Life is a Rough Draft- Scattered Thoughts on Losing a Loved One

Real Estate Agent with Utah Homes 9334967-SA00

I haven’t posted in a while. Some of you have noticed. The vast majority haven’t noticed.

This is all well and good. Heck. There’s close to a few hundred thousand people who have, at some point, clicked the “sign up here” button. I’m just one of those.


For those who have noticed my absence I say, “Wow. You little heart-melters. Here’s a post of just for you.” And I’m not going to say a thing about real estate. So, this is another off-topic communication.


To all who stumble upon this post, I hope to say something worth your time.

And I apologize.

This post will not be edited.

It will be too difficult to read for a second time. And I’d probably hit backspace so many times that I’ll probably press delete and go about my day.


That’s the beauty of writing.

We can edit.

We can strengthen the sentences.

We can put on our best face, smile and click send-knowing that we’ve done an above average job.


Life is a different story. Every action. Every phrase is a rough draft.

We can fall in love by hearing something said just right.

We can pass judgement on the clumsy who manage to say just the wrong thing.

In large part the majority of the things I talk about are just utility words and phrases.

Many of the things I’ve posted fit that category and, big confession time, I’ve sent plenty of first drafts and suffered few consequences for this. I’m surprised that I have blog-followers actually.


OK. I’m stalling now. Let me just go ahead and clicky-clack on this keyboard and pour out my disparate thoughts.


Today’s topic: Losing a loved one.

[deep breath and humble prayers… and here goes an attempt at assembling the impossible.]


When you marry into a family you get a new one.

This new family is so much bigger than the family you currently have.

This is one of the joys and challenges we take on.

Unlike a spouse- these new brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law and cousins-in-law will be all over the map. And I mean this both physically and symbolically.


Which leads me to tell you about Joe.


Joe is cut from large cloth. He’s a few inches shy of giant. And that smile? My goodness. You have to smile with him. I’ll get too sappy to describe him further. Let me just say this. When I met Joe I instantly thought, “I want my sister to date this guy.”


Joe and my sister went on a date. Joe took her to the dollar movies (bad move).

He paid with pennies (second bad move).

OK. Joe is a great guy.

Just not a smooth date guy. To be practical is nice- but not in the art of successful first dating.


Still. No hard feelings.


We all like Joe and even though there was no second date with my real sister there’s no losing him as a cousin-in-law.


And life is about do-overs.


Joe was handsome enough and charming enough and smart enough. He simply needed to visit a dating camp. (Truth be known. I have empathy for Joe because I too was a very unskilled dater.)


Fast forward a few years.


Joe meets Natasha.


Her family is from another country. She’s smart. She’s beautiful. She’s named “Miss Fill-in-the-blank-university” (for privacy’s sake.) Enough descriptions here. Let’s just say that she’s that girl who could date anyone.


And she chose Joe.


And she loved him.


And they got married.


And their kids (two boys one girl) are total angels.


…. Now the hard part …


Attending the viewing.


In the next few hours I will put on my best suit.


And a brave face.


And I’ll say my last goodbye to Natasha.


Oh my.


She’s too young.


Much too young.


Natasha will be laid to rest in the Highland cemetery.


Joe was telling me last night, at the viewing, that his daughter was making all of the decisions for him.


She’s a freshly minted teenager but she stepped up to the plate here.


What kind of casket? Not wood says she. Metal is better.


And where? Highland. “But we live in Pleasant Grove”, says Joe.


No answer was given. But, having attended a funeral a few weeks ago I know the beauty of Highland. It’s a place where you can gather your thoughts and the tombstones seem to give you more distance.


As Joe is telling me the story of his brave decision maker I see her by the metal casket. She’s beginning to crumble. Her brother scoops her into his arms. Joe excuses himself and joins the five-minute group hug. The second brother joins in. The room is in freeze mode. This is a moment so private.


And I excuse myself because tears in a crowd feel very unmanly.




This is life my friends.


And this is family.


I will miss Natasha. And I will feel her loss when I see the ones she left behind.


But I’ve done this before. And with age I hope it gets easier. I know that Joe has a tough row to hoe and his kids will hold her in their memory and form and re-frame their feeling and I ache for them.


And I will be forever thankful that we humans can feel the way we feel, even though we may not always like this feeling.


And now I have to wrap this up and click send before I’m tempted to re-read it; judge it too sappy, and click delete.

Thankfully I know that we will bond- share the grief with hugs and back slaps. We've done this before. We're family.

Comments (51)

Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®
RE/MAX Realty Center - Waukesha, WI
Giving Back With Each Home Sold!

So sad, but thank you for sharing the story...the comments are touching as well

Apr 23, 2016 11:29 PM
Chuck Willman

Kristin Johnston, Waukesha County Realtor 414-254-6647 so very true. The commenters have been so very kind and thoughtful and caring. I could go on and on. I am loving the AR outpouring of support.

Apr 29, 2016 10:51 AM
Jill Moog
Coast & Country Homes and Estates, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
Carlsbad, CA Homes for Sale

Chuck, Thank you for a beautiful, heart-felt post. I am sorry for your loss.

Apr 23, 2016 11:47 PM
Chuck Willman

Jill Moog I appreciate your kindness. I wish I had come back sooner- I want to thank everyone for their compassion. I'm touched. Again- thank you for reading and for your comments.

Apr 29, 2016 10:56 AM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good morning Chuck Willman ,

Thank you for not deleting this post and sharing your story. My heart goes out to you and the whole family in this time of mourning. It never gets easier as you get older but it shows you the depths of your feelings and reminds you life is precious so enjoy each moment we have here on earth.

Apr 23, 2016 11:52 PM
Chuck Willman

Oh Dorie Dillard I was --><--- that close to not posting this. I'm surprised and humbled by so many people have been so generous with their time and thoughtful in their comments. It's true- we need to savor our moments.

Apr 29, 2016 10:54 AM
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

I join you in this reflection and worthy pondering for one of us that went forward, into the mystery of ages....thank you

Apr 24, 2016 12:12 AM
Chuck Willman

Richie Alan Naggar thank you for reading and commenting on this little personal post. I appreciate your thoughtful words.

Apr 29, 2016 10:52 AM
Mimi Foster
Falcon Property Solutions - Colorado Springs, CO
Voted Colorado Springs Best Realtor

Not one thing any of us can say to make this any better. Sharing and recognizing the feelings goes a long way to healing. Thank you for not hitting the delete button.

Apr 24, 2016 12:56 AM
Chuck Willman

Mimi Foster Lesson learned. I almost hit delete. I was really just throwing thoughts into the ether so I'm surprised that this post found any sort of audience. I'm thankful that so many good people felt compelled to share empathy. Thank you for spending time reading and commenting.

Apr 29, 2016 10:58 AM
Chrissi Chapman Topoleski
Coldwell Banker Realty - Woodbridge, VA
Passionate about helping others achieve success!

This is so beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. My condolences to you.

Apr 24, 2016 02:16 AM
Chuck Willman

Chrissi Chapman Topoleski you're so kind. I hadn't expected the response to this. I suppose it's because we all share in this sort of experience. I appreciate your kind condolences

Apr 29, 2016 11:00 AM
Sussie Sutton
David Tracy Real Estate - Houston, TX
David Tracy Real Estate for Buyers & Sellers

WOW... how sad... it made me tear up. Poor Joe and family...this part of life is hard.

Apr 24, 2016 07:15 AM
Chuck Willman

Sussie Sutton it doesn't get easier does it? Although I wouldn't want to make people cry I'm very touched by your compassion for members of my extended family.

Apr 29, 2016 11:02 AM
Wanda Kubat-Nerdin - Wanda Can!
Red Rock Real Estate - St. George, UT
So Utah Residential, Referral & Relocation REALTOR

What a touching post for Natasha, that is purely made from love Chuck. There are no words to comfort a grieving heart but to say how sorry I am for your family's loss.

Apr 24, 2016 07:28 AM
Chuck Willman

Wanda Kubat-Nerdin - my Utah neighbor and friend... thank you so much for your very kind comments. I'm humbled by the many good people who have been very compassionate.

Apr 29, 2016 11:05 AM
Rebecca Gaujot, Realtor®
Lewisburg, WV
Lewisburg WV, the go to agent for all real estate

I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Natasha. I know you were shedding tears as you typed this post as I was shedding tears reading this post.

Apr 24, 2016 10:48 AM
Chuck Willman

Rebecca Gaujot, the Go To Realtor® do you have e.s.p.? I must admit- it was a bit rought typing this. I didn't want to submit this but did so anyway... I thought that it would most likely not make any sense at all and I couldn't bring myself to read it a second time. So- thank you for spending time in this little corner of AR and sharing such thoughtful words.

Apr 29, 2016 11:04 AM
Thomas J. Nelson, REALTOR ® e-Pro CRS RCS-D Vets
Big Block Realty 858.232.8722 - La Jolla, CA
& Host of Postcards From Success Podcast

Losing a younger friend or family member always seems out of order, God got it wrong somehow. Losing someone around our own age is a cold reminder of our mortality. The days are long, the years are short.

Apr 24, 2016 11:50 AM
Chuck Willman

Thomas- it is significantly more difficult when one considers the age and the children left behind. Fortunately we find our better selves and show more compassion when we see how good our supporters can be in such occasions.

Apr 29, 2016 11:08 AM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

There are no words that can truly provide the comfort needed, but knowing others care will perhaps help ease the pain over time. Thank you for sharing this very personal and touching time, Chuck. No apologies are necessary for what you shared and how!


Apr 24, 2016 01:01 PM
Chuck Willman

Jeff Dowler CRS there may not be words, but by golly, you sure managed to find them. I'm humbled by your kindness- thank you for sharing your comments with me.

Apr 29, 2016 11:12 AM
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Chuck Willman - words are never enough when we lose loved ones.

And --- after reading your post, I'll say, it's unmanly to cry in public...

Apr 24, 2016 03:33 PM
Chuck Willman

You're a good man Praful Thakkar I always appreciate your compassion.

Apr 29, 2016 11:13 AM
Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, CRB, Phoenix Broker
HomeSmart Real Estate BR030809000 - Phoenix, AZ

Chuck I am so sorry for the loss Natasha. Heartbreaking for her kids and husband and your whole family. There are no words and yet somehow you were brave enough to write them out.  Bless you all.

Apr 25, 2016 09:28 AM
Chuck Willman

Anna Banana Kruchten Thank you for your blessings. I appreciate your comments and all your contributions to being a kind presence in the walls of AR.

Apr 29, 2016 11:14 AM
Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

OK. I was not expecting the feature; nor had I thought there would be so many comments. I will try to respond to you, but first let me give you part two. This will be a comment larger than the original post. I'll give you a summary followed by an expanded summary. In doing this I'm hoping to answer the private messages of those who asked me if I'd share how the funeral went. I also am doing this so that I can copy and paste this into my personal journal. Excuse the length- I'm trying to capture the memories while they are fresh.

The funeral- in short

When one enters the church at Pleasant Grove from the back, it's possible to miss the gnarled tree that leans southward toward the wind. At certain times of year it looks ordinary but strong. Every April though, this tree sprouts pink blossoms that are at once delicate but resilient. The occasional wind gust whip through the canyon with fury and this tree stands against that wind with grace and beauty. The petals grip the branches- departing only after much struggle.

Past this tree they had wheeled the casket, through the double doors, down the hall and into a private room where the extended family give one last goodbye. The casket lid was raised; Joe and the children expressed their last earthly affections toward Natasha. Her brother placed his palm to her cheek and then slipped a note beneath her pillow. A prayer was offered and the casket lid was lowered a final time. 

The chapel doors were opened and the crowd rose as the large family filed in. Joe has ten siblings. All were there- as were Natasha's family members.

If you'll indulge me for a few minutes more I want to share some of the words of the eulogy. For those who want a summary let me say that I appreciated these two things: 1) Those who spoke revealed a real person; from the child most of us had not met to the adult we know so well. 2) The portrait was unvarnished; all of us have struggles and victories. Both were celebrated.

The funeral- slightly unabridged

I'm sure I'll miss a few profound moments but here are the the things that struck a chord with me.

Joe spoke first. How he did this I don't know. I'd be a mess.

Joe gave a life sketch of the girl who was raised near the shores of a Vermont lake. Her mom, a native of Finland, carried out a tradition of swaddling her infants and leaving her to sleep in a baby carraige on the front porch. It has been said that the babies sleep more deeply this way. For Joe, this would prove to be a test of endurance. Natasha kept this tradition alive; she would sometimes leave the windows open, even through the Utah winters. Beneath the pile of blankets she would say, "isn't the brisk air wonderful?"

He shared that the lake provided fish for dinner, swimming in summer and winter ice skating. It was an enchanted life in the woods; we she and her siblings spent a good deal of time enjoying nature. She read books in the woods, wrote poetry and developed a love of photography. 

Years later Joe's sister, upon meeting Natasha, had dared her to write to Joe. She wagered that should wouldn't be able to write a letter compelling enough for Joe to respond. Joe was intrigued by the mysterious spitfire pen pal who could be eloquent, spirited and hilarious. Natasha was living in Portugal at the time- so their correspondence could take a while; there could be as much as a two week delay between letters. Though it would be eight months before they eventually met, by then they had fallen deeply in love.

They married and their first child came quickly followed by a second. It's hard enough to have a toddler, but their second boy was born with lungs that were not ready for the world. He spent six weeks in the intensive care unit. It was just after this where Natasha discovered a tremble to her hand. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosi. She would spend the next six weeks in the hospital as she underwent various treatments. Life had become complicated by the age of 27.

Joe and Natasha's sons spoke next. Their oldest described his mother as a fireball who commandeered fast horses and dirt bikes. She held high expectations of her children. Her life was full of challenges- but she had always proved herself capable to take them on.

Her second son shared that on Monday evening he felt a whisper in his ear to go downstairs and tell his mother he loved her. Anyone who has ever been a teenager- and especially a boy knows that this can be an awkward thing. He chose not to ignore this prompting. He went downstairs and sat beside her and asked, "Mom, how you feeling?" She said, "I'm a little tired- just resting a bit." He then said, "Mom. I love you so much." She kissed him on the forehead and said, "I love you too."

On Tuesday morning the kids got ready for school and dashed off. Joe had let Natasha sleep in. When he checked on her he discovered all was not right. It's not know yet what happened but Natasha had stopped breathing. Her lung had a clot and it's possible that the medications and the effects of the flu had created a final battle that she could not survive.

Natasha's older brother spoke next.

He shared his admiration for her tenacious spirit and courageousness. He said there's no perfect way to describe his sister except to quote Shannon Alder who said, "If I could be anything in this world I would be rare. So rare that the people I loved never forgot me or ever found anything to compare me to. I was never a type, but the only type--the person you couldn't throw away because you would never be able to describe the mystery of something that didn't fit this world."

He also explained that his sister would slip notes on his pillow- letting him know how much she adored him. A few weeks ago she had sent him a text saying (at mercy of my memory), "sleep well by beloved brother. Let this text be the note that I lay upon your pillow to let you know how awesome you are." 

I could go on- but I think that's a good place to rest.

After the funeral we drove in procession to the cemetery. It was an uncharacteristically chilly spring day. The pall bearers carried the casket to the crest of the hill. The flags snipped in the strong breeze. Joe's son dedicated the grave. Friends from Portugal sang "God be with you 'till we meet again" and we said our final goodbye. With tears and smiles and strong embraces we said our goodbyes to Natasha and to each other.

Should we lose every earthly possession, we are made whole by the love of family in friends.

Your comments have been like a warm embrace. I'm aware you don't know my family. Actually- you only know me through this forum we share. There's strength in your earnest concerns. Your empathy has brought me comfort and I thank you for that with words that are insufficient.

Apr 25, 2016 01:18 PM
Bruce Brockmeier

What an awesome lady.  Thanks for the update.

Apr 26, 2016 04:57 AM
William Johnson
Retired - La Jolla, CA
Retired Real Estate Professional

Hi Chuck, A wonderful tribute and if I may I would add this for you. It doesn't necessarily get easier but it does become more convincing that all of our time in life no matter how long or short, our on earth life experience is intended to be full but limited. I can't speak to the idea that this is stage one or some other stage in our existence. But I know it not the end, it is but a beginning. The people we know and love will be forever ( as in eternity). But they may not be the only ones we will come to love, as in our next new life experience, be it earthly or heavenly.  Be happy, not sad, the time will pass quickly. 

Apr 25, 2016 03:58 PM
Chuck Willman

William- I'm on the same page as you with regard to the eternal nature. It is comforting to feel that we are destined for bigger things; it certainly puts events such as these into perspective. I want to thank you for your kindness.

Apr 29, 2016 11:17 AM
Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert
Zion Realty - Gilbert, AZ
Broker/Owner of Zion Realty

Hey Chuck. There's really nothing a person from this far away can do but offer up my deepest condolences. I know time will heal and Natasha's memory will live on with Joe and her children. 

Apr 26, 2016 12:21 AM
Chuck Willman

Gilbert is never far away, Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert ... especially in this case as Joe grew up not far away from you and the rest of my good AR friends. Joe and his kids are fortunate in that Natasha lived life so large. Though she will be missed, she will be impossible to forget.

Apr 29, 2016 11:19 AM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

Dear Chuck,

Though young she was, she lived a full life, more rich in courage, wisdom, and understanding than many who have lived very long lives. Though painful as it was, the celebration of life followed up by stories about her life makes me realize how blessed everyone was to know and love her. Her memory will live on. Her sons will grow up into strong, compassionate men who will be supportive of their better halfs and family members.

This was a beautiful and tender tribute to a very amazing woman who touched the lives of many and will continue to live on in their memories. Thank you for sharing this incredible woman's life story about her journey in life raised near the shores of Vermont. 

Apr 26, 2016 09:13 AM
Chuck Willman

Patricia Feager thanks for checking back in. As you could tell in the follow up- she was eulogized so beautifully. The family showed up big. It was truly inspiring. I appreciate your additional words.

Apr 29, 2016 11:22 AM
Erica Love
Brokers Guild Cherry Creek - Colorado Springs, CO

Beautiful, made me cry. I cannot even say anything else because nothing sounds good enough.

Apr 26, 2016 11:26 PM
Chuck Willman

Erica Love your words are better than good enough. Thank you for reading my little post and sharing your kind words.

Apr 29, 2016 11:24 AM
Joan Cox
House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373 - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time

Chuck, glad you did not delete, or go back and re-read, your words were from the heart, and feel sad for Joe and their children.     

May 13, 2016 11:35 PM
Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Joan Cox Thank you so much for visiting. I've written and deleted quite a few things in my day. I guess I've resolved to be less guarded about things than before. Now, let's see if I can live up to that resolve.

May 14, 2016 01:53 AM