It's hard to believe that three years have gone by since I was contemplating how to say goodbye to a man with whom I had planned on spending the rest of my life. There are days that celebrating our sixth New Year's together in 2008 truly seems like yesterday, and there are days that having him physically in my arms feels like another lifetime altogether.
On March 4 of that same year, on my 30th birthday, Rand Harlan Skolnick, the man I called my husband, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Four months later, shortly after his 50th birthday, Rand died peacefully in my arms. It was the morning of the Fourth of July.
Today, looking back over those four short months between his diagnosis and his death, I realize that I wasn't actually figuring out how to say goodbye to Rand but rather trying to create a way to keep him in my life after he was gone. I simply wasn't willing to accept the fact that our life together was coming to such a quick and tragic end. Rand had been more than just my husband and best friend -- he was also the man who taught me so many things, including how to run a business. From watching him I learned what it meant to truly be both generous and appreciative. Most of all, though, Rand was the man who taught me how to love and be loved in return. Honoring Rand through his foundation, the one we had planned to run together much later in our lives, became the way to keep him not only a part of my life but a guiding light for myself and countless others. With Rand's death came the birth of the Palette Fund.
The mission for this fund was born from short conversations throughout those four months when we briefly allowed ourselves to consider the inconceivable: my life after our last goodbyes. In all honesty, we probably only allowed ourselves to dwell on the thought for a grand total of three minutes in those months. But those three minutes are something that no one can truly prepare himself to face. What came out of those difficult moments, however, was Rand's vision for the Palette Fund: enabling people to live their lives the way we had been so fortunate to do together before his diagnosis -- healthy, without fear, and full of love.
It's impossible to describe what consumed my thoughts in the first few months after Rand died. I was grappling with so many foreign ideas, most difficult of which was making the transition from a very comfortable life of "we" and "us" to a new and very unfamiliar feeling of loneliness and utter exhaustion. I had to move out of the places I had called home for the past five years and start over. My new routine included sending death certificates and unfamiliar estate documents to people all over the world I had never met or known. I had to learn that every time my phone rang, it would never again be that voice on the other line I had grown so accustomed to hearing.
In late 2008, I was fed up with being tired. I pulled myself together and started pouring my energy into building the platform for carrying out Rand's legacy. Being the executor of his estate forced me to look into Rand's life long before I was part of it, and it filled my days with unbearable reminders of my loss. But I discovered that by creating his legacy, I also created for myself the best avenue to heal. Rand was larger than life throughout his 50 years, but he still had so much more to give.
Since the beginning of 2009, when the foundation officially launched, the Palette Fund has granted more than $2 million to organizations whose work is in line with the three prongs of our mission: promoting healthy eating and lifestyles; protecting underserved and homeless LGBT youth; and fostering programs that help those living with cancer or HIV as well as help their loved ones navigate the difficult maze of diagnosis and treatment. These three areas all affected Rand's life in some way. Funding them together helps bring his vision of enabling people to live full and healthy lives one step closer to being realized.
You don't always know why life pushes you in a direction, but in my case I know two things for sure: I am blessed and lucky to have the daily opportunity to be a part of this work, and I am now not alone. Through the amazing and inspirational people I have come to know through the work, Rand has given me a new and ever-growing family who are with me every step of the way.
In one of our last conversations, Rand made me promise that no matter where life took me, I would always remember what it felt like to be loved by him. Today, I not only get to cherish that remarkable feeling, but I am also able to spread its nurturing light to countless others through the Palette Fund and the organizations we support.
Terrence Meck is the executive director of the Palette Fund. For more information, visitThePaletteFund.org.