Northman)]+ a weird and sudden desire to learn to sew and crochet + a friend’s blonde haired, blue eyed almost 3-year-old = a very Viking Halloween.

I started by getting Mom involved. She taught me to sew, and we made faux fur vests and boots for Caleb and I. Then, Mom showed me how to take a single, long strip of faux leather and place darts around it in order to make a belt, which I hung three-inch wide strips of the same material from to make a leather skirt. I ripped apart an old leather belt of mine to add some extra ornamentation to the skirt. During a lunch break one day at work, Sarah S-E taught me how to crochet, and I started making both a child and adult size Viking hat. Finally, Mom and I made red velvet mummy cupcakes and candy finger bone pretzels.


My friend Jill hosted the First Annual Haunted Barn party. I managed to borrow the majority of the decorations from a guy I used to pet-sit for, as he used to throw an elaborate haunted house every year (unfortunately he stopped creating the haunted houses right about the time I started dog-sitting, so I never got to attend one). Aimee came as an Amish Girl, and her costume won a prize! Sarah J. was a beautiful Butterfly, and Mom came as Brunnehilde the Green (M&M). Sean and Liz dressed up as Daddy Warbucks and Annie, in the most awesome inappropriate pairs costume ever! It was very cold that night (some parts of Maryland got snow!), but we had a great time and huddled around the space heaters when necessary.




On the actual All Hallows Eve, I went trick-or-treating with Sarah J. and her kids, Catelyn the Butterfly and Caleb the Viking. Nene and Mom were there too, as well as Sarah’s friends and their kids, Bat Girl (Nadia) and Bumblebee the Transformer (Nathan). The biggest challenge of the evening was getting Caleb into his costume, but once he was in it, he loved the attention (and the candy)! We wandered from house to house down Nene’s family-friendly neighborhood, laughing at the kids’ squeals when something was scary and playing “red light-green light” when they’d run too far ahead. The adults reminisced about how different Halloween is from when we were little, and the kids tried to make more room for “good” candy by dumping all of the “yucky” candy on the adults!



I was really proud of the way that the costumes turned out, and was glad I decided to channel the spooky spirit this year! All around, this was a Halloween filled with more treats than tricks!

Read Full Post »

Winter is a prankster

Last year I learned that I like to swim laps. This was news to me, as I always had assumed that swimming laps would rate on the Boring & Monotonous Meter right there with the stationary bicycle and repeatedly walking into a glass door.

I started swimming with Sean at the outdoor pool, but when it closed for the season I was faced with a conundrum: as a contractor on a Naval base, technically I wasn’t supposed to go to the indoor pool. But since I was really enjoying getting into this groove with swimming laps, I went to the manager of the Drill Hall and asked her why I was allowed to swim in the outdoor pool with Sean’s escort, but not the indoor pool? Rather than fight with me, she said it was fine as long as I came with Sean (who is civil service and can swim wherever he damn pleases).

There is one preference, however, that I couldn’t overcome.

I HATE BEING COLD AND WET IN THE WINTER. So, as the later holidays approached, I stopped swimming.

This past week my chiropractor gave me the go-ahead to start some low-effort physical activity, as long as I take it easy and it doesn’t cause pain in either my shoulder or my lower back. I attended Pilates on Wednesday (love it!) and as I basked in the 70-degrees and sunshine of that same day, I made plans to go swimming with Sean today. Friday. Two days after Wednesday.

It’s snowing.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »