I saw her face clearly today

It’s been a weird thing for me that since the day that Mona passed I haven’t been able to really see her face in my mind.

I get glimpses of it…like something you see out of the corner of your eye…but not clear. Like a will-o-wisp that taunts you and makes you think you’re seeing things.

It’s actually been quite frustrating and a point of sadness for me because it’s one of those old tropes you read in books and hear in movies about not being able to hear loved one’s voices, or forgetting their faces over time.

Pictures are one thing, but memories are another…and even my memories have had Monas face blurred and unclear.

I’ve tried to figure out what this is. Is it my mind protecting me? Or my heart?

Today that changed for me in the oddest way.

Miriya has this water toy that she got at a friends birthday party. It’s a simple device…you pull a knob back and it sucks water into a chamber and you push it and it shoots water out. Fun times.

Well, Miriya has had it in my car for weeks and on our way home from the dance concert tonight she had it pressed under her chin and was pulling back on the knob making it suck on her face.

I told her…

“If you keep doing that it’s going to give you a hickie!”

I then had to explain to my 11-year-old daughter what a hickie was.

I just went for it and told her the truth.

Hickies come from lying to your dad and not going to bed on time.

She didn’t go for that so I told her a neutered down version of the truth and warned her that I could see hickies through clothing. It’s a special power that dads have.

She might have bought that.

Anyways, Miriya pulled the toy off of her face and as I thought there was a small purple welt under her chin where it had created the tiny little bruise from the suction.

I told her “SEE LOOK!” ..and she saw it in the mirror in the car and promptly started to freak out. So much that when we went to Chipotle for dinner she was covering it with her hair.

Over the course of the evening apparently, she forgot about it (and so did I).

She came into my room to ask me a question about something and I immediately noticed it had quadrupled in size (now about the size of a quarter from the size of a pea) and started laughing…

And that’s when it hit me…

A huge flash of Monas face…clear…healthy….laughing….and her voice saying

“Oh my god girl…what did you do to your face???!?!?”

Followed by the huge laugh that Mona would have when something truly amused her…her eyes wrinkling and her smile…so clear…

And I just laughed with Miriya and told her how much I wish her Mom was here because she would have laughed so hard at this…we both would have….

And then out of my hilarious laughter, the sadness came. A different strength and angle from the laughter…maybe not as strong…but it tried to ruin that moment for me.  Trying to sucker punch me as I was distracted.

And Miri laughed with me.

It tried to taint that true moment of joy.

And it lost for a moment. I dodged the full punch initially.

I’ve never felt such intense emotions so close to each other in such a short period of time.

I pushed back and just kept laughing and seeing Monas face through my tears. Laughing and thinking of how funny it would be to be able to tell her…

“Remember that time that Miriya put the water toy on her chin?”

But that Memory won’t be shared with her. It was just between Miri and I.

When she left, the sadness lingered after the joy was gone.

The punch had landed after all, I just didn’t feel it until after.

Mona’s face has become blurry again as I try to recall it, as it has been.
But it was clear for those few moments.

A gift.

A shred of hope.

I gladly pay the price with the tears I have in my eyes as I write this. With the ache in my heart. With the doubt I continue to hold as to how I do this. How I continue.

A memory I will treasure.

The Problem With Landmines

One of the hardest things for me right now is coming across what I call the “landmines”.

When you’ve entwined your life so much with another person, it’s inevitable that places and things that you shared get tied to that person as well.

There are moments right now where I can have a few minutes of  “normal” mode thinking. Just regular “normal mode” thinking without sadness or grief overshadowing everything like the bastards they are.

And then I’ll hit a landmine.

A picture will come across my social media feed, or a “thing” that used to have a much different meaning suddenly has become a “landmine”.

For instance, the framed print of the Great Wave that Mona gave to me when she had her cancer recurrence and what she told me when she gave it to me on that day…

“I know you love this piece so much..I want you to have a real copy of it, not the cheap poster you’ve had for years. I’m sorry we have to go through this again hon…”

She apologized to me.

And then gave me a gift.

For her cancer coming back.

Like she had something to apologize for. But that was Mona. Thinking of others even while she was encased in her stoic shell.

She felt the pain, she just processed it differently, and I wish with all my might that I knew the formula for that right now, but it seems just like Greek Fire that recipe is lost. It was taken the moment she took her last breath.

I look at that wave…one of my favorite pieces of art (which is saying a lot..because I love a lot of art) and now it appears to me as the wave that is crashing over me right now as I go through this. It’s taken on a whole different meaning to me.
It used to just be something that i loved for it’s use of color and motion and balance, and now it has become far far more than that.

It’s both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Majestic and menacing.

So it’s meaning to me is forever changed…and that’s what this process is. It’s ALL change.

I’m not good at change. Never have been. That compounds how hard this all is for me.

Some people would say “Take that down…it’s causing you pain.”

But taking it down wouldn’t take it out of my heart or mind. It would just remove something that means very much to me from life. Expanding the loss I already feel.

Some people SEEK the environment of change..they CRAVE change and all the excitement and uncertainty. Not me. Never.

I thrive in change if it’s forced on me, but it is an immensely painful process for me due to Anxiety pummeling the crap out of me like a schoolyard bully as I go through it.

This house is loaded with landmines. Reminders of a life I once had, dreams dreamed, plans made….and plans never to come to fruition.

All because Cancer came into the picture. The story that was “supposed” to happen had a shitty plot twist.

Mona and I’s relationship was one we had to fight for for a very long time. We had massive ups and downs…but through it all we always came back to each other. We realized we were meant for each other and doubt was erased as we forged our relationship through those trials.

We truly forgave. And that’s something that is incredibly hard for me.

We weren’t perfect for each other at first, but were perfect for each other in the long run. We found that out…and now there is no long run. It’s been cut off.

And I fortune tell now and try to see the future as that Great Wave hovers over me and I cling to the boat….

The problem with landmines is they do tremendous damage…and often leave their victims permanently changed…almost certainly not for the better.

40 days….

It’s tradition for Filipino Catholics to hold mass and celebrate on the 40th day after a loved one passes.

This is said to mirror the time that Jesus spent after his resurrection with his disciples before he returned to his father.

So today we had the 40th day mass at the house here.

It was interesting because it was partially in Illicano (A filipino dialect) and partially in English.  And while I didn’t understand every single word I did understand the intent of it all.

The father who presided over the mass was also the one who anointed Mona with the Blessing of the Sick…and it was comforting to see him again. He did such a wonderful job when he came those months ago.

The father shared a story of his childhood with us that resounded with me so massively.

He spoke about how when he was young he always asked his mother questions….and one of the questions he asked was when looking at gravestones there would be the Birthdate and the Death date on the tombstone with a – in between those dates.

He asked his mother what the “-” meant….

His mother told him that while most people focus on the dates, the most important part was the “-“.

When he asked why, she explained to him that it was because the – represents the LIFE of the person between those two dates.

It’s the culmination of what they did while here with us amongst the living.

I will never look at a – the same ever again…for it’s true. That tiny little mark is indeed the summary tucked between numbers or letters.

He then looked at me and said Monas – must have been amazing…because the amount of people he saw at her services when he came to them was staggering.

And that’s our job…to affect one another. To hold each other up and pass on the good that we know.

I miss you Mona. Incredibly.

11/2/74 – 6/8/17

Almost 40 days…

I’m not altogether sure how to start this thing.

It’s been said it’s best to start at the beginning…but that’s a lot to cover in a single shot here…so I’ll start in the now…

Today is 39 days from the day that my wife Monalisa Schlieper left this plane of existence…planet…mortal coil…or however you choose to define what exactly our physical presence IS in the “real”.

It’s been 39 days of ups and downs.

39 days of moments of gratitude contrasting with absolutely unbearable episodes of despair, regret, guilt, and doubt.

This battle is really about my cognitive and my emotional states beating each other into submission.

The cognitive knows that we did everything we could. We had amazing treatment. We had amazing results. We had a lot more time than many people in the same situation had.  We didn’t make mistakes. I know that…in my heart of hearts I know that…and yet my heart is betrayed by the emotions that bubble to the surface…

What if we had tried some other treatments?

Why did you lose your temper that one day?

Why weren’t you around even more than you already were?

Why did you fail Ryan?

Why couldn’t you save your wife?

Why couldn’t you take her place?

Why weren’t you stronger for her?

Each one of those thoughts razer sharp and narrow, easily sliding through the joints of my cognitive armor cutting the exposed raw emotions underneath allowing doubt to ooze out and fester…turning to guilt…..

Guilt for being the one left here.

Guilt for being the one that gets to “go on”.

Guilt for being the lone parent to the daughter we created and brought into this world together.

Guilt for the one that has a chance to pursue those goals WE set together…that now seem unattainable.

And do I even want to attain them without her by my side?

Do I even have a right to?

And the battle swings again as thoughts of what she would tell me if she were here come into focus…

You didn’t fail Ryan.

You heard the nurses…you were amazing.

You heard the doctors…this wasn’t something that could be beaten in the end. We were buying time. We were buying memories. We were taught that the future is not certain and that moments are truly what mattered.

You heard the people as you became my ears when I couldn’t hear anymore…my hands when I couldn’t use my fingers well anymore…my voice when speaking was simply too much for me to bear.

You know this you dumbass. You’re so stubborn you just can’t see it. You won’t allow yourself to feel it because you feel you failed me…but you didn’t…I told you this time and time again…

You gave me a daughter. You showed me love and never left my side. You were the knight by my side and never my squire that you always said you were.

This was your fight as much as mine. And now it is yours and our daughters.

You have to go on now for both of us.

You can. I believe in you. You’re stronger than you know.


She believed in me.

When I had no belief in myself.

She valued me.

She forced me to value myself.

She made me see the world through drastically different eyes.

I don’t know if I can do this without that constant belief being reinforced with her voice.

But I do know I have to move on…I can’t stay here.

Here is impossible.

Here is unbearable.

Here is relentless.

I don’t know how to do this.

I don’t know how I CAN do this.

I don’t know WHERE I’m going.

So for now…

It’s wherever from here.