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What Disney Taught Me about My Late Husband

Disney is a magical place packed with people. Generous friends gave my son and I a few nights at a Disney resort to celebrate an upcoming milestone birthday and it was incredible. Having been away for over 20 years, I'd forgotten how special it is. The immersive experience, the upbeat attitudes of the "cast", the seamlessness of how the parks are run and the spotless cleanliness of everything (even the bathrooms!) makes it feel like a sort of Utopia. Mix in smiling families in matching t-shirts, "Just married" Mickey and Minnie ears on couples, and groups of friends celebrating birthdays and graduations, it feels like the cares of the real world are far, far away.


In a place so full of life, vitality and distraction, I didn't expect Greg to come to mind as often as he did. Each couple walking hand in hand reminded me of him. Wives and girlfriends carrying bags of souvenirs made me think of how he loved to spoil me and would've insisted I buy something special to remember our time no matter how much I resisted. The dad waiting in line with his family looked nothing like Greg but when I heard him tell one of his boys that his favorite day was the ones when his sons were born, I immediately thought of Greg. The love in that dad's voice could never match the adoration that poured out of Greg toward our son.


Disney made Greg seem very close - a reminder everywhere I looked of who I'd lost and what his presence had meant to me.


I grieved that he wasn't on the trip with us to see the delight in his son's eyes or experience the magic together. And I grieved that even if he was alive still, he couldn't have experienced it with us. Greg, before his heart transplant and all the complications that came from it, would've loved a day at an amusement park. Star Wars rides, a world show case, rollercoasters... he would've loved it all. He was a thrill person - never scared of a ride, rollercoaster or experience - and would've enjoyed everything about it. But Greg with diagnosed PTSD from cardiac arrests during exercise and a heart and lungs that didn't function properly, couldn't have physically done it. Not even close.


In 2 days walking around the Disney parks, we put in nearly 50,000 steps. Looking around at the hoards of people racing between attractions, I doubt we were the only ones. And it wasn't just people who looked like super models or fitness instructors. There were young people and old people, thin people and heavy people. People of all shapes and sizes were keeping up with everyone else. No matter someone's size or shape, a day of walking around Disney in the spring weather seemed attainable for all but a few.


It always catches me off guard when I'm in situations like that because for so long Greg received criticism for his weight, as if being out of shape was his main problem. Couldn't breathe when he sat in a car? His weight was blamed. Had a hard time keeping up with others when walking? Must be his weight. Couldn't stay away during the day no matter how much caffeine he consumed? His weight was blamed once again. Up until the week he died, doctors focused more on his weight than the swelling in his legs, the huge fluctuations in his ability to breathe and the horrible pain he was in. Constantly overlooked was his rigid heart, his lungs' inability to fully expand, his poor kidney function, and the fact that his medications (including over a decade of steroids) had side effects that caused weight gain.


If Greg was simply 20-40lbs overweight, Disney wouldn't be a problem. But Greg's heart was dying... again. And even short walks around the block were tedious because he couldn't get enough blood or oxygen to make his body work properly.


Disney reminded me of the best of Greg: his love for life, his adventurous spirit, his generous heart. And it reminded me of the hardest things he endured: a body that wouldn't work properly, doctors who didn't take his symptoms seriously, and a culture who unfairly treats people who don't fit a physical "ideal". It reminded me of how hard it was for him to do things that we easily take for granted and how frustrated he often felt that he couldn't do the things he wanted to do - especially things that he thought my son and I deserved a husband and father to do.


Though Greg wasn't there, Disney taught me to appreciate him even more - a husband and father who gave us his very best and kept giving until the very end.




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