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You Can Plan For Everything, But Grief

“I will never say goodbye because it’s not. He’s always a part of my life.”

“The amount of love that Alan and I have, it’s just something that will never ever be gone. That’s one of the things I’ve learned through this whole grieving process. Love never dies. It never ever, ever dies. It’s not like a divorce or something like that. It’s not like that at all.

When one person passes away, the love is still there. It will always be there.”

Alan & Phil met in 2011, got engaged in September 2017 and married in October 2017. Sadly, Alan was diagnosed with cancer in January 2018 and passed away only a month later in February 2018.

After months of intense grief, a year later Phil now loves going home to their house. He’s even started dating a bit again. And while the grief has become more manageable, he still learns new insights every day about just how special he and Alan’s connection really was.

How did they plan for the end of Alan’s life?

Phil knew Alan was a planner. Mundane daily tasks weren’t immune to his planning, either.

When they remodeled their home, Alan’s spreadsheet itemized everything from parts to labor, and everything in between. When they went shopping for a washing machine, Alan quickly calculated how much it was going to cost to pay off per load.

Spreadsheets were how Alan and Phil made their life decisions, and Alan’s end of life would be no different.

After the news in January 2018, while Phil was continuing to process the information, Alan knew exactly what to do: plan.

First, Alan went on disability. Then, he found a funeral parlor and made the arrangements. He even made sure that his urn matched the wood floors and cabinets of him and Phil’s home.

“After he passed away and was cremated, I went to go pick him up. The box he picked out matches our floors and cabinets to a T. It literally looks like it could have been made from the same wood.” says Phil.

Alan even surprised Phil with his planning. He left a thumb drive and told Phil it was for “When the time is right.” He had written three obituaries for himself: one for Facebook, one for work, and one for the CLCI.

When Phil saw those, he thought “Oh my god! That’s Cupcake. He’s a planner. He planned everything.”

Alan’s end of life planning was also to ensure Phil wasn’t financially burdened by his cancer.

However, with all of the planning, there was one thing Alan couldn’t plan, and that was helping Phil with the emotions and grief of the pending loss.

How did Phil manage widower’s syndrome?

Since Alan’s passing, Phil has kept his connection alive and strong. 

It started with the clocks in the house. Alan was always the one who set them, and anything else electronic. The first Sunday after he passed, as Phil had a chicken baking in the oven, the power in the house went out.

That had never happened in the eight years Phil had been in that house, after all the hospital was around the corner and the main line to it serviced Phil and Alan’s home as well. If the power was out at their house, it was out at the hospital –– and it was never out there.

The power quickly flashed back on, and Phil looked around at the house –– all the clocks blinking at him.

“Oh god, how do you set these things,” Phil said out loud. He’d never set the clocks before. It took him 30 minutes. It took him even longer to realize the chicken wasn’t cooking. They had a gas oven, and he needed to restart it because the power went off.

All Phil could think was, “OK, Alan. Thank you! I’ve learned to set the clocks.” He knew Alan was always with him.

Now, instead of Phil telling Alan everything that happened that day, Phil writes letters to him every night.

“I love you with all my heart and soul, you’re my world and I’m very, very proud of you.”

When Phil went back to work only four days after Alan’s death, he feared going home.

Home was a space where all of Alan’s stuff was, even though he wasn’t. A constant reminder that Alan was no longer physically around.

“I would go home and I would see stuff that would be his and I would start crying because he’s not here. Even though he’s here, he’s not here,” explained Phil.

Slowly, Phil started moving Alan’s things.

First, after 8 months, he moved his toothbrush and its changing stand.

Later, moving his clothes became a challenge. The process involved Phil moving the clothes from the master closet into the spare bedroom closet. Then, he’d move them back and forth. Then, he’d move them back.

This went on for hours and Phil was sobbing the whole time because he knew what needed to be done. He just really didn’t want to do it. Finally, Phil could hear him say, “Would you just move them? I’m always here!”

How is Phil managing grief now?

Today, Phil owns his grief.

He’s let the pressure out by sobbing, walking, and screaming. He’s gotten passed wanting this to just be over.

Initially Phil was looking for someone to tell him how he would feel in two months. He wanted someone to tell him what he was going through was normal. He wanted someone to tell him he’d feel better in three months –– or how he should be feeling at all.

Over time, Phil realized “No one’s grief has a time limit. Everybody’s grief and everybody’s story is a little different.”

He finally told himself “Phil, you need to walk your own journey through this. You know that Alan is always right here. He’s not going to be away from you, ever. He’s always right next to you.”

To honor Alan’s presence, and to help himself heal, he began talking to Alan. Saying “Hi” to him when he walked in the door, and letting him know when he was going to the store.

“I firmly believe they can hear you,” said Phil.

He also began talking about him with friends and family and colleagues, refusing to let Alan’s memory fade away.

How did Phil memorialize Alan’s life?

Everything Alan did in life was always big, even though he had such understated elegance. He had power and he would exude confidence. After he passed, Phil wanted something that would represent that.

This led him to Googling what to do with ashes, where he found the ability to turn ashes into a diamond. It was perfect. Confident, like Alan, but with understated elegance.

With the diamond being created by Eterneva, Phil went to his jeweler to find a ring Alan would be proud of.

He needed a setting for the diamond that would honor their love and life and landed on a design that combined their birthstones, a Ruby and Citrine, with blue sapphires encircling the diamond.

Phil can hear Alan say, “You just have to be confident. Remember, I’m confident and I’m always with you.”

His confidence is always there as a ring on his finger, reminding Phil to be confident, to get up, to do things, to embrace the life he has.

Say “I’ll just see you later”

Phil told Alan, “I’m never going to tell you goodbye. I’m never going to say it. I’m never going to say that to you.’ Instead I said, ‘I’ll just see you later.”

“I will never say goodbye because it’s not. He’s always a part of my life.”

For Phil, Alan is forever part of his story. He will always have pictures of him around the house. He will always retell their stories. And if he finds someone else, Alan will be a part of their vocabulary, too.

And on this final note, as Phil once said, “Look, with grief, you have to learn to make peace with it. It’s never going to go away. You just learn how to live with it.”

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