I fell in love with my wife Kari from the very beginning. What I saw in her as beauty and grace, she viewed as imperfections -- as flaws. Kari had cystic fibrosis. It was heartbreaking to see her struggle to just breathe. But even with that intense struggle of everyday life, Kari handled it with such beauty, humility and grace.
Kari had been my best "girl" friend for years and I was her best "boy" friend. It would be an understatement to say that most of those years I had a crush on her. She had a crush on me as well, but with her illness progressing she felt guilty about having someone fall in love with her and have to take on her struggles. She didn't want me to have to help with medications, treatments, and weeks and weeks of hospital stays -- and she most certainly didn't want me to ever have to watch the person I loved the most in this world die young. She didn't want to be a burden.
But these fears never stopped my pursuit of her. It took her a while to understand why I pursued her for so long. The answer was simple -- she was the strongest, most inspiring, smart, humble and beautiful woman I had ever met. She was always there to help others before she helped herself. She always had words of love and wisdom for everyone. She saw the good in people that they never saw in themselves. You don't get the chance to meet people like Kari very often. She had my heart. I always wished and prayed that one day she would feel the same about me. Amazingly, she did.
When Kari and I started dating, we went on many adventures. We would take pictures everywhere we went because of our shared love of photography. We would go on coffee, tea and smoothie dates, cuddle up to Harry Potter movies and make chalk drawings on sidewalks (hers were much more aesthetically pleasing). We would drive 100 miles north to Portland to eat at our favorite restaurant, Papa Haydn's. We took an epic trip to a beautiful tulip farm -- where, a few months later, she told me was the first time that she knew that she was in love with me. But our favorite place to go, and the place that will forever be ours, was the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
November 23, 2014, was a day that forever changed my life. I had set up a team of divers to dive into the shark tunnel of the aquarium to hold up a proposal sign and arranged for a videographer to film it all. Sharks are our favorite animal, and I knew that for this proposal to be perfect, I needed to propose in the shark tunnel not only because of the sharks, but because that was where we shared our first kiss -- her first kiss ever.
As the divers came up holding the sign, it literally took Kari's breath away. She was in shock. When she said yes, my heart lit up like never before. She chose to spend the rest of her life with me.
Immediately after the engagement, she went to the hospital to get on some antibiotics to help with a lung infection. After she was discharged, months of wedding planning and adventures went by until we finally got the call to move across the country to Pittsburgh to be put on the waiting list for a double-lung transplant. Unfortunately, from the time we set foot in Pittsburgh, Kari's health deteriorated rapidly. Before long, she was too sick to be listed.
Out of the blue, our pastor Les flew in from Oregon to visit. He didn't tell anyone, he just had a feeling that he needed to be there. He brought a sense of comfort and relief in the hardest moment of our lives. It was around this moment that I had a horrible thought in my mind -- our dream of getting married might not happen. Pastor Les told me in a private conversation that he would be honored to marry us in her hospital room if that was something we would want.
A few days later, on August 28, 2015, Kari and I were married in front of her parents Rick and Kelly, her brother Dylan, my mom Tammy, and with my dad Paul and grandparents Jim and Kathy listening on the phone. It was a short but beautiful ceremony and the happiest moment of my life.
Sadly and crushingly, Kari passed away a few hours later. She had fought so bravely, so fiercely for 25 years … her body just couldn't take any more. The happiest day in my life is also the most heartbreaking. That will never go away. I told Kari many times over the years that I was afraid to lose her. But I wasn't afraid of our journey with CF. I was afraid for the day I would have to say goodbye to the love of my life. That's a fear that anyone who loves another person will have. It's not exclusive to CF.
But, even knowing what I know now, I can honestly say that I wouldn't change a thing. I would choose to spend my life with her every single time. Our love and our journey were the greatest moments of my life. I wouldn't trade them for anything. They were worth every second.
Kari is my best friend. She is my muse. She is my strength. She is my best inspiration. She is my wife.