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One Year

It’s been one year since Erika was taken from us. One year ago today.

This post is a long one, apologies for that.

It’s been a really long, tough year. I want to share with you many of the things that have happened.  Since the moment Erika got sick last year and asked me to keep her family informed, I’ve grown closer to them. Gotten closer to her father Ray, her mother Marion, her sister Nancy, her brother- in – law Don and our niece, Violet. Erika’s family has treated me like family the entire time. They’ve been there for me every step of the way, each in their own way and we talk frequently. I’ve been welcomed to dinner in Marshfield with Ray and Marion, in the house where Erika grew up. The dinner repeated something that I’d done many times before, but always with Erika. It was quite different this time with just the three of us. I talk with Nancy on the phone, as she’s always there to talk or even just listen.  A few weeks ago, she and Violet came to visit, so I could give them some of Erika’s belongings. I look forward to this fall and winter when Violet will be wearing Erika’s hoodies. Don is also a runner, so he and I will often swap stories about  our training. There have been other things that we’ve done together, like figuring out Erika’s estate and creating the scholarship non-profit organization.

I spent about nine months of the year in therapy. I knew right away I’d need it and I tried a group session with others, but it wasn’t a fit for me. I found a really good local therapist and we met weekly, then biweekly, then every three weeks. Now I’m on an “as needed” basis. I felt like I was running out of things to talk about and I’ve learned how to handle some of the feelings. But the process continues, one where I’m constantly learning. I have some new friends who have also been through this type of loss and the resulting grief. I have learned from each of them. Some of the things you go through are the same for everyone and some are pretty different. I feel like I still don’t understand it all, and one thing that I learned is to not be surprised by what hits you. Just when you think you’re doing better, a trigger will lead to a really bad day. Fortunately, I’ve learned some of my triggers and while I can’t and don’t want to avoid them, I can often anticipate how they’ll make me feel. And for those who have never experienced this kind of loss, about all I can say is that it’s far worse than you can expect.

I had some local friends who offered advice early on about grief, and I often didn’t immediately believe what they were saying. I’ve shared some of it on Twitter and retweeted some of the good ones. Early on, I did think that grief was something that you, “get over.”  I’ll never claim to fully understand it because it keeps surprising me (not in a good way) but I do at least now understand it’s something that you live with forever. Grief and loss change you.  Another of the things that I learned is summed up in this Mitch Albom quote: “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” 

Losing someone like Erika is nearly impossible to explain. To me, one thing is certain, we don’t just, “move on.”  We carry it with us. This Nora McInerny TED Talk explains it so well.

More than a few times, including just a few weeks before she died, Erika said to me, “I really like our life right now.”  I, too, really loved our life together. After I got divorced a number of years ago, my life was turned upside down and everything felt chaotic and jumbled.  It took some time to get things settled again. Erika was a huge stabilizing force. She helped me when I was a mess, was patient in many ways and we were finally settling in. We bought our house in 2017, we got a dog, a couple cats and were just enjoying our life. We were both working from home during the day and then sitting together on the back porch or on the couch together at night. Just when things were finally all right, this tragedy happened. This just adds to the frustration, the anger, the unfairness.

As absolutely crushed as I have been for the last year, and as sad as I am for my loss, I realized that I’m actually even more sad, frustrated and angry for Erika’s loss.  She was cheated out of so much. There’s no question that in her 46-plus years, she lived life to the fullest, but she still had so much more to do. She touched so many people, she helped change people and things for the better. There was so much promise on the horizon. I’m sad that she didn’t get to do that. I’m sad for all the people who didn’t really get to know her and all the things she wanted to do. Just as one small example: Erika wanted to go to law school to be a lawyer. In our discussions about that pretty major life change for her and for us, getting a law degree didn’t make financial sense. But that didn’t matter. She was tired of seeing injustices and wanted to jump in and use her skills to fix them, even if it was on a volunteer basis. Making money wasn’t the  motivator for her. Doing what is right and helping others was. Her loss is our loss. 

Back on March 20, we held a memorial service for Erika that was streamed online. We had more than 30 speakers that day who told stories of their memories with Erika. We were joined by people who knew Erika from high school, from college, from her days in Baltimore and Russia and of course, lots of Rhode Islanders. It was a nearly three-hour event and it was recorded, so if you missed it and would like to watch it or even just to rewatch parts of it, I’d be happy to share the video with you.

Maybe a month or two before Erika died, she and I were at home having dinner.  One of the things that we talked about was the lessons we were learning about trying to become anti-racist. Among those lessons was to do what you can with the resources that you have to help those affected. We came up with the idea to create a college scholarship for Black Rhode Island students. We had no idea how to do it, but we agreed to figure it out. We thought we’d fund it for the first year and then start asking friends and family to contribute.  She didn’t get to see it through, so a few months later, Erika’s family and I created the Erika Niedowski Memorial Scholarship with myself, Erika’s parents Ray and Marion Niedowski, Erika’s sister Nancy Welsh and Erika’s brother-in-law Don Welsh, as the committee. In August, we awarded scholarships to two amazing students, Felmara Greene and Lydia Nkrumah.

Next weekend, we’ll have a bicycle ride to honor and remember Erika. Most of you know that Erika was an avid cyclist. She loved being out on her bike and she also enjoyed riding with John Marion. Last August, Erika and John rode together either out to or nearly out to the Connecticut border as she wanted to get John’s opinions on law school. Since then, John decided he wanted to put together a ride to remember and honor her, and put together an organizing committee of Matt Netto, Liza Burkin and James Baumgartner. We’ll be “Out Riding” on the Blackstone Valley Bike Path on Saturday, Oct 9 starting from the Stop & Shop in Cumberland on Mendon Road  at 9 am. Everyone is welcome to join us. No registration needed and it’s free. 

I’ve always kept a very small circle of friends, but in the last year, that circle has grown. People have reached out to support me, and I am appreciative of each one. I won’t name them for fear of forgetting someone. But I am thankful to all the people who came over for fire pit nights or brought me food or periodically checked in with a, “How are you doing?”  Also to the new friends who shared their experiences dealing with grief and tried to prepare me—I didn’t usually believe you, but you were always right. And I am grateful to the widow who I spoke to often as we were frequently going through and feeling the same things.

In some of my blog posts, I’ve shared some private things, like photos from inside our home. I want to do that again now. Some of these might seem really mundane, but I can also explain how each has meaning for me or helps me to still feel connected to Erika.

Let’s start with an obvious one. Erika’s bike:

That’s her bike, exactly where she left it after her last ride on September 19, 2020. Her cycling shoes and arm warmers are still right there, as if waiting for the next ride. It was the last day before she started feeling any symptoms. 

These Lincoln photos:

I think Erika bought these at Frog and Toad in Providence, shortly after we moved in to the house. We jumped in with both feet, immersing ourselves in our new town. We also made frequent trips to Lincoln Woods and it was a site for our “Winter Walking” adventures. She really liked specific or even kitschy things. When she found something interesting or was happy with something she did, she had a slightly different smile and look on her face. It was a mish-mash look of self-contentment, pride and also a fulfillment of curiosity. She had that look the day she brought those home and hung them up. We were home. This was our home.

A bookshelf.

This bookshelf sits, maybe, ten feet away from me all day, right outside my working space at home.  Everything in it is Erika’s. From the tourist knick knacks on top, to the entire set of Seinfeld episodes that she bought while living in Russia so she could watch some American TV. Some of her favorite books are in there, too. There’s Team of Rivals, a book on beekeeping and one that was the subject of an ongoing joke, The Children’s Blizzard. After she finished it, I asked how it was and what it was about. For some reason, she was at a loss for words, but just said it was sad. I asked, “Is it about children who die in a blizzard?” It was just one of those had-to-be-there things that hit her as being funny in how clearly it summed up the book.

Speaking of kitschy:

There’s a hip-swinging Elvis. She always had this around, connected to a string and a suction cup, often swinging from the bathroom mirror.  I asked her about it when we first started dating as I saw it in her apartment’s bathroom. She said she got it on a trip to Vegas with her then-husband Chris, and I remember the little pang of jealousy I felt at that moment, to hear her talk about being with someone else. Every time I see it, I recall that conversation, and Elvis still hangs in the bathroom by the mirror.

Here’s another one that we laughed about quite often.

This is her stuffed animal collection. Or at least part of it. It used to be a larger collection, but some are in other parts of the house. One, Erika’s absolute favorite, a brown bear named Fred, found a new home with Violet, to be loved every day and night.  This menagerie wasn’t always displayed on top of the dresser though. Oh no. They were in the bed with us. All of them. And they took up space to the point where sometimes we’d have conversations about whether I could borrow  a little space from the avocado. (His name is Guac). There’s also a sloth, a couple of turtles, a moose, her elephant from when she was little named Friendy. And then there’s the dog on the far right— “Baby Jaro,” —that looks a little like our dog, Jaro. That was the birthday gift that I gave to Erika on her first day in the hospital. Her birthday was just two days after she died, so we had made plans to celebrate and I’d already gotten her this as a birthday gift. I was on the fence about bringing it into the hospital, because I kept telling myself we’d celebrate and I’d give it to her when she came home.  I’m really glad I didn’t wait. She wasn’t feeling too well, but when she saw Baby Jaro, she got a really big smile on her face and kept it right by her side. Every few minutes, she’d pet it and just whisper, “Baby Jaro.” It made her happy during a really terrible time. I’m glad I decided to bring it to her.

The shower caddy and supplies.

This is another one that might seem pretty mundane. It’s a few bottles of shampoo. But to me, it’s been so much more. Like her bicycle, sitting right where she left it, these are also hers, right where she left them. When going through this experience, this grief, it really can be the little things that make your person seem still with you in some way. This was one of them for me. I’d look at them every day when I’d get in the shower—her special shampoo for curly hair, her charcoal face wash, which we called “face dirt”—and could still feel like she was here. 

Trash?

Maybe this one is a little gross, but I don’t care. What is it? Well, many of you know that Erika loved cheese. All kinds of cheese. So I’d often buy bags of mozzarella cheese sticks for her snacks, which she’d sometimes eat while reading in bed. Sometimes when I’d open the drawer in a night table and see one of these wrappers, it’d lead to a playful argument. I’d give her a scolding look, like a parent does to a child. She’d start laughing at the ridiculous look on my face and the silliness of the fact that she put the wrapper in the drawer instead of the trash. In the last year, there have been many sad, lonely nights, when I’d go through something of Erika’s to remember her, whether it was her closet or her drawer of T-shirts. One sad evening, I opened the night table drawer to look at things Erika had put in there. And there was a cheese stick wrapper.  My mood broke and I just burst out laughing. It felt like it was one last joke that she’d left behind for me, to make me happy. Anyway, it’s still there. I didn’t put it in the trash either.

These are some of the things in our home that have helped me to remember her every day for the last year. I see them and I remember these stories and many more. Virtually everything in our home has a story attached. I remember conversations that we had around each of these things and I can vividly recall her face as we talked about them.  The memories attached to those things in the house also bring me some sadness. The sadness of knowing they were hers and she will not get to see or use any of them again. I recently realized  that another reason I hadn’t moved any of those things was because I subconsciously thought that she still needs them. That she will be back to use them, so I can’t do anything with them. Or that when she does come back, she’ll ask, “Why did you move or get rid of my things?” As silly as that sounds, I believe that’s what my subconscious was thinking, because it doesn’t make sense. Once I understood that, I also realized that it’s time for me to move her things. Other than more-than-year-old cheese wrappers, I won’t be throwing them away.  I’ll just be putting them away. I think it’ll be time for me, and it will be ok.

I’ve shared a lot of my thoughts about my life with Erika and my loss of Erika. I’ve told stories in the last year but going forward, I don’t know if I’ll write any more. I certainly will if I feel it, but I don’t know that I will. If anyone ever wants to hear stories, I’m more than happy to tell them. Just let me know.

Erika made so many of us better for having known her and wanting to be like her. In closing, thank you for being here, thank you for reading this and your support, thank you for remembering the great person that was Erika Niedowski. 

Many people have said, “A person only dies when they are forgotten.” If that is true, Erika will live on forever.

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I Miss…

In just another four days, it will be eight months since I last saw Erika. The last time I spoke to her. The last time I heard her voice. The last time I saw her smile. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. I’m really happy that on my last visit to see Erika, I brought her an early birthday present, which was a stuffed animal replica of our dog, Jaro. In spite of how bad she was feeling at the time, it did make her smile. Also, in spite of how terrible she felt and being in and out of sleep when I had to leave the visit, her final words to me were “I love you” which I also said back to her. To me, there are no better final words that a couple could say to each other. And I do mean literally those were the last words we heard from each other.

Since then, I’ve been going to counseling and learning about grief. Let’s just say in the beginning, I knew nothing about it. I’m still learning more about grief as I go and learning a lot more about myself. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to meet and talk with other widows and widowers, and share stories of our experiences. It really helps me to hear the similarities. I have one such friend where every time one of us messages with something like “I’ve been feeling like this lately”, nearly 100% of the time, the other says “Me too!” But I also remember very on in the process, one person who has experienced this kind of loss said to me, “Your life has changed forever. You a different person now. You’ll live with this for the rest of your life.” Honestly, I thought they were just being dramatic or trying to make me feel better in the moment. I thought nahh, this will be a few months and I won’t feel the same way anymore. Which has also led me to one understanding of grief. (Again, I’m not claiming to know all there is, just that I’m learning.) It’s that everyone has experienced grief in some way. Everyone has lost a person that is important to them. Everyone has lost a pet, or a grandparent, or a distant cousin, or maybe even a celebrity that meant something to them. And they grieved, they were sad for a period of time, but then we “get over it.” We “feel better” and we’re “doing ok now.” My realization is that there are different levels of grief. This isn’t to minimize those but I do think that when someone loses a child or a spouse/life partner, it’s stronger, it’s deeper, it’s life changing.

There are good days and bad days. I’ve referred to them as waves. You can feel the tide go up and and down. Over time, the amplitude of the waves is less, and the bad days are less frequent, but they do still happen. I might go a week or two of all good days and I start to think that I’m doing ok. Or at least that’s how I used to think, but then I’d have a bad or sad day out of the blue, and realize that this is with me. This isn’t leaving me, and I’m not asking for it to leave me. It’s just the realization that this is a part of me, including the occasional down day and the occasional really down day.

It’s also led me to think about all the things I miss about Erika. Every day, I process memories in my head, replaying them over and over. Sometimes it’s even from before our first date, like the day I first saw her whisk into the Statehouse press conference. Or the coy, nervous smile she gave me while driving home from our first date. Or seeing her on her bicycle, riding past my office window, waving to me even when she couldn’t see inside. Or seeing her on the ice, playing hockey. Or our Friday nights, sitting in either her apartment kitchen or our house kitchen, working on a bottle of wine together. Unfortunately, the final days often seep into my head and I hate that. I hate having those memories of her, which is a big reason I keep replaying the older, happy memories. To see her happy, healthy, enjoying life. Doing things she should still be doing today. There are so many days like today, a rainy Saturday afternoon when I don’t have too much to do and I meander around the house a little bit, missing her. Knowing she would be taking her mid-afternoon nap. I miss the comfort of us together.

It’s one of those things you don’t really know the depth of what you have until it’s gone. I always knew I could fully trust her, and I always knew that we were a true partnership together. A great couple. It’s when it’s gone that you miss it so much. I think what also makes it hard is that it was ripped away so quickly. I just miss everything about her.

As always, ending with photos of happier times.

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Game Night

Last night, I had a realization. I’ll explain. One that hit me like bricks.

My daughter is a teen and from what I hear, a pretty typical teen. She loves to stay in her room and chat with friends on her phone. But I also like spending time with her, so I try to find reasons for her to do things with me. One of those things was family game night. I’d periodically claim “Tonight is game night!” and let her pick out a game. We had a few that we liked to play including Balderdash and Exploding Kittens. Even better, Erika would often join in too. Here’s one night with Exploding Kittens:

It was often my responsibility to read the rules and explain them to everyone else. But, on this night, I might have cheated with that a little bit. When I was reading the rules, I noticed that there was the “Cone of Shame” clause. It says that if anyone loses track of whose turn it is and asks whose turn it is, they must wear the Cone of Shame that comes with the game. Well, I wasn’t totally unfair, I offered to let McKenna and Erika read the rules for themselves, but they both declined. I might have umm, forgotten to explain this rule. So after one of many distracting side conversations Erika wanted to get back to the game, she asked whose turn it is and excitedly, I invoked the Cone of Shame rule and pointed it out in the rulebook.

Balderdash is another fun game where someone reads a pretty obscure word, sentence or phrase on a card and everyone else writes down what they think it means. Then everyone votes on the one they think is correct. Well, we had a lot of fun with the game and lots of silly answers, so we created our own “Balderdash Hall of Fame”, keeping those answers and posting it on our refrigerator:

Last night, I was walking past the refrigerator and looking at the Hall of Fame as I sometimes do and reading the answers. One of the answer cards on there is from my daughter, two others are from our niece and the last one, the TFOA was written by Erika. That’s when it hit me and I had the realization. I was requiring these family game nights so I could create memories with my daughter. Family time that I could remember forever long after she’s grown up and moved away.

But what it also did was create fun and happy memories with Erika that I will remember forever.

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Strong, Complex and Memorable Passwords

On Twitter, _th1nk3r asked:

I answered yes, and Khaosus asked if there was an article about my recommendation. I don’t know that there is, so I offered to write one.

First, let’s talk about the problems we run into. People are generally not that good at coming up with passwords. I always tell people that they can make my job much harder by ensuring that no one uses any of three particular passwords. I wrote about that for the Rapid7 blog. Those three passwords that I always find are:

  • Variations of “password”. Things like Password1, Password123, or P@$$w0rd
  • Variations of the site’s or company’s name
  • SeasonYear, because we make people change their password every three months.

Longer is better, but if people just use “Password1Password1”, we’ll probably guess that. The other thing that people will do if you just require a long password is a keyboard walk. What’s that? It’s when you just use consecutive characters on the keyboard like “Asdfjkl;qwertyuiop”. But let’s stick with the fact that a longer password is more secure for now, and we’ll talk about how to make it stronger in a moment.

People also love to refer back to the XKCD comic:

All credit to Randall Munroe and his https://xkcd.com site

We’re getting closer. The comic says to choose four random words and stick them together. That does make a long password that will not be easily guessable. And is it memorable? Maybe, but maybe not. It will still be a potentially crackable password, if that’s something you care about, as those are just four words from the dictionary and password cracking machines can guess at those.

People should then just bang on the keyboard and generate some random string of characters and use that, right? Well, no. We don’t want people re-using passwords for everything either, as if the password gets leaked one place, it’s then like a skeleton key for everything.

So we want people to remember a long, complex string of characters that is unique for everything? That takes us back to where we started. A strong, complex, memorable password that isn’t re-used. How do we do that?

Here’s my solution. I’m not going to claim to be the person to first came up with this as it’s very likely others did before me. If anyone sees links to someone else saying the same thing, I’m happy t add credit here.

First, get a password manager. Any of them, I don’t care which one, LastPass, 1Password, Dashlane, whatever. Let that create and remember the passwords for you. It will remember your passwords and even auto-fill them into the correct web sites. They even let you store other secrets as well, so if you want to store your mobile device passcode, you can store it there. Want to share the Netflix password with the family, there are family plans where you can choose which passwords to share with others in your family plan. All you need to do is remember one strong, complex password now, to log in to the password manager and it will create and manage all the others! Great!

Actually you need one other one, a second strong, complex and memorable password. A password manager doesn’t help you to log on to your workstation/laptop, so you’ll need one for that as well. Ok, so you need to remember two strong, complex and memorable passwords. How will you do that? Like this:

Have you ever had a memorable event in your life? Sure you have. Here are some examples:

  • My son was born on February 11th, 1984. It was a Tuesday.
  • I got married on December 1, 1978. The honeymoon was in Hawaii!

That’s the password?!? No. That’s way too much. Let’s make them shorter. Just take the first letter from each word, keep the numbers, keep the punctuation and see what we get:

  • MswboF11,1984.IwaT.
  • IgmoD11978.ThwiH!

The first one is a 19 character password that is long, complex and memorable. The second is 17 characters which is a long password and it is complex. If I’d shown you those passwords before explaining it, you’d probably thing they are just randomly generated characters. But because they’re derived from something that is memorable to you, the password will be memorable as well.

On Twitter Ted Pavlic also suggested using song lyrics, which is a great idea.

“Bye bye Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry…”
BbmAP,dmCtotlbtlwd

“All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall!”
Aia,yjabitw!

There we have it. We came up with a solution to the problem. We are able to have a strong password for every site that we use (with the password manager) and we have a strong, complex, yet memorable password to log in to the password manager and a totally different one to log in to the workstation/laptop.

Would love to hear feedback on this approach.

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First Date

During Erika’s celebration, so many people had so many great things to say about her. It was really incredible to hear every speaker talk about the Erika that they knew. When it came to my turn, I didn’t want to reiterate any part of that, so I talked briefly about the Erika I knew.

I recently watched the movie Good Will Hunting with Robin Williams and Matt Damon. I watched it because I knew of clips and that I thought sounded similar to my experience with Erika and I wanted to know the full context. Yes, it was just a few weeks ago that I watched the 1997 movie for the first time in its entirety. I learned that those clips were spot on to my experience, so I included them. I only used these first two during her celebration, but I talked about the third, and I’m including it here. Here’s the first one:

I never believed in soulmates or that there was one person for me. I never believed two people could really mesh together so closely. Then I met Erika. Then I got to know Erika. Then I learned, just how close we were. I’m not someone who truly trusts people very easily, I’m not someone that opens up to people. I fully trusted Erika. I was totally vulnerable with her. There were so many things we’d talk about and be able to say “You’re the only person in the world that I can say this to.” She was my angel put here for me, because she did rescue me. One half-joking phrase that we’d sometimes use for each other was “You’re a little bit of a disaster right now, aren’t you?” and when she and I met, I was definitely a bit of a disaster. She patiently helped me through that and showed that I could trust her through anything and was always there for me.

I think people can relate to this one:

I really love this clip because it is about the imperfections. There were times when Erika would be in some mood and she’d ask me “Am I being annoying right now?” and I’d say no. She’d respond, “Well, I’m annoying to myself right now.” and then look at me like she wasn’t convinced with my answer. I knew at that moment, I’d have to say something, so I told her “No, you’re not annoying, these are your ‘cute quirks.'” Because they weren’t annoying to me. Annoying is way too strong of a word. They really were little quirks about her, and those quirks were what made her Erika and among the many things I loved about her.

We also had this hanging in our house and something we’d remind each other:

This last clip is one that I only described. So if you haven’t seen the movie, here it is. Just a warning, they use some bad language in here.

This clip sets the context for our first date.

In late 2013, I was coming out of a divorce from a few months prior, so I had weekly appointments with a therapist. Those were helpful. Among the topics during my therapy appointments was dating. I’d been dating one person (not Erika) and while my therapist thought it was too soon, she was ok with it as long as it didn’t seem unhealthy for me. Eventually I realized the relationship wasn’t good for me, so it ended. I went to my weekly appointment and told my therapist. She was relieved. Now I could simply focus on me and getting myself mentally healthy again.

Fast forward one week, to my next appointment. I told my therapist there’s someone else. Someone I want to go on a date with. My therapist let out an exasperated “Nooooooooo!!!” and I just said “I know, I understand and I even agree, but trust me, she’s different. She is the one. This one is special.” And of course, this was Erika.

I finally asked Erika on a date with just the two of us. We were headed to a now-closed steak place on Federal Hill in Providence. The date would be on November 12, 2013, a Tuesday. But then fate intervened. The day before our first date, I was working in Boston. I’d just started at that company about three months prior. It was Veterans Day, and not many were in the office. Erika just so happened to have a job interview in Boston that day as well. She and I were text chatting through the morning. After her interview, she went to lunch with her mother, who also worked in Boston. I noticed that the Bruins had a 1 pm game that day, so I messaged Erika, “The Bruins are playing at 1.” She immediately replied “Let’s go!” As soon as I figured out she was serious, I quickly and quietly left the office, got on the subway over to the Garden, bought a couple tickets and met her at the Bobby Orr statue. We watched the entire game without either one of us ever leaving our seats. The best first date and one we’d refer to often.

After the game, I had to go back to work. I took the subway, quietly and quickly went back to my desk, as if nothing had happened. But, being Veterans Day, not many were around and no one had noticed that I was gone. I don’t know what I would have done if someone had noticed, but I’d like to think that I would have said “I had to see about a girl.” Because I just knew. She was the one. She was special.

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Thank you

Erika’s memorial celebration was, as her father Ray put it, “a time for remembering and for healing.” It was incredible to have so many people join us both as speakers and telling of their experiences and memories of Erika but also so many people who attended. So I wanted to say thank you.

Here are six tweets that I read that summarize the day extremely well:

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Just Us

I’ve been working on putting things together for Erika’s celebration event on March 20th and just discovered that Google Photos can automatically make slideshows set to music. Here’s one I just made.

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Thanks Paws

I think it was in 2014 that I heard an advertisement on the radio by the Pawtucket Red Sox for Valentine’s Day. Have their mascot, Paws, deliver flowers to your Valentine. I thought this would be fun and Erika would like it. Well, she loved it! So I did it each year.

Here is Paws visiting Erika in the Associated Press newsroom in Providence. Erika said she was speechless the whole time.

I don’t have a picture of Paws from 2015 but here’s a Winter Walking picture in Lincoln Woods Park.

In 2016, Paws came to visit at our apartment in Providence! One little thing that Erika really loved about this visit is that Paws petted her cat Yukos. She always remembered that.

In 2017, there was some bad timing. Paws came to our house again, but Erika had just run out to the store or something. Paws always comes with a helper as well.

We made up for it by getting a meat and cheese plate later that night.

In 2018, I sent Paws to Erika’s office at the Acadia Center. Paws spent some time wandering around “The Arcade” in Providence, which is actually across the street from her office, but he found her eventually.

Paws had better luck finding her office in 2019.

In 2020, Paws got to visit our house in Lincoln, as Erika was working from home then.

The team was moving from Pawtucket to Worcester, so we knew 2020 would be the last time we’d get to see Paws bringing flowers to Erika. We didn’t know it’d be the last time I’d get to do anything with her on Valentines Day. Thanks for all the happiness and great memories, Paws!

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Great Writing

This weekend, I finally took a little bit of time to go down to our basement and look through some of Erika’s things she had packed away. Unfortunately, it’s only about two small boxes in large part due to a terrible landlord she had in Providence. While living on North Main Street, she had put boxes of her possessions in the building’s basement. This was many of the things she had obtained while overseas, mainly while in Russia, but also from her years at Georgetown and while living in Baltimore and DC. One day, the landlord decided to clean out the basement and without warning, threw away everything in there, and most of Erika’s history was gone. She was always angry about that happening and unfortunately, there really isn’t too much left from that time.

But in my search, I found this pink hat that she wore:

But I have also since determined that she wore it better:

I found some really old looking thumbdrives from when she covered the 2008 Presidential campaign as a reporter, as well as her Blackberry. The Blackberry seems to have a camera on it, so hopefully I can power that up and see if there are any photos on there.

But best of all, I found her stash of copies of one very special Baltimore Sun article. Erika was a finalist in 2004 for the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Writing. She wrote a two-part article about Josie King, an 18-month old girl who died in 2001 at Johns Hopkins University hospital due to medical errors. The hospital worked with Josie’s family and her mother, Sorrel, who then created the Josie King Foundation in Maryland.

Here is the layout of her story in the Baltimore Sun, dated December 14-15, 2003.

I’m not expecting anyone to read the article from that photo. If you’d like to read Erika’s work, you can find on the Baltimore Sun web site: “How Medical Errors Took a Little Girl’s Life.”

And as I always have to finish with a great photo of Erika, here is one of her professional headshot photos from the Baltimore Sun.

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Erika News

Updated February 4, 2021
We finally got information about what happened and a meeting with one of Erika’s doctors on December 31, 2020. I have read all the reports myself as well. One of the doctors who attended to Erika in the hospital took time to speak with me and Erika’s parents after reviewing the reports, and I also got in touch with an oncologist who took about an hour of his time to help explain things to me.

First, it is extremely unlikely that she had COVID. We can’t be 100% certain but Erika took three separate COVID tests, all were negative. I took COVID tests at that time too, also negative. Out of curiosity, I took a COVID antibody test to see if I’d ever been exposed to coronavirus, but that also came back negative.

The short answer is that Erika had a long-term, undiagnosed Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (small b-cell). That is a cancer affecting the lymph nodes and bone marrow. She never had any obvious signs, we never knew it or saw it coming, and the first time it was ever mentioned was when she was in the hospital. Here’s what happened.

In August, Erika began having drenching night sweats and body aches. We had no idea why, as other than this, everything seemed fine, but it turns out, those are a symptom of lymphoma. She spent the summer on her bike (as you might have seen with her twitter photos here, here, here, here, here and here) training to ride yet another century. Yeah, that’s 100 miles all in one day. So she was on her bike a lot and in great shape. The last time she went for a ride was on Saturday, September 19th. She’d had the beginning of what seemed like a cold and the next day, she needed to rest and stayed in bed all day. All week, she had symptoms of a cold or what seemed like COVID symptoms, and was getting dehydrated. By Friday night, we felt she needed to go to the hospital. We went and she stayed for a few hours and was sent home as everything seemed ok.

For the next two days, she also seemed ok, but continued to have typical cold symptoms. On Monday and Tuesday, she got progressively a little worse each day and by Wednesday, Sept 30th, she was dehydrated again and we made the decision to go back to the hospital in the morning. I expected it to be similar to the previous time, in and out in a few hours. But this time, they admitted her due to some signs and lab work that concerned the doctors.

Over the next 48 hours, her health continued to deteriorate. I spoke to the doctors a number of times in that time period and the whole time, they had a list of things it could be, but they never knew for sure. Lymphoma was on the list of possibilities, but they had about a dozen others as well. I’ve learned that lymphoma cannot be detected by a blood test, only by a biopsy.

Overnight Thursday, October 1 into Friday, October 2, her health really turned tragic. Doctors were keeping me apprised throughout the night via phone calls, but due to the hospital’s COVID restrictions, I was not allowed to stay with her.

On Friday morning, I was given the news that she would not survive much longer. This was completely unexpected and shocking. I got to the hospital at about 10:30 am and stayed by her side. She passed away a very short time later, at 11:43 am on Friday, October 2nd.

We will be holding a virtual service for her, a celebration of her life on Saturday, March 20th at 1 pm. This will be held online so that anyone can attend. The URL to log in will be found at https://patricklaverty.com

This was a tragic, horrifying, shocking, completely unexpected and extremely traumatic experience. Erika was my everything. I am so grateful that I got to spend nearly seven years of my life with her, but this was just inexplicable and unfair. She was so healthy, so full of life and still had so much life yet to live. We were building the best life together and had so many plans for the future. Even to this day, there still are no words. Because there are no words, I find comfort in pictures of Erika, pictures of us together.

Associated Press Obituary

Baltimore Sun Obituary

Obituary written by Erika’s parents, Ray and Marion Niedowski

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