Five years ago today, my then partner, Craig Hamrick, passed away after a long battle with colon cancer. He passed early in the morning, around 7:30am, following ten days in hospice.
Craig fought his cancer valiantly for almost four years after his diagnosis. He survived a colon resection, a liver resection, the removal of a brain tumor, and rounds and rounds of chemotherapy. He had an incredible will to live, and I learned after he passed that his doctors hadn’t really expected him to survive much beyond a year. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in October 2002, with cancer in his large intestine, liver and his lungs. Somehow, Craig fought his way through all of that disease, managed to beat it back multiple times, self-published three books, took countless photos, traveled, and raised our two cats, Buster and Dusty. All while maintaining his dry sense of humor, which for those who knew him, you know that his delivery was priceless.
I learned a lot from Craig and our relationship during this difficult time. A lot about positivity and productivity, and a lot about really being with someone. Craig and I were together for about 15 months before he was diagnosed, so most of our relationship included his illness. It was my first long-term relationship and my first time living with someone, and then add a chronic illness on top of it, and our ride together was not always the smoothest. I often think back to moments of strife that we had together and wish that I knew then what I know now. Such a cliche to say, but it’s the truth. I can only hope that Craig knew how much he and our experiences together meant to me, including his passing. It’s a privilege that he allowed me to be there with him as he transitioned, and it’s one that I will never forget.
Thinking about loss, and this loss in particular, always brings up questions about whether I do enough. Whether I love enough. Whether I pay attention enough. As I reflect on that question and sit with it, I usually come to the conclusion that I did as much as I could. I do as much as I can. People like to say that love is unconditional, and I think there are moments when it is, when it needs to be. However, love can also be exhausting, caring can be exhausting, and those feelings of frustration that sometimes accompany love are natural and part of being human. We have to feel and experience those difficult feelings along with thejoy, happiness, and contentment that come with love. This complexity shows us our humanity, and the more we pay attention to the complexity, the better off we become.
Craig left me an eight-page list of instructions when he passed, a gift that let me know that he believed that I did enough. I still had to spend the time believing that and accepting that loving and caring come with moments of imperfection and anger and weakness. Wrestling with all of this then and now has helped me in so many ways. I know that all of my current relationships, including my romantic one, benefit from that time with Craig, and for that I will always be grateful.
Craig, you left us so early, but you left us with so much. Your legacy of love and humor and passion run deep for those who knew you. Wherever your spirit may be, I hope you can feel the love that we have for you. Thanks for sharing your heart. I love you and miss you.