As you may know, Rhonda, the Founder and President of UV Skinz began her mission to get kids covered after her husband was taken by the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma. He would have been 40 years old yesterday and she wrote him an amazing and touching letter to celebrate the day.
I am so honored to post this letter because Rhonda and I have always talked about her writing a post for the blog. She has poured her heart and soul into this which is one of the reasons why I love her and her company so much; the passion behind the mission is so personal and relate able. Read on with tissues in hand and an open heart!
Written By: Rhonda
Darren would be 40 years old today. 40 years old! At 19, when I first met him, 40 years old seemed to be an eternity away, but now, Darren will forever remain 32 years young. His smile and beautiful piercingly blue eyes will stay youthful and wrinkle free as we continue to age and change with the elements that each passing day brings. I am reflective today. This day, more than others, is bringing a flood of memories. But more than memories, I wish I could share with Darren what life has brought to us in the nearly eight years he’s been gone. I thought I’d write him a letter, sharing with him stories of the boys and of my life and just how much he is missed.
Where do I begin? I’ve always had this vision that you are watching over us and that you can see how the boys are growing and how amazing they are. That you know all the details … that you know that Ethan is now 13 years old and coming into his own. Can you believe we have a teenager!?!? And although he possesses all the typical ‘teenage angst’; sleeping in, talking back on occasion, teasing his younger brothers, and eating me out of house and home, he also has the most AMAZING heart and compassion for others. I realize he is our first born, our special brilliant child who first changed our hearts, and we are biased, but he truly is SPECIAL! He has taught me more than any text book in any school. Words and phrases and thoughts pop out of his mouth that have me stopped in my tracks or pondering what life really DOES mean. He never wants to see anyone hurting or feeling alone or sad and he finds goodness in EVERYTHING and EVERYONE and rarely shows judgment. I’ve been told by many how ‘impressed’ they are with him and what an ‘old soul’ he has. He is loved by so many and makes friends wherever he goes, never wanting to exclude anyone. (And trust me, there is ALWAYS an extra kid or two hanging out at the house, thanks to Ethan!) He shares all of this radiant beauty despite of the unfortunate hands he’s been dealt.
Losing you was a HUGE blow to Ethan.
Even though he had only just turned 6 four days prior to your passing, he remembers you vividly and brings up stories of your adventures often. Another setback for Ethan was when he was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes in July 2005. This was a HUGE blow to the whole family as we have no history of any diabetes on either side. He took the news with such stride and determination. Normally a person must instantly start testing their blood sugar several times throughout the day and taking shots of insulin all day/every day, but Ethan and I were determined to try and stay away from insulin as long as possible. We got Ethan on a bunch of natural supplements and treatment options and steered clear of unhealthy carbs in his (and the whole families) diet and did everything we could to fight the disease, but unfortunately in February 2006 we came to the realization that he needed to start taking insulin on a regular basis. He has been great with all of it, never complaining of the needles and pricks and pokes and physical feelings he has each day from his fluctuating blood sugars. I swear that kid is as hard as nails! He also hasn’t let the diabetes slow him down one bit. He is extremely athletic and always a tremendous asset for any team he is on, whether it be hockey, soccer, or snowboarding. He’s received numerous awards and accolades and loves being able to move and sweat every day. (All of this really helps with his diabetes too!) His latest passion (or should I say obsession?) is golfing and he’s quite good at it. He takes lessons a few times a week and is out on the golf course at least five out of seven days, playing with anyone he can convince to join him. They love him at the golf club! He’s been an absolute joy to watch grow and with each passing year, more and more of your traits appear in him. He has your facial features and bone structure and he has your exact same stance! It’s sometimes eerie watching him run out on the soccer field as I can swear I am staring at an exact duplicate of you. He has also picked up your amazing artistic skills. All three of the boys have. Ethan can pick up and pencil or pen and within minutes can create illustrations and abstracts that can keep a person staring at them for hours. I am quite excited to see what the next decade and beyond bring with this great kid!
Seth is now eleven years old and can definitely be defined as your classic ‘middle child’. He wants for nothing and can always be counted on to ‘go with the flow’. He too is an amazingly gifted child who is very well loved among his peers. He has the softest heart and is a very sensitive man, a lot like his daddy. I just know he’s going to make a fabulous husband someday as he will be so willing to please and communicate. And the kid is HUGE! We don’t talk about it much, but he’s nearly towering over Ethan in height and has him by at least five pounds in weight. And his shoe size is a solid size bigger than Ethan’s as well. But like I mentioned, we don’t talk about this much at home. It kills Ethan to know that his younger brother is bigger than him. ;-) Seth LOVES the water. He takes on any sports that have to do with being wet; swimming, water polo, surfing, and just plain goofing around in the pool with this friends. And he’s so committed! He gets up at 6:30AM every morning (Mon-Fri) and hits the gym and does laps with his swim team. And it seems that we’re off to some swim meet at least every other weekend for the kid. He just loves it. And he too has your artistic flare. I’m constantly being told by his teachers what tremendous talent he has. His hands and fingers look exactly like yours and he holds his pencils the same way you did. And because he was only three years old when you passed, he always wants me to tell him stories of who you were. He is also the one who will initiate looking through old pictures or boxes of your belongings. He even wears one of your t-shirts to bed often and has found another ‘vans classic’ shirt of yours that he has taken quite a liking for. You would be quite proud of your little protégé.
Caleb, the ‘baby’ at nine years of age, can definitely be defined as the joke-ster of the family. You can always count on Caleb for a good laugh! He is just a pure crack up and never stops talking! He came out screaming and hasn’t quit moving his mouth ever since. He is always laughing and joking and smiling. He is pure charisma, constantly walking into a room and owning it. Everyone loves Caleb from the little old ladies to the brand new babies. He moves at the speed of light in whatever he does; eating, playing, even in his sleep he is moving! We’ve even started a routine each night to ‘push the day’s energy out’ of all of his limbs so that he can finally have some peace throughout his body and mind as he falls off to slumber. (Not sure if it works, but he loves the massage) ;-) He is also the only one of the boys who has been ‘sent to the office’ at school (in 2nd grade!) because he told the little girl that he shares a desk with that she ‘didn’t clean her desk space very well’. The little girl was very upset and had her feelings hurt and his teacher thought it would be a good idea for him to reflect on what he did and the choice of words he used. Caleb came home that day, very melancholic (so unusual for him!) and very seriously asked me, ‘Mommy, how do you know when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings?’ You see, in Caleb’s mind, he was just stating a fact. He didn’t feel the little girl cleaned her desk very well. We’re working on the ‘seven second delay’ before blurting out words as well as the choice of words to use when talking with people; especially sensitive, little girls. ;-) And Caleb is a smart little cookie! He rushes through all of his work assignments without pause and is constantly blurting out the answers to all of the questions in class. (This is another area the teacher is working with him … raising his hand before talking.) As his teacher so eloquently puts it, ‘Caleb would be so much more of a handful if he wasn’t so darn cute!’ ;-)
I know that you didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Caleb since your last year of life was full of treatments and surgeries and illness and he was only 18 months when you passed, but you would be so proud of him. He is quite the kid.
And now, for me.
Life has surely been painted into a much different picture than I had ever anticipated. I never dreamed I would have fallen in love so deeply at the tender age of 19, have three beautiful boys with you, and then have you ripped from my arms when I was only 30. That was never part of the plan. And the whole experience has absolutely, without a doubt, changed me. You ‘rocked my world’. Although we were young and full of egos and angst and energy, we definitely shared a deep, deep love for one another. We never really got the chance to ‘mature’ together, into our 30’s and 40’s and beyond, but the lessons you have left me with in the ten years we did share will alter my universe indefinitely. I see things differently now. I have a new set of eyes for what truly matters and why we are here. Because of you, I love more deeply, I cry more often, I laugh when no one else gets its, and I count my blessings numerous times throughout the day. I have more compassion for people and what their day/life may be presenting to them. (Hey, maybe that person who just cut me off the road is racing to the hospital to hear his grandmother’s last breath or his babies first.) We never know and I try hard not to presume I do. You, my dear man, have blessed me with these newfound perspectives. I am a better person because of you.
I’ve remarried. You and I had many conversations in your final months about ‘the future’ and what that would mean for me and the boys. You passionately (and with pain in your eyes) told me that it would be okay to find another lover. In fact, you encouraged it. You didn’t want me or the boys to experience this world alone. You told me to love again and I stubbornly told you I didn’t need to love again; my cup was full to the rim with your and the boys love. And this was surely the case for nearly five years after you were gone. I was filled with your memories and grief and all of the daily activities of the boys, I needed nothing else.
Then one day things began to change inside of me. I felt ‘lonely’ for the first time since losing you. Subconsciously my ‘energy’ must have begun changing because on one of my routine annual trips to Hawaii, that I would take with the boys each year, I ran into John-Jay. I ran into him EVERY year, but for some reason, this year was different. I’ve known John-Jay since I was 19 as well. You may even remember him. I always thought of him as my younger brother’s ‘pesty little friend’ even though, it turns out, he is three weeks older than me! It was instant attraction. The boys took to him immediately (except for Ethan, as he felt I was betraying you, but he too eventually came around). And as with everything, the timing was right. For both of us. I was finally ready to ‘move on’ (in whatever capacity that meant, I wasn’t sure) and John-Jay comments he too was ‘ready to settle down’. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions and confusion and passion and although the love is ‘different’ than that 19-year-old love I had with you, it is just as real and true.
I love John-Jay with all of my heart and soul as he does me. And you would love him too. I know you would approve. He has the most gentle and kindest heart. I’ll never forget the day a few years back when we were newly falling in love and he grabbed me and held me and with tears in his eyes, said ‘I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I could bring Darren back so that you never had that pain.’ He really does love me and the boys and has taken on this adventure with broad shoulders intact. Not all days are calm, but they are definitely filled with love.
He and I have another son together. His name is Jesse Jay and his due date was today, your birthday, June 25th! Can you image how crazy I felt when the doctor told me this?!? He was born June 18th via a planned c-section (they like to take the babies a week early when delivered this way). He has just turned two years old and is literally the light of all of our lives. Once again, Ethan was hesitant with this newfound news. Although he was falling in love with John-Jay, he again felt I was ‘betraying’ you and our family by having another baby. But you would never know it today as Ethan has such tremendous love for this little guy! They are adorable together. All the boys live so well with one another. There is such a bond and they have graciously opened up their arms to their little brother to join them.
We are truly blessed.
John-Jay is amazing with the boys and so present in their lives. He coaches and participates in all of their athletic activities, teaches them about the latest and greatest baseball players, and can cook up a mean BBQ. As he says ‘I don’t know what I would have done if you had three girls!’ He adores these boys. It’s surreal watching him with them as part of me wishes it was you, but so thankful for him. Like I said, none of this was in my future plans, but I count my blessings every day. I have so much love and joy!
And as I mentioned, your experience with skin cancer has completely changed my life. I can still remember the day you came home from the dermatologist and said ‘babe, I have skin cancer. I have melanoma.’ And I can just as vividly remember me telling you ‘oh, it’ll be fine. They’ll just cut it out and all will be better.’ I still beat myself up for this statement. I was so ignorant! But then again, how many people seriously think they will die from a stupid little mole changing shape on their back!?!?! I wasn’t going to sit around a wait for an answer on this one. I knew that if I was so blind to the cause and effects of the sun, there were many, many others out there with the same ignorance. I have made it my life’s passion to change this ignorance. I started a non-profit in your honor and raised nearly $100,000 to go towards more education and awareness on skin cancer. I’ve also started UV Skinz and we manufacture UV protective swim shirts and clothing for the entire family. (Remember all those trips we’d take to Hawaii and bring back loads of rash guards for all of our friends kids? They now can buy UV swim shirts much closer to home!)
I honor you today, Darren. I use this day to reflect even more than normal on what is important in life. You will FOREVER, and EVER be remembered and I will take any chance I can get to educate people on the potential effects of the sun. You were taken from us far too early for something that could have possibly been prevented. Growing up, our parents or us didn’t know what a sunburn could do. But now we do and I can guarantee you that our boys do too. As you always wanted, we will continue to PLAY and LIVE and HAVE FUN outdoors but we will do it so much more consciously.
All My Love To You, Sweetheart. Until we meet again …