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…”

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

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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New Years

I don’t have a photo from New Year’s Eve 2014, but here is New Year’s Day, 2015.

I also don’t have a photo for New Year’s Eve 2015, and this is the closest picture I have related to Erika on New Year’s Day. It’s likely the remnants of our celebration from the night before.

We went to a Bruins game on New Year’s Eve 2016!

Though I have to admit, I like this photo from the game even better.

We spent New Year’s Eve in 2017 in an AirBnB in Portsmouth, NH and went out for a nice dinner.

And a quiet night at home for New Year’s Eve 2018.

Followed up with some Winter Walking for the first day of 2019.

And then one year ago tonight, looked like a familiar scene, a quiet night at home together.

Followed with some Winter Walking on New Year’s Day 2020 in Lincoln Woods.

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