The man. The myth. The legend.
I cannot begin to understand what my life is going to be like going forward. My heart is breaking for what my children are feeling. My heart is broken.
On our first date, Harlan brought me flowers. Not roses, tulips. I had planned on having lunch with Harlan. Well, lunch led to talking, bowling led to more talking. I am not sure where the time went that day.
I got to spend 6,499 days with Harlan. We were married for 17 years, three months and two days. Lots of numbers, I know. He could remember the minute details of calendars. He was beyond amazing that way.
On our second date, Harlan brought me a book. That was it. My heart was his.
We talked on the phone for hours. We emailed back and forth. On the weekends, we would do something. Every weekend I would find a penny on the ground and we agreed that the weekends didn’t start until we found that penny.
On my way out of the hospital on Tuesday, I found a penny.
We met in the beginning of March in 2005. Harlan proposed at the end of April and we married in September. Six months. It was quick, but it was right. After we were engaged, he was introducing me to a co-worker and he made a mistake of epic proportions: He introduced me as Stacey. Names were not always his strong suit and he had been facing a placard with Stacey’s name on it.
We were on the bima, getting married when another name was used. This time it was Rabbi Sobol who made a small error: Do you Herbert … Oy! I giggled and the Rabbi looked up and smiled and said, loud enough for everyone to hear: You aren’t Herbert.
Those two mix-ups created Stacey and Herbert, our aliases. When Harlan really started having trouble with his memory, I would ask him if he knew who I was, and he would always look at me and with a smile he would say, “Of course I do. You’re Stacey.” I would reply with, “Thank you, Herbert,” and I would give him a squeeze or a kiss. It made both of us smile.
Our first Valentine’s Day, Harlan gave me a huge bouquet of daisies. The woman at the florist told him that he should get roses since all women want roses on Valentine’s Day. My husband told her, “Not my wife.” Harlan listened. He knew. I appreciated that he listened.
Harlan was the person people turned to if they needed help. He could fix or create. He knew plumbing, heating, electrical and a variety of ways to get a job done. Harlan was the guy who would clear the snow well past his own sidewalk going in both directions. He would mow the lawn and feel like he accomplished something that day.
Harlan told me that he always wanted to be a father. The love he had for his kids was beautiful to see. He was proud of Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca. Every little thing that they did was fascinating. I watched him blossom into an amazing dad. He believed in teaching all the kids the same skills when a job needed to be done. There was no man’s work or women’s work. Just work to be done.
Seven years ago, Harlan asked to go to the emergency room. That was surprising since he avoided doctors at all costs. That morning we learned that not only did he have a tumor growing on his kidney, he only had one kidney. In six short weeks, he lost that kidney and very slowly his health declined. I have felt like I have been holding my breath for the last seven years. And he fought.
The never-ending dialysis, procedures, blood draws, shots, scans, exhaustion, always too cold or too hot. Depression, anxiety and the fear of leaving us behind kept him up at night, and those were the nights we would talk all night. I would listen to him and pray for him to get better. And he fought.
We tried to keep him as healthy as possible, and he just got sick over and over. Each time he was a little weaker. And he fought.
I thought I would have more time. In June, Harlan got sicker. Calciphylaxis is the stuff of nightmares and was destroying his body. There was little to be done. Harlan learned that he had between six and 12 months left to live. He fought.
After so many procedures, treatments, surgeries and amputations, his body decided that it had enough. Watching him in such pain was the worst. Olivia, Benjamin, Rebecca and I would do everything possible to ease his suffering. Harlan lost the fight.
We talked about what Harlan wanted when his end came. I honored his wishes. Harlan was cremated. He was worried about the amount of space that could be used for housing the homeless and playgrounds for children. He wanted the kids to each be able to have a little of him wherever they went in the world. I will keep him in my heart forever and maybe a small piece of him so that I won’t be alone.
I am a widow now. My children do not have their father.
I love you Herbert. My first. My last. My everything.
Jennifer Steuer is an Albany mom with 15-year-old triplets Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca. Follow her on Instagram: jennifersteuer.