Jeff - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Jeff.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Listen to the episode here.
Angela Easton: He was the first person to ever buy me a drink at the bar. So he bought me a Midori sour. Yes, that was my drink when I was 21.
I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” And I am in no place to judge what anyone drank at age 21, or at any other age. Because my drink of choice in my youth was … whatever was available, and lots of if.
But today’s Midori sour-drinking guest is named Angela. And the guy who bought her that Midori sour is Jeff.
Angela Easton: He was a lot older. He was bald. He just was the antithesis of anything that I'd ever found attractive. But I didn't know what the protocol was when someone buys you a drink at the bar. So I decided to go say thank you and be friendly. And he invited me to sit with him and his friends. And we just started talking, and we talked until the bar closed. And then he took me home. We shared an awkward kiss. We kissed and I was like “Thanks!” And I didn't know what to do. And then I literally just ran out of the car.
So maybe not the sexiest first date, but you know what’s attractive about Jeff? That he’s in his 30s. He’s a legit adult man who knows himself. And Angela finds that very appealing. After that awkward first kiss, the two of them continue hanging out, and before you know it, they’re in a serious relationship and talking about a future together.
Angela Easton: We just kept talking and going on outdoor dates, hiking, bike riding. Everything was just so easy. It was like being reunited with a friend from high school that you hadn't seen for a really long time and you just fall right back into it. He was transparent and open. And he didn't play a lot of the games that guys in their 20s typically do. It was like coming home, if home was a person.
They date for about two years. And like lots of people who fall in love (but not all of them), Jeff and Angela decide to get married and have kids.
Angela Easton: Jeff was the type of dad that really bucked the typical gender norms. He really was very egalitarian with the way he approached parenting. Like, even though he at the beginning was the one working and I was staying home, he would be up in the middle of the night with the baby. He would be watching the baby on the weekends so that I could get a break. I would say that he was honestly the more maternal one of the two of us. Like, just emotional and kind and warm, where I was more kind of like, hard and like, practical, at least when it came to parenting. More disciplinarian. It wasn't, "Wait till Dad gets home!" It was, "Wait till Mom gets home!" So. He just believed that it was a team effort and supported me unconditionally in whatever I needed to do to be happy, even if that meant embracing an identity that extended beyond like, being a mother. When I went to school, I had to spend three semesters in a different town finishing my college education. And so he was home with the kids, and he was working, and he was managing everything while I was off finishing my degree. And people would tell me all the time, like, “Your husband's watching your kids? I can't believe he's doing that. My husband would never do that.” And it was just something he did without complaint. It's like, “This is what I'm here for. I'm here to support you, and I'm a parent.”
Nora McInerny: This is 21st century conversations that you're having, where people are still flabbergasted by the idea of a mom leaving temporarily, right? To build something for herself that will also benefit her family. But, you know, to essentially go work. Meanwhile, men do that stuff all the time. And no one says to a wife like, "Oh, my God, I can't believe you're just holding things down at home while your husband goes and works on an oil rig," or, you know, gets on a plane every week to go do sales calls. It's astonishing to me that that is still such an outlier.
That’s exactly what Jeff is: He’s an outlier. A man who supports his wife and her dreams and goals and ambitions … and who loves being home with the kids. I too have an outlier at home; his name is Matthew. So I totally understand why Angela loves Jeff so much.
Angela Easton: He thought parenting was a team effort. And he also loved me, and he wanted to see me happy. And so he was going to do anything to make my dreams come true. That was the one thing about him is, I mean, I could have came home and said, “I want to be a rocket scientist.” And if you know me, that's just the most laughable thing in the world. But he would have went out and researched how I could make that happen, programs nearby that he could enroll me in and how he could support me. And he was that type of parent as well. He really lived to make other people happy and just lived unconditional love.
Angela and Jeff have, by pretty much any definition, an awesome marriage. They have the same life goals, the same ideologies. They have the kind of relationship where you don’t need to be physically together 24/7 to know that you’re in each other’s corner. Their life together is peaceful. It just … works.
Or it does, until just after their tenth anniversary. That’s when Angela starts feeling conflicted about their relationship. She and Jeff are in the process of buying their first home together, and it all just seems … off.
Angela Easton: It should have been a time of like, unbridled excitement. This is a time that we worked for for a long time. We really agonized over the right time to buy, and we loved the house that we bought. But I was filled with an almost, like, dread. This is how my life is. This is how it's always going to be. I'm trapped, claustrophobic kind of moment. And I really started to have these discussions with Jeff, because we talked about everything, everything. There was nothing that we kept secret from each other, even if they were painful conversations. We just were open. And that's where I started to really examine things within myself, like why I could be feeling this way.
It’s like therapy, only without the therapist. Angela’s asking herself lots of tough questions. She knows she loves Jeff … so why is she feeling this way? Is it buyer’s remorse about the house? Something about their marriage? Or is it something else entirely?
Angela Easton: I started to think about how throughout our marriage there were times where we really struggled with physical intimacy. It was a common problem. There was one period where we even went three years without physical sexual intimacy. And I started thinking: Could this be a problem with me? Could I possibly be gay? I feel like a lot of people have this idea that when you come out and you're gay, it's like this moment where you just like wake up and you're like, “I'm gay.” It's really like, a process. And it's a long process. For some of us, we're able to embrace it early on in our lives and never go through this, like, series of like, toxic relationships where we're uncomfortable and not really sure why. But for some of us, it happens like with me where you're in a relationship and you're struggling. At that moment, it was really just trying to figure it out and trying to really ... what do I do with this? Because my biggest fear was losing Jeff. And I didn't want to do anything that would sacrifice my relationship with Jeff. I loved him. My whole world was wrapped around him. He was my best friend, my soulmate. So even coming to this, it was like simultaneously like, kind of liberating and trying to like, look back at my life and maybe put things in perspective of could this be and what are these things that maybe hint that it is this, but also just terrifying. Because at any point, my partner, the person that I love could say, “I'm not dealing with this,” you know, “I'm gone.”
He could. He could. And hardly anyone would blame him. Not even Angela.
Angela Easton: I do recall remember lying in bed with him and just looking over and saying, “What if I'm gay?” And I remember he was very adamant, “You are not gay, you might be bi. And if that's the case, we'll figure it out. It's going to be OK.” And that's where he kind of thought if we need to open up our relationship and allow you to figure this out, we'll get there, and we'll just take this one step at a time. I had a lot of fears about what Jeff would do or how he would react, but I don't think I expected anything less from him, because he has always been an unconditionally supportive partner. Every dream I have ever had, no matter how outlandish, he would throw his support. He was always sacrificing for our relationship, for our family. And so I guess it didn't surprise me, but it definitely relieved me how supportive he was.
These conversations and realizations don’t happen overnight, or even over the course of a week. For eight months, Angela processes her feelings and talks through them with Jeff. She realizes she’s always been attracted to women ... but for decades she wrote that off as envy or jealousy, not as physical attraction.
Men have never particularly interested Angela. Even with Jeff, who she describes throughout our conversation as her soulmate, their relationship clicks in a way that isn’t all that romantic.
At the end of those eight months, Jeff suggests Angela explore her sexuality. He doesn’t want to be with anyone else, but he does want her to be happy and satisfied. So they decide to open up their marriage.
And for Angela, this is terrifying.
Angela Easton: I didn't want to lose Jeff. That was my worst nightmare. I would rather be closeted. I would rather never even look at another person, then lose him. It's just he meant that much to me. There is no one that would ever be important, more important than he was.
Angela’s also scared because DATING IS SCARY. And it’s especially scary when you’re figuring out your sexuality later in life and have never dated women before! And when you haven’t dated anyone in over a decade.
Angela Easton: Well, things have certainly changed since the last time that I had dated. I grew up in this time of like AOL chat rooms. And you were really discouraged from doing anything like this. But I started with Tinder. And Tinder is a weird place for anybody, but especially for a gay woman in a rural town. Like, if you are a straight anybody -- man, woman -- and you're on Tinder, you have a plethora of swiping to do. You could just, I mean, even in my rural town, you could swipe, swipe, swipe, fish, fish, fish. It's just, it's never ending. Never ending.
Nora McInerny: Also, fish is not metaphorical. We are talking about literal men holding fish. Holding fish.
Angela Easton: Someone needs to tell me why that is, and I've definitely gone into the psychology of like, what each fish means about that person. Like, are the small ones, like, just joking? And the big ones like this is, saying something about ... something. I don't know.
If you know what we’re talking about when we talk about photos of men holding fish on online dating apps, we’re sorry? And if you have absolutely no idea what Angela and I are talking about, be grateful and go give your single friends a hug.
Another thing that’s stressful about dating? What you wear.
Angela Easton: Even as a straight woman like or what I thought was a straight woman or even what I know of straight women. The reality is most of the time when you dress, you dress to impress other women and other women are looking at things that men don't notice. Other women are looking at things that men don't notice. So you know when you're getting dressed for dating a woman that they are looking, they are like noticing your color scheme and what you put on and like are your, you know, what your hair looks like, are you … and they're analyzing everything about you based on your, like, wardrobe choices, because that's what we do as women. And it's like, even higher level when you want to attract that woman.
And when we get back from the break, Angela is going to try to attract a woman. Sit tight.
After some right swiping and chatting and, yes, picking out clothes, Angela is about to go on her first-ever date with a woman.
They meet at a little restaurant on a lake. Because they both live in rural areas, where the dating pools aren’t exactly deep, Angela’s date has to drive several hours into town.
The date is good! They have so much to talk about, so many things in common. And the experience COMPLETELY shifts Angela’s perception of relationships, of dating, of herself.
Angela Easton: I had finally figured it out. The experience I'd had with this stranger, which always was an uncomfortable concept for me, was so different than any of the experiences that I'd had with men. It was like everything before leading up to that was it was almost like, forced. I just started believing that women don't experience pleasure the way they show in movies and TV, and that it was like, this myth perpetuated by the patriarchy, that that that was not actually the way that sex was and that we were all feeling that way. And then I just realized. I'm like, no, I am just gay.
Nora McInerny: I am gay, and I'm supposed to like sex, just a different kind. That’s all!
Angela is not straight. She’s not bisexual. She’s gay! And for the first time in her life, she’s giddy and nervous and feeling all of those butterflies we’re told we’re supposed to feel when we’re attracted to someone. When she dated guys, the attraction Angela felt was always more intellectual. With women, it’s different.
She’s had her epiphany. But … what about Jeff?
Jeff is there. He’s there as Angela’s partner, supporting her as she discovers this new part of herself. And he wants to know about her new dating life. Not the nitty-gritty, no intimate details. He wants to be kept in the loop, but not exposed to every single groove of that loop.
Angela Easton: I think there is different ways you can set up in an open relationship, at least that's the way I understand it. But with us, he wanted to have access to the information. Like he almost felt like if I was hiding something, I was betraying him. So I was very open with what I was doing or who I was doing it with. And it was funny because he was almost my security person. So it was like when I go on a date, he would say, like, “You need to let me know you're OK. And if things aren't OK, I will come get you.”
Angela is on all of the dating apps and sees a few women here and there. It’s exciting, but nothing super serious.
And for her two sons, things at home are business as usual. Mom and Dad live together. Mom and Dad are both happy and love each other. And on the weekends, Mom sometimes goes out and does her own thing. The kids don’t know their mom is gay.
Then, in 2019, Angela goes to a gay bar during Pride month.
Angela Easton: I actually went with Jeff’s sister. We went together. After the parade, we went to this gay bar down there. And I'd gone a couple of times before. Jeff's sister knew that I was gay, and she was very supportive. So that was really cool, to have someone in Jeff's family that knew our situation and supported me and wasn't angry about this, you know, revelation withinside our relationship. And then I ended up meeting someone there, Taylor. She was dancing with friends on the dance floor. It was early in the afternoon, so it wasn't packed yet. I was checking her out. I was attracted to her. I'm pretty shy. So it's kind of trained to, like, bide my time and try to figure out when an opportunity to maybe say hi was. So she stepped outside to go smoke. And I took that as an opportunity to try to casually go outside for air. And I made a comment about a jean jacket she was wearing. And we just started talking. And then we ended up going back in and dancing, and that led to kissing. And then we ended up back at her place.
Angela falls in love with Taylor pretty much immediately.
Taylor caught me by surprise. I was not expecting to meet someone that made me feel the way Taylor did. Honestly, like I was not looking for a relationship when Jeff and I opened our relationship. I was just thinking this might be a way to satisfy this part of myself physically and still remain within my marriage and still remain partnered with this person that I love and that I have a life with.
Angela had planned on compartmentalizing her sexuality. Scratching the itch during private time away from her husband and their sons. But the situation she’s in with Taylor reminds me of an Emily Dickinson quote, the one that goes, “The heart wants what it wants.”
Angela Easton: And when I met Taylor, it just threw me for a loop, because I was feeling things that were deeper than what you feel for someone that you have a one night stand with. She was just quirky and funny and she just, like, made my heart skip a beat and like, gave me butterflies. I remember thinking, if I can make this girl feel like this forever, I will just, I could die happy. And I just, I was just so I felt so light being around her and it just took me by surprise.
When Angela tells Jeff about Taylor, Jeff is supportive. He’s happy she’s found this new kind of love in addition to the unique, platonic love that they share as husband and wife.
Taylor lives an hour and a half away from Angela, so their relationship is just weekend visits ... and it’s like this for six months. And as their relationship grows, Angela and Jeff’s relationship evolves too.
Angela Easton: My relationship with Jeff was still very deep. I mean, we were a part of each other's life every day and in some ways the same way as it had always had been, constantly checking in with each other. Spending time together. But we began to become more distant in a romantic sense. There were ways where we were physically affectionate with each other always even after I came out, and that really started to taper off. And so that's kind of the way that we transformed our own relationship, especially like the more it got with Taylor, because once I started dating Taylor, I definitely was not romantic with Jeff. The romantic, especially the physical intimacy, had ended quite some time before then. But there were little ways where we were affectionate, and I was trying to respect Taylor. So I really cut that off. He just always remained so supportive, really, even like walking me through, like when we'd have arguments, he would take Taylor's side and he'd say, “Sometimes you're like this and maybe you should do this.”
Once it’s clear Angela and Taylor are in it for the long haul, Angela and Jeff tell the boys. Mom is gay, and she’s dating a woman.
Angela Easton: Kids are so much more accepting now, and they don't view it as a lifestyle like people my age often do even today. They view it as a part of who you are. And so he was very accepting. He didn't question it. He didn't treat it like a choice. My youngest son is on the spectrum, and his social maturity is much lower. And so he has always kind of just viewed Taylor, no matter what he's told is like up until recently, as in the last six months, he's like, “That's mommy's friend,” and doesn't even think anything. It's like he's unfazed by all of it.
The boys like Taylor. But it’s hard to be driving back and forth every weekend. Angela hates missing out on time with the kids. And Taylor is having a tough time financially.
So Jeff comes up with a solution: He wants the kids to have stability. He thinks they can all work together as a team to continue raising this family. What i f… he asks … Taylor could move in with all of them?
And even though it sounds wild to some of us, it works.
Angela Easton: I think the fact that my kids were able to remain in the house with their two parents made a huge difference, because I think a lot of times a divorce like divorce kids are it's not even that they're upset that their parents aren't in love anymore, but more so that their parents are now in two separate places and they have to decide and their life looks totally different. Where for my kids, it was the same as they'd always known just with this kind of fun, extra cool person. Taylor and I lived in one room and then Jeff lived in another room on the other side of the house. And I feel because we're all busy adults, we settled into this routine of daily life, going to work and coming home and having a list of hobbies that we partake in and like getting the kids to school. I feel that really cuts the awkwardness because you get swept into the day to day life that you don't really have time to dwell on maybe the emotional or just anything else. You're just like caught up, like, I've got to do this and then I've got to do this and then I've got to do this. And we settled into this rhythm where we just started taking turns doing things. We started having fires almost every night. We have a fire pit, and we would start a fire and alll sit around the fire and we would talk politics or share stories from high school. And it really felt so wholesome, I guess. It was like, here's a different type of family and we're just doing things that you do when you're in a family. You have backyard fires and you play board games and you take turns doing the dishes and going to the grocery store and dropping kids off at school. It was almost like, how did we ever do this with just two people before that? Because really, having three people in a house with children is a real luxury.
This arrangement sounds idyllic. I looked up that word. It means “extremely happy, peaceful”... the perfect description of the Angela-Jeff-Taylor-kids setup.
And then, March 2020 hits. Jeff begins permanently working from home, and the business that Angela and Taylor were running together closes, because pandemic. due to the pandemic.
It’s during this time that Jeff and Taylor have a real breakthrough.
Angela Easton: Jeff and Taylor, like, always kind of conversed through me. So it's like if Taylor needed something from Jeff, she would message me and I would tell Jeff for whatever. If he needed something from Taylor, he would message me. Taylor was going to the store for errands, and he wanted fast food. So he was going to message me his order and I was going to relay it to Taylor. And I remember Taylor looking at Jeff and saying, “You know, you really should have my phone number and then you can just message me directly.” And in this moment, which I thought was very beautiful, these people that had been living together for a year finally put their phone numbers in each other's phones so they could directly communicate and coordinate things for the family. I guess for the most of my life there's been this, you know, fairy tale that's perpetuated that there is only one type of family that is functional and healthy and works. And usually that's one man and one woman and they're together forever and they have a white picket fence and whatever. And this was a moment where I was like, "There are so many ways that a family can exist that's beautiful and healthy and functional. And others would see it as like, 'Oh my God, what a mess.'" But in that moment, I was like, this is really cool. There's three of us, our kids are happy, we're all happy and we're all making this work.
Angela, Jeff and Taylor are living together, raising two boys and redefining what family looks like. And like many people did during the pandemic, they start to make big life plans. Long-term plans. Jeff dreams of someday moving and bringing their younger son, Colton, with him. Their older son will soon graduate high school and be off to college. And Taylor and Angela want to live that hashhtag #vanlife and travel the country — with regular visits to see Jeff and the kids.
It’s beautiful. It’s vision-board perfect. Angela, Taylor, and Jeff, and the boys have this great plan.
And we’ll be right back.
It’s December 17th, 2020. A normal pandemic-era day.
Angela Easton: Jeff had a meeting. He was working remotely. I heard Jeff say, “Get up, you need to go to school.” And he was nagging our son, as he'd done thousands of mornings before. I heard him say that and I said, “Oh, God, I got to take him so I need to get up.” Jeff had already retreated into his room. And so Taylor and I kind of hustle bustled and we got out and we left. I messaged Jeff around 9:30 asking him about plans for Christmas. He got right back with me. And when my son got out of school, he started calling me over and over and over. “Daddy's not responding. I'm trying to message him. I'm trying to call. He's not saying anything. I'm worried.” And I was honestly pretty irritated. This has been a story that's played out many times and everything's always been OK. My son just tends to really be filled with dread if he doesn't know what's going on. And I had just started a new job. So I was in this place where I'm like, I really can't deal with this right now. And so I asked Taylor if she could go pick up Colton and take him home so he could see everything was OK. I thought for sure they're going to get home, Colton’s going to rush in. He's going to knock on his daddy's door. Jeff's going to be irritated that he's in the middle of a meeting that's getting interrupted and everything's fine.
But that’s not what happens. When Taylor and Colton get home, they find Jeff collapsed in the bathroom. Taylor calls Angela right away.
Angela Easton: I hear in her voice, she's terrified, and she's just saying, “Jeff passed out, come home, come home, come home.” I tell her, “Hang up, call 911.” I tried to call my older son, ask him when the last time he had any kind of communication. Of course, he's a teenager, so he's like, “I don't know.” I'm trying not to freak him out. So I'm just like, “OK, OK, I'll talk to you later.” I'm just like, kind of in problem solving mode right now. I mean, just frantic. Something's happened. I need to, like, figure things out until I have a full scope. I'm by the hospital., I can be really close. But what if he's going to be taken to a hospital, like in a big, bigger town? You know, someone needs to go get our son because I can only imagine how freaked out he is with, you know, ambulances arriving and all of this. So I'm just trying to coordinate all these pieces and I do it from afar. And the next call that I get was from Taylor. And she's just a wreck. I can hear it. I can hear that she's, she's sobbing. I can barely make out what she's saying. She tells me that just says, “He's gone. I'm sorry. He's gone. You need to come home. You need to come home.” She keeps saying that over and over and over again. And I just, I remember I was like, “You have my van. I can't, I can't just go.” You always think you know how you're going to process if someone ever tells you the most important person in your life is gone. I thought,I would be that type. I'm going to scream. I'm going to get to the ground. I won't be pulling out my hair. I'm going to be screaming to God, passing out. I mean, I don't know. I just felt like my reaction would probably be this, like, dramatic occurrence. And instead, I was, I just was so like, out of my body. I couldn't believe it. I was in, I got to get home. I got to figure this out. What am I going to do with the kids? Like, my mind was just focused on all these very practical things in that moment, and I could not accept that it was real.
He’s dead. They’ll later learn he died of a heart attack. Angela manages to drive herself home, and nothing can prepare her for what comes next.
Angela Easton: I just see this chaos. The ambulance, the cops. And they're all just looking at me. They're just like looking at me. And it's like a look of, like, pity, I guess. And I just, I couldn't believe it. The first cop I interacted with, he said he was sorry. He was very compassionate, but immediately asked me what I wanted to do with the body. And in my mind, Jeff, still alive. I'm expecting this heroic EMS worker to come out of the bedroom where he was found and say, “He's alive, we're good, everything's good.” And I'm thinking we're going to have to sit in the hospital all night and get checked out. And then we're going to be laughing about this with a beer. It's all fine. And Taylor and I decided to go to a hotel and get away because I couldn't fathom at that moment like him having to be taken out of the house. Like even though I'm still grappling with this whole, the reality of the situation, like that was something that was just so disturbing to me, the idea of him, like, being taken out of the house.
His house. Their house. Their home. A place he’ll never return to. Jeff is gone. Jeff! This man who has been so wonderful and supportive of Angela. The man who has been an amazing father to their children. He helped make this life she lives possible.
Angela: It was the sharpest pain like that I've ever endured. It's beyond like, even comprehension. It's like all of the sudden you realize what people mean when they say, like heartbreak, that it's like a physical heartbreak, like you can feel just everything inside you breaking. And it's, I guess I just didn't expect that. Like, you kind of expect the emotions to come with it, but just like the physical pain of it, the physical pain of grief. And it was just like, I broke down just like sobbing and just could not believe it. Just could not believe it. This doesn't happen. This doesn't happen to you. It doesn't happen to me. It doesn't happen to us. That was just what I kept saying. Like, “This can't be real.” And I really thought even when I went to bed that night, like I thought, I'm going to go to sleep. And I was in a hurry to go to sleep, which I thought was weird because I thought I was going to wake up and it was going to be a dream.
During our conversation, Angela repeatedly told me that losing Jeff was her greatest fear when she was figuring out her sexuality. When she said those words, she meant losing him as a partner. As a friend. As her person. She never fathomed losing him forever. Never imagined what life might be like for her and the boys if Jeff died. And in the months after losing Jeff, Angela struggles, for all of the reasons that you would. But also because she feels like a widow, but also … not?
Angela Easton: I'm a widow in all of the ways that widows are dealing with all of the things that you deal with when you've lost your life partner. But because we were more platonic partners towards the end, I feel really invalid as a widow in some of the other ways that widows are. You know, I don't miss some of the things that maybe it I guess, quote unquote, traditional widow would. And so I feel really out of place. I've been encouraged to join widow groups and I'm always afraid of trespassing. A lot of our issues are very similar, but then we take a departure in some ways. So I feel weird, I guess.
Nora McInerny: And as much as we want to believe that, like, oh everybody, that there are neat categories to this to loss in general. There really aren't. There really aren't. Because there are complications and every in every kind of loss there are, you know, circumstances that are so individual to every relationship no matter what.
Some of the people in Angela’s life don’t seem to understand her grief, and that hurts too.
Angela Easton: The culture, at least in the U.S., is when you end a relationship, the expectation is that you don't like that person anymore or that one or the other has done something bad and you should hate each other and you should go separate ways. So when you still remain as deeply meaningful to each other, it's almost like what? Why? It's weird, because I feel like friends always feel like they have to take a side, like I have to be friends with this person or I have to be friends with that person, but I can't be friends with you both or I can't imagine that you still would be close to each other. And so I've seen that a lot, like a lot of his friends haven’t reached out or even contacted me in spite of me saying, “Hey, I'd love to see you. I love my son to, like, hear stories about his dad that I don't know.” So that's been really difficult.
And there’s Taylor, who struggles with the reality of having found Jeff that day ... and with seeing Angela and the boys suffer and grieve ... while also grieving Jeff herself. Because Jeff was a good friend to her.
Angela Easton: I am in a relationship as I'm grieving another person that I was also in a relationship with, and so there is a lot of complicated emotions surrounding that. When you're seeing someone grieve, you're also seeing how much they loved that person. And I think for Taylor, she is seeing how deep of a love that I had for Jeff through how deeply that I'm grieving him. And that can be really difficult. She's not coming into it after I've had some time to process and make peace with some of the feelings that I have. She saw it from the very beginning, from that ultimate moment of first hearing that he's gone and then all of the things that have come after. She has seen that, and that has been really challenging. Taylor is experiencing grief for this person that showed her a lot of kindness and was always good to her and that they had a friendship. And people don't understand her grief as in like why? I mean this, you should be happy. You're able to go forward with your life. Maybe not happy, not the right word, but not not feeling as traumatized and emotional as she is.
As open-minded as we humans can be, we tend to have some pretty superficial ways of thinking about love. Maybe that’s part of Jeff’s legacy: teaching us to think about love in a bigger way … with openness, generosity and kindness.
Angela: When we talk about love and how profound it is, like, we have this sense that that means romantic. And I think that there can be so many different types of love that are profound and life-changing and influential in our lives. And I remember when I came out, there was a guy that I worked with at the time, and he had been married to his wife for 17 years. And he told me when it was kind of out and about that I was gay, he said, “If that was my wife, I would kick her out. And I would never want anything to do with her again.” And I just thought how sad. How sad it is that you have been with someone for 17 years, and those experiences that you've had for those 17 years and this life that you have built together suddenly loses all meaning and you lose all love for that person if they don't romantically want you anymore. And so for Jeff, I feel like he really lived unconditional love. He was someone who never said anything bad about anyone. He looked at someone and he thought the best things that you could think about that person. And he gave them the space to be the best that they could be. And I think that that's something that we don't allow often.
Life is harder without Jeff, and not just because so many people miss him. For a long time, he’d been “the resident adult” in the household — Angela’s words. He was the pragmatic and responsible one who took care of the small but important things, like making sure the water bill got paid and doing that week’s meal planning.
Now, Angela is the sole surviving parent. And Taylor, instead of being the bonus mom, the fun friend, now has stepped into the co-captain role. Thankfully, Angela has family. Not just Taylor and her sons, but Jeff’s family, too.
Angela: They knew of Taylor before Jeff even passed. So that helped tremendously. They were aware of her. They hadn't spent a lot of time with her, but they definitely knew that we had this dynamic. We kept things pretty separate. But they have amazing hearts and they're very openminded. And they have just seen how much Taylor loves my children and how my children love Taylor. And I mean, really, that's their biggest concern right now, right? I mean, they have these grandchildren that have lost their father. And so to see that they have another person there that is just loving them and there for them has been really great. And they've embraced Taylor into their family. And that’s been wonderful.
Writer (and former TTFA guest) Kate Bowler once wrote that a life is never finished, even when it’s over. Together, Jeff’s family and Angela and Taylor are working to raise the boys and keep their dad’s memory alive. To make sure that Jeff’s life is never truly finished.
They do this by remembering and replicating the ways that Jeff lived -- ways of living that make more sense now that he’s gone.
Angela: He lived a life so intentionally and loved life that I really want to carry that through. And he was such a wise, kind person that I want to carry his memory on in the right way and live the way that I think that he would want me to live and pass on the lessons that he would want me to pass on to our children. He was so slow, so slow. He did everything slow. If he made dinner, and he started it at six o'clock, you could expect that dinner at 10 p.m., and he would never stop moving. It wasn't that he was just sitting around. He just did everything slow. He took his time. When we'd go hiking, I would get to the summit, and I'd just be standing there tapping my toe, waiting for him to get there, and he'd be taking pictures and relishing moments. And I just often think he just really enjoyed living in the moment. And I read a book and it talked about things you do for the last time. And like, if you knew it was going to be your last time, what would you do? Would you see your favorite movie, read your favorite book, go on your favorite hike, go on a crazy Tinder date that you would never go on before. For Jeff, he lived every moment like it was his last time. And I really feel that the way he looked at everything was like you should when it's going to be the last time you looked at something. So I try to do that now.
This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our production team is Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina and Jordan Turgeon. We got help on this episode from Paula Engelking. Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson, and we are a production of APM Studios at American Public Media. Executive product and editor Beth Pearlman. Executives in charge Lily Kim, Alex Shaffert, Joanne Griffith.