Monday, February 14, 2022



Daniel and Carli, 2013

Dear Daniel,

Happy Valentine’s Day.

I know it’s a particularly sad holiday for you this year, the first one without Carli. To tell you the truth, I’ve never liked this holiday anyway because it romanticizes love in a way that cheapens it.

You’ve recently seen how love really is—an unpredictable, unfair, rollercoaster, with highs and lows you can’t control. It’s a force that requires everything, and you’ve given everything. At your young age, you’ve just lost the love of your life, the mother to your young son, Micah—your angelic Carli.

If I were callous, I’d give you a bunch of advice, or say something stupid like, “You’ll love someone again, one day, in God’s timing...” but shit, I can’t say that. Please, please, please, dear Daniel...forgive the people who say that to you. They mean well, I promise you.

Daniel 2008

I remember the day I met you. 

You were tall and slim, even back then, a picture of your father. You were tender and felt things deeply, like your mother. All wrapped up in a wonderful, fun, young man who was so grateful for everything. Oh my wowed us even then. Our trip to Bloemfontein involved going to the LTT during the day, and coming back to the VanAswegen house at night, to be entertained by you amazing kids, with plays, dances, and live shows. You taught me how to play board games, and you loved my laugh.

After a week, when it was time to leave, I was loading up our suitcases and had a meltdown by our car. Your mom came out to see what was wrong, and I said, “I can’t go back into that house and say goodbye to your kids.” In one week, I had bonded with you so much, four of the most dynamic human beings I had ever met, I was overwhelmed with love for you.

Through the years, especially during our time in South Africa, your family became ours. We loved you with our whole hearts. You kids continued to grow, play musical instruments, and dance! Do you remember showing me your rock-and-roll dance with Annie (not Anine)? My jaw was on the floor!

After we moved back to the States, you and Carli upgraded your status and became serious. Hearing that you were in love, an intense love relationship, with a girl named Carli, made me both shocked and happy. “Is Daniel that old?” Your mom assured me you were, and she also assured me Carli was wonderful for you.

Daniel and Carli, man and wife

First came love, then came marriage, then came Micah in a baby carriage! The children’s song we used to sing while jumping rope didn’t include what came next: then came sickness.

You, being so musical, can understand what I’m about to say: it was the scratching needle on the album, the sudden stop of everything. Nevertheless, we all prayed and hoped. After all, there were a variety of different treatments and Carli was so YOUNG!

At first, only her appearance changed. The medicine used to treat the disease took more as time went on. Little things, like going to the store, was a big deal. COVID changed even more things, because Carli could not get it. Ever.

Even after you had tattoos, even after you became a hard-rocker, even after you married and were sleep deprived with a young son, you were the same Daniel. After sickness, I saw you change. Something in you hardened...and we all knew why. Why. Why. Why Carli? Why now? Why. Why. Why.

Carli posted this pic of herself, after she shaved her whole head.

Daniel, you know real love. Not the Valentine’s Day version of love, not the romance, not the roses and chocolates, but the chemotherapy kind of love, the aching heart that is powerless to stop your wife from vomiting, or feeling dizzy, kind of love. You know the kind of love that assures your dying wife that her toddler son will be alright if she dies. You know the kind of love that stares death in the face. That’s the kind of love you know. That’s the dark side of love that no one can prepare you for. No one likes to admit it exists.

You know the kind of love that has to listen to ignorant people, suggesting herbal remedies as your wife fades away. Your love stays up at night and has to work the next morning. Your love gets your son dressed, lifts him up to kiss his mother, over the rails of the hospital bed you had to rent. That’s the kind of love you had at the end—the unfair kind of love that steals from you, slowly, so you won’t miss one thing about the unfair theft.

Today, in the throng of Cupids and chocolate, I can tell you that you have seen the kind of love that most people will not ever see. We can surround you, and tell you how much we love you, but it won’t bring Carli back, and it won’t ever make any of this whole thing make sense. What it can do, if you’re lucky, is help you understand the rest of it: the rest of your life that you now have to do without her.

There are no maps. There are no right ways. There’s only you and Micah and God, and all of us, around you, waiting to do something, even the smallest something, that might help.

Sometimes, I wish I were really wealthy. Not so I can wear nice clothes or buy great stuff, but sometimes I wish I could charter a private plane and come over there, just to sit in a chair by you. Here is what I would say: nothing. I love you. Nothing. I love you. Nothing.

You know love, Daniel, and today, on Valentine’s Day, I wish you a day of breathing in and out, and I pray those breaths would be sweet. I pray that you have the strength to chisel your way through the terrible marble-like grief that wants to disable you. I want to say I love you, and then I want to shut up.

I love you.

Auntie Janet

Two weeks before she died, Carli posted this memory of her and Daniel in 2018: 
Going out with this hunk and Jessica Van Aswegan and company (sorry, I don't have him on Facebook) singing Lose Yourself by Eminem at the top of our lungs.”

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
You better...

You only get one shot.