We Determine How We Are Remembered By The Way We Live Our Days
Tom Dunn Mattered
In his obituary, I wrote that Tom was an amazing man, his persona, a study in contrasts. Extraordinarily strong, compassionate, complex ... conversely tender, lighthearted and sensitive - all apt adjectives. He was exceptionally gifted in athletics and the arts, giving and generous to a fault, proud but more often humble. Most significantly, Tom was a generous giver, not a taker. He listened patiently and compassionately, even when it was vital for him to be heard. What I did not write and left unsaid is the heart of this website. The reflection of how much Tom mattered to me and I to him. Our coupling was also contrasting. We were different but analogous in spirit and that made us a vibrant pairing.
Sharing our personal memoir and the imprint Tom left on my life and the influence I made on his is really quite scary. Putting our relationship's private facets in clear view leaves me and our story as the basis of a joyous story and points of celebration; alternatively, it leaves me vulnerable to criticism, misunderstanding, and hurtful judgments. The American author Elbert Hubbard wrote, "to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." Tom always encouraged me to calmly speak my truth not just in business which I easily managed but in my personal relationships. This he supported while, in fact, he was still learning to speak his opinions constructively without anger or frustration. I say this because I want readers to know that I write here as authentically as I can. This memoir is about the life Tom and I chose, about the principles we ascribed to. It is meant to be reflective of our shared, ever-evolving beliefs and philosophies in the context of our relationship. This is our memoir, rooted in our shared perspectives. It is not a biography; though I share stories he shared prior to me. My intention is to honor the man I loved and to honor our relationship and undying devotion to each other. My goal is to be sensitive, inclusive, kind-hearted, proud and discerning as I write. Nothing here is intended to be offensive, indecent, exclusive or critical of anyone or anything. This memoir is "our truth" and of course, that is relative. My statements are confident and self-directed yet as I proceed I feel the thrust of my own angst and vulnerabilities. I push forward because I know this is what Tom would want me to do - overcome the fear and lay aside my tendencies toward solitude. As he encouraged me in our life together, I will listen to his voice urging me on, in his own sometimes mischievous manner, with a quote from his beloved Dr. Seuss
“Be what you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t really matter and those who matter don’t mind.''
While Tom could be immensely comical, amusing and the life of the party, he was often intentionally private, quiet and vague. Tom was a deeply serious man who often held his words and emotions inside. Even when he was profoundly hurt by someone, rather than hurting back, he kept opinion and discomfort in his heart. While he was generous with his affections in his family, he did not readily share the depth of his soul. He was such a kind gentle man. His sweet soul deserves this spotlight. Sharing our 23 years is a colossal undertaking. It will take a great deal of time but is kindly aided by my journals of our life together.
It goes without saying that Tom had a handsome smile. This and his gregarious personality supported his ability to win friends quickly. Looks aside, those who knew him recognized an extraordinarily tender nature paired with a fierce inner spirit. He was a passionate human being who, like most of us, fervidly wanted to matter; he was talking to me about mattering way before "mattering" was in vogue. Moreover, saying Tom repeatedly told me he wanted to matter is an understatement. He wanted to matter not in a general sense but to be precisely, meaningfully, beyond his athletic achievements, beyond his good looks and charismatic personality, beyond his quick-witted humor. The degree to which Tom mattered to me was and should remain self-evident. The breadth of this mission should adequately convey that. I undertake these tasks with the same devotion we pledged to each other and our relationship. I will continue this work for the rest of my life if that is how long (or short) it takes. Tom mattered.
One of the most flawless comments about how Tom mattered originated, unsolicited with his beloved friend Jay Winters eulogy. Jay suggested we measure a person's "matter" quotient by asking “how much light did that person bring light into the world?” Jays says - “Man, Tom was sun!”.
It was especially important to our relationship that Tom knew what was true and what he could depend on in order to feel safe even when vulnerable. One thing he knew to be true was the degree to which he mattered to me. I told him almost every day - after the first time, I said to him that I loved him. This mattering we shared not as platitude or rhetoric but rather as our most earnest promise of devotion and commitment. We were to each other, a trustworthy dependable steady source of security, affection and fortitude. Those three words - I love you - were so unconditional and so mattered that they became key to our relationship's confidence, steadiness, strength and trust as we tread through rough waters.
Those who knew us saw our love live itself out, every day with their own eyes. Ironically, even strangers and even after years together, spontaneously approach us in a restaurant or traveling. They would comment that we must be newlyweds, newly dating or otherwise recently infatuated with each other. Our mutual adulation fueled a profound reciprocal dependence and personal utopia My friend Denise, after Tom's passing, shared in conversation (paraphrased) “I envy you. I would watch you and Tom together. He adored you! I could see how he treated you and how happy he was to be with you. Even after all your years together, he always treated you like you were first dating. His love for you stood out and it never faded. You were so lucky to find a man who loved you so much.” You can plainly see our love for each other in the images on this site. The degree of devotion shows on our faces, in our body language; in almost every shot, Tom is holding me, has his strong arms around me, protecting and loving me; I am glowing in his commitment. How fortunate we were to have found each other. How divine our love was!
The human need to feel you matter is fundamental and universal. Alongside my children, when they were children, Tom Dunn mattered to me more than anyone in my life. We were mutually idealistic, each half of each other's whole and each other's precious soulmates. Tom never failed to actively express to our family and to me how much we mattered. He would always be there with flowers, food, a gift, a note, a greeting card, balloons, a text, a picture, an emoji or recently tik-toks to express his caring. Tom would never omit, forget or fail to send a birthday, anniversary, Christmas card or gift - even when he knew the remembrance would not be reciprocated. Whatever significant event in a loved one's life, if he could be there, he was there. Wake, wedding, funeral, graduation, miles away if he knew it mattered he was doing his best to let you know, you mattered. Tom was the epitome of simple, loving, thoughtful gestures.
If he were alive, Tom's unpretentious demeanor might see him raise some opposition to this lengthy tribute. He was very humble by nature but also stood proud. For sure, he would be overwhelmed with heartfelt emotion, pride and more likely than not moved to tears reading this. Undoubtedly he would be gratified that I had the wherewithal and strength of character to do this, actually to speak out loud in his honor. It was almost always like that with us; we often voiced for each other. We lived in some ways, vicariously. We were alike and different simultaneously and in part, the dichotomy was our glue. The juxtapositions in our personalities were as were our contrasts, both subtle and profound. We knew that from the start.
From day one, I observed Tom as sensitive and sweet but ferociously protective of his feelings. Initially, he put a whole lot of effort into protecting himself. He was sociable but also reclusive. Only with trust did he expose his authentic self. Generally known as a charismatic people pleaser, he was also highly guarded with a sense of solitude that tended to minimized himself, his intellectual prowess, and his profound complexity. He utilized his keen ability to distract and entertain sometimes as armor.
Authenticity is daunting and complicated. It takes courage, hinges on trust and warrants time. Tom and I both found it challenging to discover this balance. We were cautious about being vulnerable. All of us, to a degree, mask parts of ourselves and while that is sometimes protective it can also backfire. While Tom never attempted to disguise his true self, he was often quite reluctant to express his beliefs, positions, or passions publicly. He especially did not want to appear argumentative, weak or subject himself to what could be painful criticisms or confrontation. He was not always comfortable standing on the upside of his ideologies or stating his feeling to others in a non-confrontational manner. My personality contrasted from a verbal perspective and he often encouraged me to say calmly say that which he could not. Fierce and fearful our soulmate relationship’s nature urged each of us on and as we aged and trusted we had each others back, Tom's ability to express himself genuinely and his deep emotions flourished. His desire and comfort level with being more authentic expanded while his fear of critique and rejection began to abate. Genuine confidence and higher levels of self-esteem grew as frustrations and impatience within himself diminished. Over time Tom's authentic appreciation of himself created an even stronger, calmer individual. He was able to engender more honest relationships and speak more freely about himself as a male.
We both were almost always working on ourselves and we needed to do this. We were committed to our relationship because we both had experienced previous unsuccessful relationships and the fact that we had left relationships sometimes made us feel very unsettled. No one likes to fail in relationships or hurt someone we once loved, but this happens when a marriage breaks apart. Tom and I took vows to each other that pledged our best efforts as individuals as an eternal commitment. Tom did not wear his heart on his sleeve, but an astute observer could easily discover his character's strength and unwavering sincerity.In this context, I want to say what I think from within, out loud as Tom encouraged me to do. It never ceased to astonish us how liberating and beneficial that could be for us both.
I found him incredibly generous, robust, tough, adventurous, thoughtful, determined, empathetic, compassionate, observant, fair, wild, humorous, sweet, and crazy. Conversely, I knew Tom was thrifty, tenuous, raw, cautious, biased, easily disheartened, sometimes aloof, unsettled at times, proud, avoidant, impulsive, headstrong, inflexible, and refined. He always had a lot more than he should have on his plate because there was always a lot going on in his mind. He was knowledgeable in ways much different than I. His inner emotional musings and worries subjected him to occasional bouts of anxiety and sadness. He worked hard to address these things. In the longer view as my spouse, as a Dad and step-Dad, Grampi, Boppy and Uncle he was present, supportive and loving.
Tom wanted foremost to be a thespian. He loved acting. He could not engage that calling (more on that later). Alternatively, he would have chosen to be a singer/musician or an outdoorsman (more contrasts). After college, he had hoped to work for the government in some capacity a national park. The variety of his aspirations could not be farther from the other. He was complex, not simple. Tom was an amateur artist and a patron of the arts, an avid reader, a critical thinker, a remarkable lover of travel, a skilled scuba diver, an avid gourmet, an inventive cook, a fabulous and insightful photographer, a relaxed beachcomber and in my assessment, a modern renaissance man. These are the things he was in the world.
Tom expressed, in every instinctive way he was able, his love for me. I cannot stress this enough. He protected and cared for me through the most challenging times. He nourished my soul and my self-esteem. He fed me, by mouth and by intervenous. He washed me and he medicated me - through a PICC line - into my heart's central veins. He held my hand, he held me up, he crossed me the streets and roads in life, in sickness and in health. Tom dressed me, drove me, accompanied me and waited for me - for countless hours of medical care - for almost five years. He read aloud and sang to me in the best of times - when we first met in Cambridge and in the worst of times - day after day in Massachusetts General Hospital. For 23 years on numerous adventures, he sang to me loudly and off tune in the car and at our homes. He softly sang love songs and lullabies to me in the worst of days of my illnesses, during times when I was so sick, medicated and discouraged, I barely cared about living. He read Richard Bach to me in Cambridge, before we made love to set a mood and share his idealism and devotion and later, he re-read me the same books to demonstrate his love for me had not waned. He read these books to me at my bedside in the hospital. He sang loudly when he was full of energy He sang softly and hummed to himself when he was nervous, anxious or indecisive. Always, despite innumerable physical obstacles, in the hospital and our homes, he slept close by my side in our shared bed, spoon style, the heat of his muscular body ever-warming mine. Except during his spine surgeries, as he was from our beginning, he laid close to me. Every morning and every night, he told me that he loved me; adding to that most recently "always and forever." He consistently spoke and acted in ways that made me feel beautiful and loved, which soothed my private fears and insecurities. He thought I was beautiful and that made me feel that way, which I never had. He saw me as beautiful even when I knew I was not. He was always sensitive, sensuous and valued intimacy. He never stopped making gentle, selfless love to me sometimes in the face of cruel, immeasurable physical obstacles.
Some thought Tom and I were opposites. In some ways we were. Those who looked beyond our surface could see at a deeper level we were the same. The resembled evidenced itself in the way we both sought authenticity, acceptance, love, respect, and emotional balance. In our desire for no pretenses, we laid out our need to matter to one another more than anyone else. We both felt insecure at times and were often working to overcome that. We each wanted to feel valued while making others feel valued. We tried to set exemplary personal examples and be mentors by always doing what we said we would do and by not making excuses or providing explanations why we didn't or couldn't. We solemnly vowed not to compete with each other but to collaborate and continuously develop a supportive relationship that reflected our lasting commitment and the promise of eternal love we had made to each other our first summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Having revealed our naked souls to each other, no easy task may I add, we laid bare our fobiles. We also recognized our divergent strengths. The deeper principles to which we ascribed were shared and perfectly aligned. We matched as instinctively as intricately cut puzzle parts. We laughed about that fit each time we completed a puzzle. Tom’s sister Margie shared with me the importance of "fit" in relationships. She commented about she and Mark...."it is fair to say that neither of us is perfect, but we are perfect fit for each other.” Loving wisdom and insight from a loving sister.
I mentioned Tom was fierce and in fact a warrior in more ways than one. He evolved more relaxed over time, with age and out of great perseverance and courage. Even when he was fearful, in our relationship or in life, he was brave enough, though sometimes on second thought, to reach out against the negative tapes in his head, to overcome anxiety and insecurity, to push forward, reveal and expose his inner self to me and to himself. He showed he could use his muscle to thrust ahead, to adapt and to change. As he matured, he reconsidered previously held stronghold positions and stopped defending his weaknesses. He came to listen without pride or defense, to hear even more empathically than he always did. At the same time, he learned how to give me honest feedback. He blessed me with gifts of insight, critique, analysis, total acceptance, unwaivering respect, happiness and his hard-earned wisdom – none of these which money could never buy. Suffice to say, vulnerability did not come easily for either of us because we were both proud. Still, while developing trust, the experience of it steadfastly changed both our patterns and the old messages and memories in our lives and those changes enabled us to create our fresh new life together, a new eternal connection as we had vowed to each other our very first year.
People die; we feel the grief and then mostly proceed with our lives. After a time, those we have lost slowly fade into the background of our everyday processes. I know this as I lost my grandparents and my parents who I loved deeply. Now I have learned that our regular life's resumption does not happen effortlessly when you lose a soulmate. Even as I write today, I remain devasted over 6 months later, begging that this longing for him soon will mellow. I know that missing him will never stop and that it may take years just to mend the fragile state I find myself in. I hope this website will serve as a resource to heat the hurt in your soul, over the loss of Tom.
Being here is bittersweet. I smile at the memories then I cry full of pain. I wish for others that it may become a place you can see him, feel him, hear, and revisit him and that the visit will bring you happy recall. For sure, it will eternally evidence that Toms’ life truly mattered in ways he may have never ever imagined. His tenacious endeavors towards being a better man, a better Dad, a better friend, and a better person in this world are rooted in decency and applauded here. This tribute may be your theater, Tom my love - you are the thespian you wanted to be. Your are the star, the main character, the first act and the last of a beautiful love story told on an electronic stage.
The loss of my soulmate has me rambling and repeating myself. I think because the loss of a soulmate, like that of a child, is the deepest of all losses. It stuns you. It is not my intention to be repetitive, though I know I have been and will be. I ask your indulgence. This work allows me to live him - actively and as I say that you can see, this is not an entirely altruistic endeavor. I love and miss Tom. I have a rageful desire to keep Tom alive, if only in this setting, if only in my heart and mind. The relationship we crafted was admirable, enviable, passionate and I deeply long for it. I maintain righteous anger about Tom’s premature death, mostly for him but also for myself. I feel like he was robbed – of his life, of the joy and of the hard work he did to become a better person, of the travel and the life he had planned for us. When his life ended, in many many ways, so did mine. Never in a million years would he have imagined what happened – nor would have I. He was not supposed to die now.
If, as is said, energy cannot be destroyed then somewhere Tom still lives and his momentum is still with me. I think that is what drives me. In my dream, the one dream of Tom since he died, in my mind’s eye, I heard his voice and felt his touch on my body. His words, soft and gentle, comforted me, as his strong arms wrapped tightly around me – just like they did a million times in life. He knew what had happened and said he missed me. In turn sometimes I feel his calming in the beauty of a sunset, I hear his joyfulness in the melodies and lyrics of the music he sang, and we loved. I see his bright light in the rainbow's colors over the ocean while I feel his push and tenacity in the flight of the seagulls' flight he emulated. I hear his sweet, comforting whispers in the stillness of my sorrow tamping down my urges to scream out like a wild injured animal. I feel his encouragement in the turbulence of my fear. In all these ways his dynamic still moves me. This commemoration of his life is permanent and everlasting so Tom’s presence can become embedded in your being as well.
Of course, I cannot share all of his and our deepest confidences in a location such as this. What is here and can be shared is the full measure of his noble heart. He was an exceptionally intense man who pushed for time-honored principles and beliefs to which he also adhered. While he was often reticent to voice aloud his protestations about the world, especially today's world, he lived out loud in relationship with our family and with me. I hope that his kindness that can easily be discerned in the words he embraced and in his images. I wish all who read here be struck with awe because he was just astonishing. He possessed exceptional abilities including the ability to forgive. He was a model for that. I love him, I love how he loved me and I love that he generously shared his passion with me and so many others.
This effort is cathartic and at the same time bittersweet. As I walk through the chapters of our lives I savor memories and equally grieve every lost part of him. I will endeavor to share his stories as he told them to me. I will share our story as we experienced it; so, you know him and know us, better than you do now. So everyone who loved him, especially our girls and grandchildren, have a place to go to be with him as they wish. I am honor-bound to Tom and that to me is a serious neverending commitment. As a reader, above all, you should know this is a work of unfailing gratitude for the life we shared. Without a doubt, I have lived well and experienced an emotionally rich and joyful life for the past 23 years which without Tom I am certain I would never have had. He taught me a million things, large and small. He made me an infinitely better person.
We all have a story to tell and we never know how it will end. My story at this point, without Tom is sometimes so sad I do not care about living. Tom would be sad to see me so sad, would want me to live with as much joy as I can muster. Tom's sister Christine’s friend Nancy Mulcahy poignantly suggested, having lost her soulmate Skip, that I just try to live fully and well, one day at a time, as Tom would have wanted. I will do this as she does for Skip. I will continue to write about the good times we all had together. Please join me and email me your inspiring, funny or meaningful "Tom story" or pictures, so I can post them.