The Love of My Life | From Twelve Donuts to One

IMG_2534Although Maureen was prescribed donuts the weekend before her passing, this precious breakfast item was certainly not a new idea to us! Even in the land of breakfast tacos, tortillas and salsa, the donut has a strong and vibrant life. However, there was a moment for Maureen’s father, Henry Diercxsens, that the donut was indeed a new discovery, perhaps as important a discovery as America itself.

For those who were at Maureen’s celebration of life, you had the privilege of meeting Henry, to hear his accent, and to meet some of his Belgian family, Francis Alÿs and Martine Diercxsens. To know Maureen is to know her family. In many ways, they are the powder that are sprinkled on the powdered donut. You simply can not end up as wonderful and special as the girl I met 26 years ago without having love and laughter sprinkled on you early and often…which brings me back to the discovery of the donut.

As I understand the story, the Diercxsens family was on a trip from their home in New Jersey, outside of New York City, across the midwest to see their daughter, Suzanne, who was at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Apparently, they stopped in South Bend, Indiana. South Bend was the site of the discovery, the founding of the donut. Before I get too far into this donut discovery, I have to paint some context of why it might have been so new and have taken a couple of decades to find.

In the Diercxsens family and now ours, the crepe has an exalted position. The first time I met Maureen’s mom and dad, Henry, Bon Papa, taught me the recipe and how to stretch them out properly in a skillet, so they were thin and tasty. We were in Maureen’s apartment in Chicago, three floors up in a brownstone, and I can see that kitchen in the back of her apartment, standing with Bon Papa, learning this craft. I will admit, unfortunately, I still can not seem to get these darned things right! This is likely the reason the kids love going to the beach each summer with their family, their cousins, their aunts and uncles, their Bonne Maman and Bon Papa. It is there that Bon Papa makes six hundred and sixty-six crepes for over all twenty of us to have enough of this great creation, this gift of the crepe.

OK, so now I can return to the donut. It is in South Bend that the epiphany of the donut was revealed to Bon Papa. I’m sure the Diercxsens girls had probably found them already. This discovery became a bit of a running joke, because I can remember visiting with Maureen at her home in Ridgewood on Fairmount Avenue for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Bon Papa would always bring back a dozen of these gems from Dunkin Donuts at some point in the holiday, slathered in glaze, sprinkles or some other fascinating combination. His wonderful family would tease him about his discovery in South Bend. A great man, like Henry, would always laugh along. You can usually tell that the whole Diercxsens clan is together, because that is always when the laughing starts.

And, that laughing was not only reserved for the easy and light times. Even when things were tough, laughter was never far away. It was always just below the surface. When Maureen leaned forward in our Honda Odyssey the weekend before her passing and blew the powder of the donut everywhere, we still laughed. Even with her compromised breathing, oxygen nozzles lightly blowing richer air by her nose, as the love and the powder blew, we still laughed. I will never, ever forget laughing with her. I know none of us will. Even as I cry writing this, I still can’t help but chuckle. I was married to a loving and crazy girl.

As I prepare to tell the last of the stories in this donut blog post, it just dawned on me that this story occurred the Sunday after Maureen’s services, exactly a month ago today. I now realize why I was not meant to tell this story any sooner than now, because it is sacred, and it is holy. It reflects the twelve, not just a dozen donuts, but the twelve that were assembled around our Lord, the same Lord that welcomed Maureen back into His arms, back to heaven.

When I went to the same donut shop of the now famous powdered donut, I wanted to buy a dozen. I couldn’t. They only had one. Yes, one. I thought to myself well that is a bummer. It wasn’t until later the morning back at the house in Lakeway where the family, friends and others had been staying, that I realized that the fact there was one was but another message from Maureen and her family of angels in heaven. For I took that one powdered donut and went from person to person in our circle on the deck, with the hill country behind us, and blew a bit of powder on each person and then tore a small piece of the donut off to share with each of us assembled. As I continued in this act, I suddenly realized that we are in the midst of the most sacred act of communion, a communion of love being blown over all of us from above. As we eat donuts on the 21st of each month, we are all now in a communion circle together. For the donut itself is a circle, and it connects us no matter where we are, just like Maureen.

The Love of My Life | Africa, The Statue of Liberty & The Twin Towers

10382663_10202889774661098_3387514996389621796_nOver the past few weeks, my family has been truly blessed by an outpouring of love from family and friends. Like this picture of Kyla from her volleyball game the Thursday after her mom, my wife, Maureen passed away the Tuesday of that same week, we feel suspended by the embrace of many, many hearts. We celebrated the season with the 7th/8th grade 5A volleyball team at St. Andrew’s last evening. You could feel the same love that washed over the gymnasium during the game at St. Gabriel’s wash over the home where we assembled. Kyla said it best, “daddy, the parents are as nice as the girls.” Yes, Kyla, they are.
I’ve also been personally touched by the generous reactions to my blogging on “Our Story.” I was particularly moved by the specific comment of one fellow parent, that I am now writing these blog posts with a book in mind. The book will be titled, quite simply, The Love of My Life. For those that have been reading for a while, you know how excited I was to begin dating Maureen, the love of my life, back in the fall of 1989. Although I can’t reach out any longer and give her a big hug, as I would like, I continue to feel her presence. Love is funny like that. If you let it seep into your bones, then you really can feel it. Not think you’re feeling it, but actually feel it, inside of you, washing itself around your insides and making you warm from the inside out.
As I continue to remember the many joys of my life with Maureen, those moments of love become even clearer through the lens that has opened to me, since her passing. Back in early August, I had made a business trip to White Plains, New York for a meeting at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. If you read about my proposal of marriage to Maureen, then you know that she grew up outside of New York, and we were engaged at the Statue of Liberty. I provide this as context to the note below that I wrote to a close friend and business colleague on my flight home that day. I wrote it knowing that things were getting tougher in Maureen’s fight with cancer. It was the moment I chose to write about Our Story, and not cancer’s…
August 8, 2014
You noted as we began to talk at the counter that we’ve only met once over coffee at Juan Valdez and now twice, at Inayaka. Throughout those two get togethers, our emails, our texts and our phone calls, it really feels as if we have known each other for much, much longer. The depth of my gratitude to Alex is truly deep for this amazing gift of our friendship and the opportunity to bring together two careers, two minds and two passions to truly, truly change the world. 
I see this serendipity and much of life through the lens of my faith. I share that only for context behind my evening and morning on my way to this flight. As you know, I am headed home both with fear and with love. The fear comes, of course, from what this cancer in my wife will do next. The love comes from the privilege I feel to be by her side on this journey and to be the father of the amazing kids we were blessed to bring into this world. 
As I think I mentioned over dinner, I proposed to my wife at the foot of the Statute of Liberty just over 25 years ago. The first place we went after getting off the ferry was atop the Twin Towers…. where, of course, now, because of tragedy, there stands only one building, taller, stronger, because of the love that is poured into its foundation, the love that emanates from each of the souls we lost on that fateful day. Each of those people we lost were loved by a lot of other folks, and so what was once two became one, just like my wife and I became one 25 years ago.
A few years after Maureen and I were married, we traveled to the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Maureen’s folks, her father is Belgian, had moved from NYC to Abidjan, where her dad ran the container operation for Compagnie Maritime Belgique, CMB, for 5 years, same company that brought him to the World Trade Center in New York. We celebrated New Year’s Eve going into 1994 in Kumasi, Ghana. It was pretty cool. On my NJ Transit train from Penn Station to Newark this morning, I chatted with the guy next to me (you know me… I like to talk to folks!). He had moved to America in the last year from… yup… Kumasi. He is an electrical engineer, 2 months married, about to become a citizen and get his masters. 
As you might guess, it doesn’t stop there. At the boarding area for the flight down to Atlanta, I see a young chap with a backpack with a Kente cloth pattern. Naturally, I say hi and mention the Kumasi connection that just happened, because Kente cloth comes from Kumasi (a pattern, a fabric, a woven object). This young man, 26, is from Accra, Ghana!! And, wait for it. He is the nephew of the President of Ghana…. and, his folks own the hotel I stayed with Maureen and her folks at on the coast between the Ivory Coast and Accra way back over Christmas break in 1993. Just crazy, how this is all connected.
I had a beautiful cry with Maureen over the phone just before boarding, sharing all of this with her, as she sat getting prepared for her CT scan back home. We both acknowledged our fears, paving the way for only love when I get home.
From the moment I returned home from that trip in August, Maureen and I did only continue to share love. We never ever talked about death. It has never been in our vocabulary. We searched every avenue, looked for every connection, uncovered all possible treatments. Even as we both went to sleep three weeks ago today, we both expected to awake again, together, the next day. We did both awake, me, in this world, though, and her, in heaven. Her passing has awoken me to just how transcendent love can be. As I have told our children and friends, “of course, we hurt. We loved mommy so much, it can’t not hurt.” We will never stop hurting. Cancer sucks. However, for eleven years, as Maureen tackled this horrible disease, she made the decision each day to live… and to love… we will do no less.
Sweetie, our twin towers now stand as one. However, I feel your love washing around inside of me, and it has made my foundation strong. The kids and I have opened our hearts to you, so that you can wash around inside of us each and every day. We will remember, but we will look forward, and we will manifest your love for us and for everyone in all that we do… watch out world!