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Boris and the Baby Spiders: Why I won’t be sleeping again…ever.

This is Boris. Not the Boris from tonight's adventure, but one I was on more civil terms with. He lived in our bathroom for a few months, before meeting an untimely end in the bath.

This is Boris. Not the Boris from tonight’s adventure, but one I was on more civil terms with. He lived in our bathroom for a few months, before meeting an untimely end in the bath.

I don’t like spiders. I don’t know many people who do, but I REALLY don’t like them.

However, I’ve made peace with their presence here in the Dominican Republic. As long as they are big enough for me to keep an eye on, aren’t too active in their movements and pull their weight around the house (i.e. do their part to decimate the mosquito population), we can peacefully co-exist.

I consider this position to be incredibly adult given my gut instinct is to shriek like a little girl. And did I mention the spiders I’m referring to are cane spiders. The smallest I’ve seen are the size of my palm. The SMALLEST.

And I’m willing to co-exist with them. Pretty bad ass, right?

Yeah. Not so much, as it turns out.

Earlier this evening, I spotted one of these cane spiders. We’ll call him Boris. Because Boris is a good name for a spider, and for my own sanity, I like to think all spiders are male. I should think the reasoning behind that is self-evident. It’s cute that they call baby spiders ‘spiderlings’ and all, but there is no place in my world for them.

This Boris was a little more active than I would have liked. He also appeared to be holding something. That thought made me uncomfortable, but I wrote it off as poor lighting. Because seriously, who’s ever heard of a spider carrying anything.

I was willing to keep to my peace agreement, but Boris made a fatal mistake. Rather than staying put on the wall, he scurried down to floor level. Which is when Frederica pounced.

She’s my new hero. And yes, she will be getting extra treats.

A female cane spider carrying around her egg sack. (Photo Cred: Maui.net)

A female cane spider carrying around her egg sack.
(Photo Cred: Maui.net)

After the brief flurry of activity was over, I noticed something on the floor. It was white and the size of a silver dollar only thicker, and sort of lumpy. With horror, I realized that Boris had really been a Bertha.

My first thought was to flush it as soon as I could, but Frederica was one step ahead of me.

I bent to give her a good scratch when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.

I bent down to the wall to take a better look. That’s when I lost my mind.

I don’t know how many baby spiders escaped. And, for my sanity, I can’t even allow my mind to contemplate how many were in that sack. Thank goodness for Frederica. Because what if they’d hatched while I was holding it…

Ok, Melissa. Breathe.

There was NO WAY I was letting those little Boris’ run around…growing to be the size of my hand…procreating…

I used the only thing I had on hand – Deep Woods Off. Much to my relief, it stopped them in their tracks.

And now, I’m going to brew myself a pot of strong Dominican coffee. Because, as I have no idea how many more Baby Boris’ are running around out there, there’s no chance I’ll be sleeping tonight.

Or anytime in the foreseeable future.

Maybe sometime in mid-2017.

The Night Air

IMG_7047It was impossible for me to sleep on the plane. I tried, but despite my exhaustion, I was still too keyed up from the day’s drama. Which had started when we discovered our original flight was delayed and only intensified as we attempted to rebook our travel plans in a way that would allow my four travel companions and I to enjoy our much-needed Caribbean getaway.

We wouldn’t have made it without the intervention of the kindest woman on the planet – who happened to be a rep for a competing airline. With her help, we were booked on a flight that very evening. The only problem was we had to find our own way to JFK.

Nothing a pedal-to-the-metal dash from Syracuse to Queens – through Manhattan during rush hour – couldn’t solve. Well, along with a slew of frantic calls and messages to iron out all of the supporting details. Like how we were going to get to our final destination considering we were flying into a different airport and the best way to avoid the $30-a-day parking fee at JFK.

All that scrambling was worth it to know we weren’t going to have to scrap the entire adventure. Because NOTHING was going to stand between me and a rum-laded cocktail on the beach, damn it.

I don’t think I really started to breath again until we were on the ground in Santiago. We still weren’t yet at our destination – a small seaside town just east of Puerto Plata – but we were in the Dominican Republic at last.

The mindless trudge through the airport – clearing immigration and customs, retrieving our bags – is all a blur. As we waited for our rental car, I slipped out of my sweater and into a pair of sandals, and pushed through the double doors that separated us from tropical paradise.

Ostensibly I was looking for our taxi driver. (A necessity since there wasn’t a chance all five of us AND our luggage were going to fit in the modest rental we’d reserved.) But really, I just needed to take a moment to appreciate our journey thus far.

It was 2 a.m. local time, and the fronds on the parking lot palm trees hung limply in the still night air. I inhaled, filling my lungs with the thick, humid air. It tasted both foreign and familiar, bringing me back to the year I lived in South Florida.

My mind was on the drive ahead of us. The hour and a half it would take us to drive through the mountains to Costambar. And the two-weeks of much needed decompression before me. It was a welcome distraction from the career transition I was in.

I had no way of knowing how the trip would change my life in so many ways.IMG_7317

…How inexplicably drawn to this island I’d be.

…How it would become the setting for a whole new life, a chance to live out dreams I never dared admit I had.

…How our change of travel plans – which landed us in Santiago in the middle of the night rather than in the middle of the afternoon in Puerto Plata – would cause me to cross paths with my future husband.

I didn’t give him a secomd glance that night – the quiet, unassuming policeman who rode along with his former partner-turned-taxi driver. But the universe had big things planned.

Sometimes, I stand outside and fill my lungs with the night air. It’s laden with the same tropical overtones here in my new home, but also heavy with salt from the sea.

To me, it’s ripe with promise and tastes of untold stories, unforeseen adventures, true love…

and dreams come true.

Dotting our I Do’s: Why Two Anniversaries Are Better Than One

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Andry and I tied the knot last Friday. Yes, I know, I know. I’ve said that before. The first time around was pledging our love and lives to one another in front of our family, friends and God. This time around was about getting the paperwork in order.

IMG_8693We chose May 9th as our wedding date because of its special significance. It is, as many of you know, my parents anniversary. It would have been their 56th, in fact. And I felt so blessed that my mother was willing to share it with us. I was blessed, too, that she and some of my dearest friends and family were willing to make the trip to my impromptu wedding despite the short notice, distance and expense.

So you can imagine my distress when I realized, only a few days before our wedding day, that there was a paperwork issue. Actually, there had been several, but we thought we’d worked them all out. But we hadn’t. We’d left one thing in the hands of the lawyer who had been helping us, and as it turned out, he didn’t fully understand what was necessary either. Only rather than telling us that… well, it’s a moot point now. Suffice it to say anyone that has dealt with the apostille process has probably felt our pain.

IMG_8692Mumsy talked me down from my mini-meltdown. She reminded me that a marriage wasn’t about paperwork, it was about our love and commitment to one another. She was right, of course. And we on May 9, we pledged ourselves to one another. It was a small ceremony on a beautiful stretch of beach. We were surrounded by the most important people in our lives, and the two random kids with beach towel capes that are in practically every wedding picture.

After the wedding, I set to work getting our paperwork problem sorted out. This was no small feat given the fact that I was in the Dominican Republic, and everything I needed to do was in New York. But thanks to some exceptional friends – most notably Nancy Brienza Duffy who ran around Manhattan for me and then hand delivered my documents to me here in the DR – we got it done.

Of course, there was still some legwork – translations and other documents

Andry's partner, Martinez, stepped up as our padrino.

Andry’s partner, Martinez, stepped up as our padrino.

that needed to be executed – on this end. Which we put in the hands of yet another lawyer. This one delivered, but on a slightly longer timeline than we had expected. It was starting to seem like our civil ceremony was NEVER going to happen.

And then last Friday, Andry called me. He was in Puerto Plata running some errands and had stopped to see the lawyer.

“How about 4 o’clock?” he asked me.

“Umm, today?” I stammered.

It crossed my mind to say no. To ask if they had any openings next week. I needed more time. We’d never be able to round up our padrinos (best man and maid of honor) in time. Could I get my nails done before 4? And there were my roots to think about!

But then I realized how silly I was being. After all, we’d already waited for months. And if there is anything life has taught me, it’s that you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. So I said the same thing I said the first time he asked me to marry him.

Yes.

 

Affectionately yours,

Señora de Gomez

It's official

It’s official

Andry Bismal Gomez Amarante

y Melissa Stagnaro

May 9, 2015 & August 21, 2015

Our padrinos, Martinez and his wife Rabelis, and our stand-in photographer, Jordy Brito.

Our padrinos, Martinez and his wife Rabelis, and our stand-in photographer, Jordy Brito.

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Feliz Año Nuevo: Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

That beautiful tropical vista I was talking about, at sunrise.

That beautiful tropical vista I was talking about, at sunrise.

When I drew back the curtains this morning, I couldn’t help but smile. Before me was a tropical vista that just doesn’t get old. Palm fronds swaying with the breeze against a backdrop of blue sky and even bluer ocean. Yes, 2015 is going to be a great year. I can feel it already.

Not that 2014 wasn’t pretty darn fabulous. It was, in so many unexpected ways, quite possibly the best one yet.

I’m not saying it was entirely without ups and downs. It had its trials and tribulations, I assure you. But these days I choose to live a positive life. And to do so, you can’t dwell on the negatives. They’ll consume you if you let them.

The defining moment for me happened a month or so ago. It was right after Thanksgiving and I was missing my family like crazy. I could feel the old doubts and fears creeping back. Past failures, would-haves, should-haves and a list of to-do list items I’ve so far left ‘un-checked’ started swirling in my head. I was dangerously close to feeling sorry for myself. But this vista before me – the same one that helped me greet 2015 and that is before now as I write – helped me pull myself back from the abyss.

That day, I started to take stock of the past year. And much to my own surprise, I found I had a lot more items to add in the ‘accomplishments’ column than I initially thought. 2014 has been a very busy year. Busier than I remembered, even.

The love of my life, on one of our many adventures.

The love of my life, on one of our many adventures.

See, I learned a new language. (Spanish, of course. And while I’m far from fluent, I can communicate better every day.) I not only discovered paradise in the Dominican Republic, I moved there. I met the love of my life. I watched my nephew walk down the aisle with the love of his life. I helped celebrate my Aunt Kathleen’s 60th Jubilee. Finally, after carrying the book around for more than a decade, I worked my way through The Artist’s Way – healing and awakening my creativity every step of the way. I picked up a paintbrush again after a very, very long hiatus. I wrote a few poems. I went kayaking for the first time. I ‘hoed’ out the accumulated detritus of (most of) my past lives. I started freelancing again (and might even have some income to show for it in 2015). I dragged my mother first to the Dominican Republic and then to Ireland, the latter of which was fulfilling a lifelong dream for her. I started this blog (although I continue to be negligent in posting). I even lost 20 pounds.

Well, before I went home for the holidays, anyway.

And, after years of telling myself I couldn’t, I started writing fiction. And I have two (really horrific) first drafts to show for it.

The fact that they are utter shite is beside the point, really. I learned so much in the process. And I proved to myself that I could do it. That, along with the fact that it was more fun than I ever imagined, made my little experiment a roaring success. And I can’t wait to do it all over again. Novel #3 is burning a hole in my head as we speak, eager to spill out on the page.

So, yes, that’s on the to-do list for 2015. As is taking up a hatchet in one hand and a scalpel in the other to have a go at its predecessors, who are currently aging like a fine wine. I make absolutely no promises that either will ever see the light of day, mind you. But it will be good practice for my future experiments in fiction. Because now that I’ve started, I have no intention of stopping.

So, yes, 2014 was a very good year. I’ve had so many adventures. I’ve explored. Made new friends. Learned anew how to forgive, to heal, to fully appreciate life. There have been challenges along with the triumphs, but the laughter has far outweighed the tears for the first time in a very long time.

Every day I am filled with gratitude and more of a sense of prosperity than a fat paycheck ever provided. And every day, I count my blessings.

As I look ahead at 2015, I don’t just think it will be filled with unlimited possibilities. I know it will. Because I’m no longer afraid to live life to the fullest. No longer afraid to take a few risks. No longer afraid to imagine the life I want for myself – nor afraid to actually live it. I know that when I take that leap of faith, my wings are strong enough to carry me over the abyss of fear and self-doubt.

I’m very familiar with that abyss. After all, I lived in it for years. Believe me, I have no desire to ever, ever go back.

What’s changed? Me. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, when I looked ahead at 2014 with trepidation and fear, unsure what my next step would be. In the last 12 months, I healed, I learned, I loved…and for the first time in a very long time – maybe ever – I am truly living and loving life.

The best part? I’m just getting started.

I hope you’re ready, 2015. Because I know I am.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

Feliz Año Nuevo, amigos!

The Curse of the Blank Page: A tale of writing, self-doubt and purple eyeliner

IMG_3954I’m feeling a bit bored. Something I have no right to feel, really. What with the fact that I’ve spent most of the day avoiding the task at hand: Writing.

It’s not a lack of things to say – or topics to expound upon – that has me avoiding this most earnest of endeavors. So what is it then, that prevents me from taking up my pen and moving it across the blank page or, alternately, positioning my fingers above the keys on my laptop and tap, tap, tapping away at an equally blank screen?

I suppose it’s fear. Not that writing – or even depending on it to make my living – is an unknown for me. But I have this dream, and there is a part of me that fears failing to achieve that dream.

Yes, I’m familiar with all of the old adages. How the only way to truly fail is not to try, etc. etc. I’d rather not run through them all, either on this page or in my head. I can recognize the wisdom behind them. Heck, I even buy into it.

But somehow that doesn’t lessen the dread I sometimes feel when it’s time to sit down and get to the work of actually writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I write every day. I fill notebooks. But it’s coalescing these bits and pieces into something meaningful that freezes my heart. Because as long as I’m not thinking about writing, the words flow – smoothly, painlessly and, when I’m really lucky, beautifully.

It’s when I think that things jam up.

Sometimes it’s the critic in my head. Wow, is she a bitch! She delights in playing Negative Nancy to every idea – sometimes every word! – I try to put down. And she doesn’t limit herself to merely critiquing my writing. Oh, no! She likes to weigh in on all of my life decisions.

Her favorite time to chime in is when people ask me what I do, or what I’m doing these days. I barely have time to respond before she adds her two cents.

“A writer? Really! You have the audacity to call yourself a writer, ” she sneers. “That’s rich. I see the garbage you’re scribbling down. Take my advice – get a day job.”

Thankfully, her berating is only for my ears. But I’m sure the intrepid soul who was kind enough to inquire can see the play of confused emotions across my face. (I’ve never been good at poker.)

Sometimes my in-house critic doesn’t need to say a word. She doesn’t have to. Because the second I sit down to write – or even think about sitting down to write – my writer’s ADD kicks in. Now, I’ve never actually been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. But you wouldn’t know that they way my brain scatters off like a frightened kitten when I come face to face with that blank page.

Anything and everything is a potential distraction. There are the usual suspects – the internet (although sometimes I can justify that as research…), social media, daytime television, etc. And then there are the signs of true desperation. Like the sudden, burning desire to clean out my closet. Or make a vat of chicken soup. Or pluck my eyebrows.

Wow. My eyebrows. They REALLY need some attention. Even everyone’s favorite critic thinks so. I guess she had a good look at them while I was experimenting with some eyeliner a couple of minutes/paragraphs ago.

Which might seem normal, except for the fact that I don’t really wear makeup. And I’m not going anywhere. But somehow, between one word and the next, it was something I just HAD to do. IMMEDIATELY.

So, now I’m just sitting here in front of my computer.

Wearing a shade of purple eyeliner that was obviously a mistake.

Waiting for the words to come.

Something that isn’t even possible if I’m not moving the pen across the page or my fingers across the keyboard.

Which I can’t do if, say, I’m removing the aforementioned eyeliner…

Or flossing, which is what I did to distract myself from the ghastly shade of purple I’ve now managed to smear across my face.

But despite these many, many distractions and that incredibly vocal critic, I have to keep pressing forward. Not because of any impending deadline, per se. But, well, remember that boredom we were talking about?

Well, it isn’t really boredom. No, it’s words – an inkling of an idea, a fragment of dialogue, the tender young threads of a story. They’re just under the surface, nudging against my conscious mind. Like an itch waiting to be scratched.

And there is only one thing to do about it.

I have to sit down, make my peace with that blank page, ignore the nagging voice of my inner critic, forget about eyeliner and oral hygiene, get the heck out of my own way…

And WRITE.

With Every Step: Bringing suicide, depression and mental illness ‘Out of the Darkness’

On June 28, a mere 4 weeks away, I’ll be walking with my Team Chenango teammates in the American Society for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Overnight. This marks the 4th year we’ve participated in this 18-mile dusk ‘til dawn walk to raise money and support AFSP’s suicide prevention and awareness efforts.

As we gear up for Philadelphia, where this year’s event will take place, my teammates and I are facing some challenges. The training miles aren’t adding up as fast as we need them to. Nor are we making enough progress toward our fundraising goal.

Typically we raise the vast majority of our goal with two events: a 5K in October and our annual golf tournament in May. But with less than a month to go, I’m sorry to say we’re still about $2,100 away from the absolute minimum our team needs to walk.

I lamented about this to my friend Danielle earlier this week. Danielle, who lost her father to suicide 13 years ago, is the reason I became involved with this cause several years ago. She’s our team captain and, in so many ways, the heart of Team Chenango.

Her response made me take a moment to reflect. Both on what we put into this walk every year, and why we do it. I thought I’d share.

Every year it comes down to the two big fundraisers that we put together and then the walk. And every year, it gets harder and harder. You know how it is. Life gets in the way sometimes. Every year, I wonder why I put myself through all of the aggravation. Then I stop to think about my dad.

Danielle's father, Dan Marshman

Danielle’s father, Dan Marshman

Put simply – he was and is my hero. I love him with all of my heart. And I know there are a lot of people in our community who felt a strong connection with him as well.

When I stop to think about what he must have felt in the few weeks and months leading up to his death, I just CANNOT imagine the pain he was in.

As I complain about how hard it is to put this together, I think about him and I realize that the purpose is to prevent others from EVER having to go through this again.

It has been 13 years since Dad died by suicide from a disease that can be prevented if we could just start talking about it! This walk is so well named, because we need to bring depression, mental illness and suicide “Out of the Darkness”.

Thank you, Danielle, for that reminder.

I started stepping up my training walks as of yesterday, because there is no way I’m going to let Danielle and the rest of our team down. This is too important of a cause.

But we’re going to need your help as well. Any amount you give will get us that much closer to our goal. That much closer to Philadelphia. That much closer to bringing depression, mental illness and suicide Out of the Darkness.

Thank you in advance for your support of this incredibly important cause.

To Donate:

Visit www.theovernight.org and search for Team Chenango. This will bring up a list of team members and how close they are to making their goal.

– or – 

Select a Team Chenango member and make a donation through their donor page:

Melissa Stagnaro

Danielle Marshman

Maggie Dorsey

David Emerson

Steven Dykeman  (Goal reached!)

Michelle Hamlett (Goal reached!)

Teresa Hollister (Goal reached!)

Brian Meade (Goal reached!)

– or – 

You can send your donation (checks made payable to Team Chenango) to P.O. Box 863, Oxford NY 13830.

On behalf of all of Team Chenango, THANK YOU.

 

Wonder Woman (a.k.a. Doreen Rowe)

One of our Wonder Woman's passions is being an adaptive ski coach at Greek Peak. She gave me the full experience - including a trip down the bunny slope in a mono-ski,when I tagged along for a story in 2011.

One of Doreen’s passions is being an adaptive ski coach at Greek Peak. She gave me the full experience – including a trip down the bunny slope in a mono-ski – when I tagged along with her in 2011.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are always hectic, filled with last minute shopping and holiday gatherings. So why I thought it was the perfect time to plan a reunion of sorts for my Leadership Chenango Class of 2010 classmates, I’ll never know. With everyone’s schedules packed to the gills, it was nearly impossible to find a time that would work for even a meager majority. But finally a date and time were identified that might work.

And it just might have worked, if not for Mother Nature’s untimely intervention. The heavy, wet snow was beautiful, but it made the roads rather treacherous. So much so that I wasn’t entirely surprised to find only one of my compatriots at our chosen venue (Uncorked Cafe & Lounge in Norwich, NY).

I was glad to see that person was Doreen Rowe. Doreen and I had met as part of the community leadership program, and our paths had continued to cross professionally and through shared interests so often that we’d naturally grown into friends. It had been awhile since we’d had an opportunity to catch up. So, we had a glass of wine and did just that as we waited to see if anyone else intended to brave the weather.

It was close to an hour before another member of our group, Roger Connelly, arrived. By then Doreen and I had worked our way through a number of topics, from the sudden turn my career had taken and some things that had been weighing heavily on my mind to her volunteer work as an adaptive ski coach, an upcoming ski trip she had booked and our respective holiday plans.

Doreen left shortly after Roger arrived, anxious to get home to meet her daughter Amy, who was driving down from Albany. But our conversation stayed with me. The last couple of months have been a bit tumultuous, and our time together did me good. Talking to Doreen – even just being in her presence – always helps me put things in better perspective.

I was still thinking about Doreen and reflecting on our conversation the next morning, when I received a message from a mutual friend. Doreen had suffered a major heart attack and was in very serious condition.

The tears came instantly, as a jumble of thoughts and emotions hit me. She had been happy and laughing and her usual amazing self the night before and I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that this had happened so soon after I’d seen her. I was scared to death for Doreen and her family, fervently praying that she’d pull through, scrambling to think of any way I could be of help to her family, and feeling completely lost.

There was one thought in particular that caused my heart to ache so badly it felt like it would burst: what if the time I had spent with Doreen the night before was the last time I would see her? If I’d known that was even a possibility, what would I have said? What would I have wanted her to know?

Let me tell you a story.

Doreen is extremely intelligent and incredibly knowledgeable about her fields of expertise (of which she has many). She’s also one of the strongest, kindest, most caring and selfless people you will ever meet. But I didn’t realize that at first. Because Doreen is calm, cool, collected and incredibly modest.. where I, umm, skew to the emotionally impulsive and wear everything on my sleeve. So, you could saw we were a bit like oil and water when we first met.

That all changed after Doreen came to one of our classes with a new haircut. I mean no offense when I say it wasn’t very flattering. It had an air of mullet about it, cut very close – almost shaved – on the sides with the top/back a tight perm. I am ashamed to say, I may have thrown her a few sideways glances when I first saw it.

But then I learned WHY she’d done it.

You see, a dear friend of Doreen’s was scheduled to have brain surgery. And one of the things causing her the most angst was what she’d look like after she had the operation. So Doreen went with her and had her hair cut, too.

I went home and cried after that. I had clearly, almost criminally, misjudged this woman. Who was a better person than I. See, my father had recently started chemo. He too had been self conscious and anxious about loosing his hair. But it had never crossed my mind to do what Doreen had done.

From that moment on, I paid more attention and had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that the differences I perceived between Doreen and myself came down mostly to communication styles. (And some startling immaturity on my part!) But once I got past that, I began to truly discover what an amazing person she is.

We all have our own way of making a difference. For me, that way has been through writing. But Doreen makes a difference by doing.

One of my more spectacular spills of the day! (Which Doreen was more than happy to capture for posterity…)

One of her greatest passions is volunteering as an adaptive ski coach, helping blind and physically disabled individuals learn to ski and snowboard at Greek Peak’s Adaptive Snowsports Center. I got to see her in action in 2011, when she invited me to do a story about the Winter Challenge she’s involved with.

The day I spent with her and the challenge participants was truly life-changing for me on a personal level. (And not only because I learned how much abuse my body can take – I fell A LOT. You can read all about it here.)

It also solidified my friendship with Doreen, something for which I will always be grateful. We’ve golfed together, skied together, laughed and cried. I’ve come to value her opinion and her insight on so many topics and issues, particularly those relating to education and agriculture. And one story she told me, about a piece of advise someone gave her early in her career, has been something I’ve gone back to on more than one occasion.

Every time I see or talk to her, I am more amazed. There’s a reason my mother calls her Wonder Woman. She’s a one woman dynamo. And she pushes me to be a better person, simply because I want to be more like her. Although she has no way of knowing that, because I’ve never taken the time to tell her.

Until now.

Doreen, without realizing it, you’ve become an amazing influence on my life. You inspire me to put my heart into everything I do, and to be there for others. Your selfless acts and strength have touched so many lives, including my own. I cherish the time we’ve spent together, and I can’t wait to hit the golf course and the slopes with you again.

You have never been far from my thoughts these last few weeks, and you and your family will remain in my prayers throughout your recovery.

Get well soon, my friend.

And thank you for teaching me yet another life lesson: how very important it is to let people know how much they mean to you.