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Wife's Heart - Widow Brain

It’s been a long time since I’ve checked in here, which seems to be the recurring theme of my life these days. Grief has turned me into a horrible procrastinator. Something I NEVER used to be. Part of me actually finds it funny because procrastination was something that I used to harp at Dan about…A LOT. I hope that wherever he is, he’s getting a kick out of the role reversal.

Not long after Dan died, I joined some online grief support groups. I don’t participate much, but I do lurk in the virtual corners and absorb a great deal of information. One of the things I learned about was something called “Widow Brain” - forgetfulness, procrastination, foggy thoughts, memory lapses, and mental disconnection. It’s thought to be a coping mechanism where the brain actually attempts to protect itself from the pain of significant trauma or loss. Let me tell you…Widow Brain is REAL and for someone like me who normally can juggle multiple things at once, loves a to-do list and finds comfort in having definitive plans, it’s a real struggle.

In the beginning, I truly began to wonder if something was seriously wrong with me. Did I have a mini stroke? Am I losing my mind? Thank goodness for the online grief groups as well as the advice and counsel from others who have lost their spouse…especially my “Sisterhood of This Fucked Up Shit” women. Yes…that’s the name of a text group I'm a part of with other women who have lost their spouses. My neighbor and friend Ashley included me very shortly after we lost Dan and it’s been a lifesaver. They’re women that really get it. We can say anything, bitch about anything, be honest about our feelings, laugh about things, empathize with each other, give advice and just be there. I can’t tell how many nights I’ve been sitting at home feeling like I’m going to lose it and then a text comes in from someone in the group and five minutes later I’m laughing so hard my stomach hurts. I love these women and I hate that life has made us widows way before our time.

Speaking of the word “widow”… I hate it. The first time someone referred to me as “Dan’s widow”, I physically recoiled. When I hear that word, I get an image of Mary Todd Lincoln dressed in black from head to toe with a long, lace veil over her head. As far as I’m concerned, I’m Dan’s wife. Periodt. (As the kids say.)

One of the biggest issues with my newfound procrastination is that I haven’t written ONE thank you note. For those of you who know me well, I’m kind of a freak about thank you notes. Two weeks after our wedding, Dan and I had personally written over 300 thank you notes. I’m really judgey about others writing thank you notes too and here I am, not one of them completed.

Please don’t tell me that thank you notes don’t matter. They do to me. I will NEVER, EVER be able to fully express my gratitude for the all of the kindnesses shown to me since that horrible day last year. Kindnesses that continues to this day. My sister Patty designed and printed the most beautiful and personal thank you notes for me to use as well. They will get done - slowly and maybe only a couple a day, but they WILL be done.

In the meantime, I do want to make some public thank yous here. Please don’t be embarrassed if I include you and don’t be offended if I don’t. (Again…"widow brain").

First, thank you to everyone who came to Dan’s Celebration of Life. It was incredible seeing so many people there to show their love and support.

It was such a wide range of people from family, co-workers, former co-workers, neighbors, Dan’s childhood friends and former neighbors, extended family, clients and dear friends. People showed up from California to Vermont and all points in between.

It was a beautiful day complete with laughter and tears, amazing music as well as touching and hilarious eulogies. 250+ people that were there and I maybe got a chance to talk to 50 people. However, just seeing all of those beautiful faces brought so much comfort to me and our family.

Speaking of amazing music, the internationally acclaimed Jearlyn Steele and her brother Billy performed one of Dan’s favorite songs, “Ave Maria” at the Celebration of Life. Jearlyn and Billy set the tone of the rest of the day and I am forever grateful for their generosity. After the Celebration of Life, I had a number of people ask me how I was able to get Jearlyn and Billy to perform. It’s kind of a funny story.

Years ago when I worked at CBS Radio, our Market Manager Dick Carlson passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly. Dick and I had a very challenging relationship in the beginning, but over time we learned to appreciate and respect each other. I came to see a different side of Dick that was almost, in a way, paternal.

Dick’s funeral was packed, and I was feeling really stressed out because I never really went to funerals at that time in my life. I got my seat with some friends, looked at the program and saw that Jearlyn was singing. I have been a fan of The Steeles forever, so I was really looking forward to hearing her perform. Prior to the service starting, I remember telling some friends, “Don’t start crying or I’m going to cry”. Fast forward to the point in the funeral when Jearlyn starts singing “My Way” and I totally lose it. I’m talking full on weeping, tears, snot flying everywhere. I was completely composed up until that point. Jearlyn’s beautiful, rich, angelic voice just did me in.

I never forgot that moment and would say to anyone who would listen that if anything happened to me, I wanted Jearlyn to sing at my funeral. A few years later when Dan and I were married, I relayed the story to him. His response was “But I don’t know her! How can I ask her to sing at your funeral?” A couple of years later he starts working at CBS and guess who his co-worker is? Yep…the incredible Jearlyn Steele. He was always telling me what a nice person she is and how he really likes her, yada yada yada. “So…NOW will you ask her??” I plead. “I don’t know…I’d feel weird”, he replied. Finally in desperation I said “Fine…I’ll ask Ginnee to do it. She’s not afraid of anything”. Ginnee is a friend of ours, works at CBS Radio and she really is fearless.

These kind of “what if” conversations were common between Dan and I. But I never thought any of them would come to fruition so soon. When we lost Dan and started to think about the Celebration of Life, I knew that above everything else, I needed to have Jearlyn there singing a song that meant so much to Dan. Dan’s mom’s name is Mary and whenever he heard Ave Maria he thought of his mom. He desperately wanted that song played at her memorial service. But it didn’t happen, so I KNEW that I needed to find a way to do this for him. And for me because I’m a fangirl.

I reached out to Ginnee the Fearless and in less than 30 minutes she texted me saying “Jearlyn would be honored to sing at the Celebration of Life”. Cue the weeping and snot flying once again. I know that Dan heard that beautiful performance and was so honored and pleased.

My deepest gratitude to everyone who helped to make the day a special send-off for my dear sweet Dan including:

Everyone who gave a eulogy or shared a public story including:

Sheletta Brundidge – one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and the hardest working woman I know. I’m still laughing about some of her lines during her eulogy. Dan loved Sheletta and “Those Brundidge Babies” too.

Tony Lee – Another very special friend with a long and rich history with Dan, both personally and professionally. Tony is someone who Dan thought the world of. He always looked forward to his lunches with Tony (and with Annie Miners when she was in town). Dan never failed to say “I just love that guy” whenever we would talk about Tony.

Carrie Sazama – One of Dan’s “girls” and one of our very best friends who is an honorary member of the Mitchell-Culhane family…whether she likes it or not.

Susie Jones – An amazing co-worker, friend and all-around great person. She’s as funny and as positive as she is kind. Dan was crazy about her. “Helllllloooooooooo”

Lee Valsvik and Mike Mussman – How do you thank people who were asked at the last minute to step in and help “emcee” the program? I still haven’t figured out how to properly thank them, but I’m forever grateful to them both for providing some laughs and helping to set the tone for a day that wasn’t just about sadness and loss.

Cori Orak – Dan’s baby girl, my stepdaughter and friend. Even through the worst pain of her life, she found the courage to stand up in a room filled with people and share some of her memories of her beloved “Pops”. I was so proud of her and I know that Dan was too.

Joe Culhane – The person who made Dan a father, his first born, my stepson and friend. While he couldn’t be with us in person because he was overseas studying for his master’s degree, he recorded a beautiful video on the bank of a river in England. Dan would have loved it. I know that I did.

Patrick Culhane – Dan’s youngest brother who walked us down memory lane with so many stories from Dan’s early days in Superior, WI with his 5 siblings and their parents Mike and Mary.

Patrick Byrne – Dan’s dearest friend, honorary brother, Nicaraguan travel buddy and one of the nicest people I have ever met. Dan always told me that his life was better for having Pat in it.

In addition to those speakers, there was a whole team of people who helped facilitate all the moving parts involved in making the day a success including:

Shelly Grossinger – Set Up, Tear Down, Silent Auction

Carrie Sazama – Set Up, Tear Down, Silent Auction

Ginnee Berg – Check In

Mary Mitchell – Check In

Matthew Widing - Audio

Jim Danielson – Set Up, Tear Down

Barb Dufour – Set Up, Tear Down

Jim Dufour = Set Up, Tear Down

Amin Shaker – Set Up, Tear Down, Live Streaming, Compiling the playlist

Joan Preztunik - Check In

Chris Hurst – Photography

There are two people who I really need to acknowledge in a more detailed way. I don’t know how I could have survived losing Dan without their unwavering and genuine support. They were absolutely instrumental in the Celebration of Life as well.

Donna Valentine – The absolute best friend a person could ever hope for. Not only did she introduce me to Dan, walk me down the aisle at our wedding, lug my big ass wedding dress on a plane to Mexico, and has been by my side for the last 27 years – through good times and bad. She was also a dear, dear friend of Dan’s. He truly considered her a sister as well as one of his best friends. Dan was extremely protective of Donna. He was one of her biggest cheerleaders and he absolutely adored her.

She found the location for the Celebration of Life, she made calls and called in favors to secure donations for the Silent Auction, she ran all over town picking up supplies, she jumped in when we had a last minute moment of panic and recruited people to help solve the situation. Donna’s sister-in-law Joan Preztunik even flew to Minneapolis from New Jersey to help out because she knows how much Dan means to Donna.

For a public figure, you might be surprised to know that Donna doesn’t love public speaking, especially when it’s a personal and emotional circumstance. I knew that I wanted her to speak, but I also knew that she isn’t a big fan of it. However, without hesitation, she agreed, and as always, she was perfect. Hilariously funny, sweet, touching, genuine and she had the BEST visual aids to accompany her eulogy. I’m blessed beyond measure for having Donna in my life.

Patty Mitchell – My dear big sister. I was fortunate to be the youngest in a family of four girls, but Patty is the only one that I remember growing up with because there is quite a wide age gap between the four of us. Patty has always been my go-to person for advice about career, finances, boyfriend troubles, etc. Her advice is ALWAYS spot on too. She’s truly the most intelligent person I know.

If you’ve read our blog from the beginning, you know that Patty has been there from the initial cancer diagnosis…creating the blog, editing and updating it so Dan and I could focus on getting him well. You also know that the day Dan died, she got on a plane to be with me. Nearly every day, I think about what would have happened to me had she not been here to get me through those initial weeks and months. Keep in mind, she has a husband, a house, work, volunteer and philanthropy work, pets, and a daughter. But she dropped EVERYTHING to be with me. In total, she was with me for approximately 16 weeks. She comforted me, made me laugh, cooked for me, cleaned the house, took Chloe to the vet, fixed the computer, fielded phone calls, and made phone calls…anything you can think of, she did it.

For the Celebration of Life, she was indispensable. She created the posters, the slide show, and the beautiful program booklet, donated to the Silent Auction, handled the Silent Auction checkout, worked with my nephew Matthew on the audio/technical set-up, coordinated the live streaming and even ran back to my house when I forget the Silent Auction bid sheets (Widow Brain). On top of all that, she gave a beautiful eulogy that really captured who Dan was and what he meant to all of us.

Dan and Patty laughing at Patty & Amin's wedding

She’s been guiding me as the Dan Culhane Kindness Legacy takes shape. She has experience with non-profits and has been THE critical piece in making the Fund a reality. Even at my most broken, she can always make me laugh. Hard.

She checks in on me on a regular basis and it means EVERYTHING. I have such immense gratitude and love for her. So did Dan.

The two of them were kindred spirits in many ways. I often teased both of them by saying that they were more compatible than Dan and I were. They could talk about technology, wine, music, and obscure films and TV shows for hours. They couldn’t have loved each other any more than if they were blood siblings.

The Dan Culhane Kindness Legacy

My plan is to update this blog on a more regular basis. I really hope to follow through on that because when I write things down there is a sense of peace or relief that comes with it. I also want to keep everyone posted on updates with The Dan Culhane Kindness Legacy - along with everything else, I’ve been procrastinating on that as well.

But know that creating something lasting and meaningful, that honors Dan and keeps his spirit of kindness, generosity, and love alive is hugely important to me. This year, as my brain fog begins to clear, my energy and focus will be on what comes next now that he's gone. Be sure to sign up here for updates and notifications from the site.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Dan’s Kindness Legacy. Thank you to everyone who checks in with a text, Facebook Message, email or phone call. I know I don’t always respond very quickly (or at all), but I will. Please don’t take my lack of response as a lack of gratitude or caring. I’m so grateful for everyone who checks in, who shares a story about Dan or tells me that they miss him or are thinking about him. Those comments don’t make me sad. They actually help me to feel less alone.

It’s a cliché, but you really do see who your true friends are during your darkest hours. I’ve been overwhelmed by the genuine love and friendship that has been shown to me during this time. Acquaintances and neighbors have become friends, friends have become family and family is everything. People that I never knew, like Dan’s childhood/high school friends have reached out, co-workers and clients of his send me messages letting me know that they were thinking about Dan, his referee friends have shown support in multiple ways. These people were all strangers a year ago and now they are people who are very dear to me.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Always remember to #SpreadKindness.


P.S. If anyone took pictures at the Celebration of Life, could you please send them to me? It doesn’t matter what the photos are of…crowds, friends, food, décor, anything. I really want to have a wide variety of photos to share with Joe, Cori, Joy and Willy. You can email them or text them to me?

Also, if you are interested in a printed copy of the program/booklet from the Celebration of Life, please let me know and I will send you one. The printer that Patty used generously printed extras and I’d be happy to share if you would like one or more.


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