ON THE OUTSIDE

11/1/2015

Last few days find me feeling empty and blah, colors seem dull, food tastes bland, all tasks seem pointless and I can’t get comfortable or relax in any way. Whiskey helps. Not much, but it helps.

Rational me says these are just side-effects of grieving process, they will pass and I will feel better. Heartbroken me says, who gives a shit, I don’t care to feel better.

My thoughts will clear up if I put them on paper, I say to myself…. Perhaps, let’s give it a try.

I was raised in a family of strong, honorable and reliable men and loving, nurturing and generous women. Growing up around a lifelong Army officer and a highly decorated veteran grandfather, and a “Man with the golden hands” craftsman and engineer father, I was taught that a man must behave like a man, and it meant certain things, most importantly, you always keep your promises, you stand up for the weak, respect and never hit women and live in a manner that allowed you to walk upright with you head raised high and made you and your family to be proud of who you are.

One of my earliest memories (I tell this story a lot), was standing in line at a hardware store in my hometown of Kiev, Ukraine with my dad. I must have been no older than five. I was crying my eyes out, as kids often do, can’t remember why, perhaps dad wouldn’t buy me some trinket that caught my eye. An older gentleman standing in line ahead of us, turned around, looked at me and proclaimed:

“Stop that at once, real men cry on the inside”

I looked at my dad, and saw in his face, that I was just taught a lesson I should carry with me for life.  And I have.

I knew instantly that among the manliest qualities one could possess was the ability to control your emotions and ability to not show outward signs of weakness or pain.

My dad passed away on Christmas Eve in 1993 suddenly, way before his time, at a young age of 57 and it was the first profound loss of a loved one I had ever experienced. His death made me realize that there’s one kind of pain that is so unbearable and excruciating, that no conventions of manliness, no amount of self-control, and no willpower  can stop you from crying out in agony. That awful pain is the pain you feel in your heart when someone you love is snatched out of your life forever.

On that terrible day feeling that despair and sadness, but not daring to disrespect my dad’s rules I spoke to his spirit in silence and asked him for permission to cry on the outside for him. I’d like to think that in his considerable wisdom he granted me that permission.

Since then, every time a close loved one, or a dear friend has left this world and my heart is heavy with grief ( and there’s been no shortage of these times recently), I go somewhere to be alone and ask my dad for permission to cry on the outside.

I have never faced an instance when my dad’s permission was more necessary.

On October 27, 2015 just before 8pm, a woman left this world, a few months after her 40th birthday. She was so many things – a pioneering visionary business woman, an owner of two landmark downtown Savannah stores, a drummer, member of two remarkable bands, a fashion icon, who styled the entire city, a community leader with legendary ability to galvanize people into great endeavors, a dear friend to hundreds and hundreds of people all over creation, a sister, a daughter and so much more…But to me she was simply a woman I loved – my wife, Robyn Pauline Reeder

As the news of her untimely passing hit the social media, a steady array of friends, co-workers, former schoolmates and fans have been sharing their stories and expressing sorrow. As Robyn’s departure was felt deeply by so many people she touched, I felt even more grief, sadness and loss. Then I suddenly knew that it was my turn to share – I was the only person who could offer this story:

The Story of Robyn and Igor

24478_1093631877927_2566050_n

From the moment that Robyn and I had our first kiss, I knew right away that I found the woman I wanted to share my life with. It sounds corny, but it’s true. My boys would attest to the fact that I immediately proclaimed that my search was over, and I found “the one”.

She had every quality you want your woman to have, in abundance – She was beautiful, smart, elegant, funny, strong, sexy, fashionable, care-free, fun, serious, successful, sweet, loving and she was an awesome Rock’n’Roll drummer!!! She loved music, both hearing and playing as much as I do. And this, amazing in every way, remarkable woman also felt the same way about me. I hit the relationship lottery, and was and still am the luckiest man alive. We were so much in love, traveling, partying, hanging out with friends, playing in our bands and living better life than I could ever imagine for myself.

71799_1673015029457_560791_n

It seems a little silly now, but from the moment I knew that I had to cement this relationship with a marriage proposal, several comical mishaps would prevent me from doing just that.

First of all, most guys get intimidated picking out a ring, imagine the difficulty of picking out an appropriate engagement ring for a person who is not only incredibly successful, has a razor-sharp fashion sense, a million of strong opinions about all things clothing and accessories, but to top it all off has recently graduated with honors as a Metals and Jewelry Major from SCAD. You don’t go to Jared to get a ring for a woman like this.

Making a wrong choice here would most certainly make her doubt my eligibility to be her husband. There was no way in hell I was going to screw this up. One of the best decisions I ever made, was to ask our awesome friend Danielle, a fellow jewelry designer to make a one of a kind special custom engagement ring for my special one of a kind girl.

Just as the ring was ready and I planned to get it from Danielle, Robyn scalded me for dragging my feet and not asking her to marry me. Certainly, a proposal under these circumstances would appear to be forced as a direct result of this scalding.

So I had to wait. A few months later I had to travel to a convention in Las Vegas and asked Robyn to come along. I thought what a perfect opportunity to get down on one knee in the romance of the city of flashing lights in a desert oasis and ask for her hand. A day before we boarded the flight she told me that she appreciated a boyfriend who took her traveling, but she would much prefer an engagement ring instead. So the proposal had to be postponed again.

On Valentine’s Day 2009, the stars finally aligned and with help of certain close friends, my proposal finally took place, she loved her custom Danielle Rose ring and, after checking to make sure I was really serious, said YES!!!!

I remember that wonderful happy and carefree time. We were so in love, full of hope and anticipation of more great things to come.

As we rode a motorcycle from Westside to Tybee, looking at one boring place after another, trying to find a perfect place to have our wedding, Robyn had one of her legendary epiphanies.

We will have a wedding in our own back yard, we will have our friends come together, use their talents and skills and handle all the different tasks required. It’ll be so much more meaningful that way. She was so right, as she always was, and the wedding was a special affair indeed.

Like all those times before, the dream team went to work:

Sebastian, Stephen, Athon, Andrew and I went to work re-building the yard to suit a wedding reception. The buildings had to be torn down, decks, slabs and stages had to be built, and heavy machinery had to be brought in to grade the yard. We even had a paver party, where a bunch of friends showed up to build a brick paver path for Robyn to walk down to the altar. Speaking of altar, Sebastian and Stephen built the famous circle of love to bring yet another one of Robyn’s famous visions to life. Once construction was over, the others kicked in. Our awesome chefs Clara and Kevin made all the food, our graphic designers made amazing invitations and cards and cake toppers, our fashion designer friends hand-made a breathtaking wedding gown. Our sound guys set up sound and lights and our countless awesome musicians have serenaded us into the night. Our photographers documented every meaningful moment. Everyone else setup tables, cut flowers and hung lights. Every single aspect of our wedding was handled by loving and caring hands of our very close and dearest friends. I am so humbled by how generous, talented and hard-working this Savannah community of friends is, how it pulls together in times of joy and in times of need to make the most impossible things possible. Robyn was often the driving force behind this unity and will continue to inspire this spirit of making things happen together. That will be her legacy. That’s how she will be remembered.

29272_441043127785_4885166_n

Our marriage lasted exactly five years, six months and ten days. As I lay in bed last night, having a Whiskey soaked sleepless midnight it suddenly occurred to me that we had a near perfect marriage… We never had a real fight, the kind where you’ll stay mad at each other for days at a time. Our disagreements would usually be limited to picking the right movie to watch or whether or not I had sufficiently expressed my admiration for her new pair of shoes. We have never spent one day together without telling each other “I love you”. We meant it every time.

Truly together for better or for worse – we were together on the best and worst day of my life

4/17/10 – The day we married, and 10/27/15 – The day she passed away.

Every person reading this or someone close to them will statistically come face to face with cancer. For those of you who don’t know what it’s like, let me paint a picture.

We all know that Cancer is an indiscriminate killer of young and old alike.

Unless you lived it, you’ll never know this, but Cancer is much more cruel and inhumane than just taking your life. It slowly and methodically robs you one by one of all the things that are precious and important to you, but then keeps you alive and around to fully experience those losses. It is as if Cancer is purposely trying to break your spirit along with your body.

First thing Cancer stole from us was children.

When Robyn was diagnosed for the second time, doctors immediately told us that if there were going to be any chance of keeping Robyn alive she had to undergo a surgery that will leave her unable to have kids. What young couple planning a wedding wants to have their dreams of parenthood shattered in such a hopeless way. We cried, and we moved on.  If we can’t have kids, then my sweet girl will give me a gift of next best thing. She gave me Manny.  Those around me  know  that doggy is my child in every way and I love him more than life itself.

34025_1511877962918_3407772_n

Next, Cancer took her ability to walk.

At one point the cancer lesions in Robyn’s hip bones were so painful she was bound to a wheelchair for some time and our second floor bedroom had to be moved to the dining room downstairs for she could no longer use the stairs. She fought valiantly; she had chemo, radiation, switched to a strict macrobiotic diet, stopped drinking all alcohol and willed herself out of that chair. She beat it back and was able to walk, ride a bike, play and even dance down the runway  for several more years.

robyn_fashionshowbygeoff-43

Next, Cancer took her hair

Her beautiful signature sunshine of a blond pixie cut was no more.

She fought back, presenting me with an array of colorful wigs. I had a blond, a brunette or a redhead in my arms every night of the week. What man wouldn’t be happy with such an arrangement? Hell, my girl looked more beautiful with a bald head than all the long haired supermodels combined. She also amassed a Smithsonian museum worthy collection of hats and now Robyn Reeder had a new signature – a fashionable hat for every occasion.

It seemed that she was unstoppable to us all.

Robyn has fought and won every battle against this evil disease. I can’t count how many times I heard folks around town say – she looks great, not sick at all!   The outside world only saw beautiful, always well put together and composed Robyn, completely unaware of the war she fought every single day. For those of us close to her, we had a different experience. As we held her close and hugged her through every heartbreaking new loss, every bad scan result, every round of chemo or radiation, every painful tear filled night we got to see and be completely in awe of the heroic battle she put up every step of the way.

But Cancer wasn’t through yet. There were still precious things to take away.

Any one of these losses would send a lesser person into a suicidal depression. She took them all with grace and bravery that world has never seen before. She worked two jobs, played shows, put on fashion events and decorated the dream house we were building.

Over the next year, our fiercely independent Robyn lost ability to drive, ability to play the drums, which she loved so much, ability to work at or even get to her vintage clothing business.

Cancer wasn’t through yet. She still had things she loved.

Cancer in her jaw took away her ability to eat her favorite foods, she now needed help to get out of bed, and to simply get to the bathroom. Cancer took away her independence. She now needed someone’s help 24/7. And while her sister Jenny and I and some of her closest friends were happy to offer this help, it was a tremendously painful loss for Robyn to have to rely on others for every little thing we all take for granted. She fought again and again through agonizing pain, for every ounce of her life.

Next Cancer wanted her mind.

One day, after countless exhausting sleepless nights Jenny had left the house to run an errand.

As I was sitting next to Robyn’s bed, she asked me to get her something. By this time her disease had made it hard for her to remember certain words, and I helplessly watched her struggle to remember the word for whatever she needed. My wife was now living her worst nightmare and I was completely powerless to help her. Frustrated with herself she made a motion for me to bring a pen and paper. She was just going to write me a note. A simple thing we all take for granted daily.

Robyn and I have matching tattoos on our arms. I have her name and she has mine.

The thing that happened next will haunt me for the rest of my days. As she tried to start writing, I watched her realize that she no longer knew how. It broke my heart to see her loose yet one more thing. Then suddenly, I saw her eyes carefully study the tattoo on her arm as she forced her hand to write out  I….G…..O….R.  My eyes immediately burst into tears with no way to stop the flood, and Robyn looked up concerned at how she may have upset me. It was clear to me then that while this evil fucking disease has taken all from her, she knew who I was, she knew that it was my name tattooed on her arm, and she loved me so much that she was more concerned about me crying  than she was about all of her own losses and pain.

Three days later at the Hospice House I got to tell her how much I loved her, how much I was grateful for her sharing last years with me and how proud I was to be her man. A minute later as I tightly clutched her hand my Robyn took her last breath.

One last loss , deep and irreparable loss. A loss worse than all others.  Loss of my beautiful wife to eternity. I hope to see you again where ever you flew,  my sweet Robyn bird, with all my heart, your I…G…O…R.

Tonight I cry on the outside…