Gate 11.

Gate 11.

The Austin, Texas airport has been the setting for most of my adult emotion. So I thought it fitting if I sat here to write what’s been circling my brain for the last few years.

It was at a brunch with our families that my best childhood and lifelong friend let me know that her sister was diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t even the first topic we covered. In fact, I think we were close to the check at that point. Not that this is surprising. She was pregnant, we both had two-year olds, and she also had a four-year old. Managing to get everyone pancakes, seated, and calm were our clear priorities. And cancer isn’t a topic you drop in at the first sight of coffee, knowing the wait staff is bound to interrupt at any moment. I remember how steeped in denial I was then. “She’s going to be okay, right?” How could she not be? She’s a healthy 31-year old. Maybe just 30 at that very moment. We should be talking about her new adorable daughter, not a mass in her lungs.

Reality started to seep in over the next few months. Frightening words like ‘Stage Four,’ and ‘drug trials.’ As you do, we started fundraising, buying t-shirts, going to events, posting pictures of ourselves wearing her favorite color on Facebook. Some of us wrote to the CEO of Pfizer to push for Ali’s acceptance into the drug trial that might shrink the tumors. It’s kind of a blur looking back, but as positive as we all were on the surface, I had a growing uneasiness that this could go in a very dark direction.

At the same time, the rest of my life had never been better; but also had never been more complicated. I had accepted a role as a Creative Director on an innovative mobile educational program, that had me leading a team and pushing myself to do market-leading design work. Balancing that with the demands of a two-year old, my husband’s critically important work as an environmental scientist, and the overall role I take as Manager of Family and Friend Relationships, I was feeling in over my head.

I was in Austin working with a team of genius developers and designers when I noticed that my phone had been buzzing…often enough that I knew I needed to step out. Today was the day. Ali had pneumonia and would not make it.

This is the moment in my life when I knew I had crossed over from being an adolescent to being a full-fledged adult. Not because of my age. Because of how I handled the following 12 hours.

I excused myself, I found a private office. I let the tears fall. I called my parents. I called my husband. I took ten deep yoga breaths. I did an inversion to change my energy. Then I did the strangest thing. I went back to the meeting. I contributed. I compartmentalized. I drew on the whiteboard. I made sense. At the end of the day, I got in a cab, I went through security. Then, knowing what was going on in a hospital room many states away, I called my friend to leave her a message of support.

She picked up the phone.

“She’s gone.”

Just like in the movies, my legs went out from under me and I had to stumble to the nearest seat. I didn’t know that really happened until that moment. I don’t know what else Brittany and I said to each other during the next five or so minutes. It really didn’t matter. We cried together. Not a tear or two, a gut-wrenching collective sob while she eeked out words like, “peaceful transition.”

Naturally, my flight was delayed.

There I sat, at Gate 11. Sitting in the reality that a kid that I grew up with didn’t get to see her daughter grow to the age of two. Worried for Brittany and her three little girls. How does one move on from this? The tears kept coming. It was the place of my heartbreak.

As luck would have it, Gate 11 is directly across from Security, which means that any time you fly into or out of Austin, you cannot avoid it.

And since that team of geniuses was the vendor for my program, there were many more trips to Austin. I shuddered whenever I passed it.

About a year later, things were okay. I could still cry on command any time I allowed myself to think about Ali. (Let’s be honest, that is still the case.) But those closest to Ali had survived the darkest days of their grief. No small feat, and I realize I will never know entirely what courage and strength that took.

I was headed back to Austin for another business trip, and had scheduled my six-week pregnancy visit for that morning before I left. My husband didn’t accompany me because this was our second, I would grab the ultra sound picture and show him when I returned from my trip. But there was no heartbeat. And now it would be several days before I got to be comforted from that loss by my husband and son. Seeing Gate 11 that day made me angry. Why is it always here? Why do I have to go through the hardest parts alone, and so often in Texas?

I made it through that day, with more deep breathing and inversions.

I am having another tough week in Austin. I needed to leave my little one with her daycare overnight in order to make this trip and enforce some tough decisions that will affect people’s lives and well-being. And now I sit at Gate 11, waiting on my boss and our shared rental car. At first, I couldn’t bear to imagine staying longer in this godforsaken airport than absolutely necessary. But then I realized, this is what grit is. This is what perseverance looks like. This is being an adult. This is being a professional.

But under all of that, isn’t every human an ocean of emotion, sentimentality and connections? The reason I’m writing this is because it’s critical to be both, and what we must teach our children is when each is appropriate, and to find the outlet that allows both to live in us.

I know now that I can do what’s required this week, to present these decision calmly and emotion-free. Before I left, I was feeling the emotions rise up. Frustration, anger, sadness that I had to leave my little girl. And a song came on the radio. Anyone who knows me knows that I believe you hear the songs you need to hear when you need to hear them. Anyone who knows Ali knows her love of Bob Marley. Anyone who knows Brittany knows she doesn’t even LIKE Bob Marley. (Still the case, Britt?) So you’ll know why my Gate 11 tears came as Bob sang, “every little thing is going to be alright.”

I am trying my best to make Gate 11 hallowed ground. The place where I remember that to be human, to truly value this amazing gift that is life is to be your authentic self, which can be both sappy and strong, not always at the same time.



Happy 35th Ali!

 Holy hell, how would you be 35 tomorrow? Siiiiiiiiighhhhh. We miss everything about you. Can’t wait to celebrate you this weekend! Happy Birthday, crazy sister. _MG_8595xoxoxox, Smelli.

See you all, Sunday at Noon at Fernbank! The picnic area in the way back. :-*

4th Annual Rock Pink Par-Tay!

Come out and join us for the 4th annual Rock Pink Par-Tay on July 19th!!

We’ll be out at Fernbank Park again this year raising money for an awesome cause!  So mark your calendars and come help us get more books into libraries, schools, and hospitals all around Cincinnati!

Anyone who wants to help or donate items/food/your talents/water balloon throwing skills/breaking down table skills…please email Denise Tracy.

To RSVP, visit the Facebook event here


Dear Ali (the Nanny Edition)

First let me start by saying what an amazing family you and Ben have. They have welcomed me with open arms and treated me like family from day one. I love getting to spend time with them because I enjoy hearing stories about you since I never had the opportunity to meet you in person. I’ll never forget how this job came together for me. I had been searching for over a year for a Nanny job because kids are truly my passion. By that point I had been a blog follower for sometime, but didn’t “know” any of your family. So it was a surprise when I reached out to Melanie and she mentioned Ben needing a nanny. I think I read her fb message 20 times before I could actually process what it said. Ben needed a nanny? I couldn’t believe that the family I’d been reading and supporting from afar could possibly need ME for a nanny. Long story short, Ben and I connected and sorted through all the details and I still remember his phone call telling me “I’d love to hire you and have you as our Nanny!” I was elated and overcome with gratitude for God providing such an amazing opportunity for me. It is TRULY a blessing that I got connected to your family. So funny how God works. Thank you for looking out for us all and helping to guide Ben in his decision.
Your daughter is absolutely beautiful (Not that it’s a surprise because YOU are so gorgeous) but a lot of your family says she looks more like Ben. She definitely has your eyes. Every time I look at her I feel like it’s you staring back at me. I love that though. I hope it comforts your family and Ben and they always know you’re close by when she looks at them. I know how important it is that Olivia spend time with her family and cousins. We see Nori and Nico often and she is crazy about those twin babies. She’s always wanting a baby in her lap but hasn’t quite grasped how to hold them just yet. Oh- and thank you for keeping those twin babies safe. When Olivia heard of them going into the NICU because they were sick she told me several times that she knew you would keep them safe.

I hope you are happy with the way I am caring for her. So many times I wonder what you would do in a certain situation. How would you dress her? Do her hair? I still remember the first time I helped Ben pack her bag for Disney. I was so nervous. I think I got every outfit she had in her closet and laid it on the bed. I matched bows and shoes and still panicked that it wasn’t good enough. Dressing your little girl is a lot of pressure. I remember reading about how much you loved dressing up on a daily basis and how you wanted to be able to do that with Olivia, so I had to get it right!  We are working on a chore chart right now. She’s getting really good at it but sometimes she will look at me and say “I don’t feel like doing chores today, Soooo I’m not going to” I’m always wondering who’s personality is coming out… You? Ben? Where does she get her silly humor? We take at least a weekly trip to target (it feels like daily) and she talks me into buying her something every time. I’ve been learning to say no to her because I know she can’t have everything, but it’s so hard. I know if you were here these are things you would be doing with her and I want her to still have that. It’s frustrating for me when I take her to the Disney store. When we are there I think of how much you would love to take her in that store, it’s such a mother/daughter store. I hope it makes you happy that we listen to KLOVE in the car every time we go somewhere. I love looking in the rearview mirror and watch her sing along to songs about God’s love for us.

One of the things that has been the most challenging for me is the guilt I feel on a daily basis. I think of all the things I’m doing with her that YOU should be. Like potty training, working on manners, working on letters, numbers, shapes, reading books at the library, fixing her hair, and getting her all ready for her first dance class. Last year we joined Mel’s homeschool group once a week and it was such good exposure to get Olivia ready for preschool, but something you would’ve loved to be part of. The moment that got to me the most was her first little field trip at preschool.  All the moms were there snapping pictures of their kids walking through the fire station. Of course I tried to make it as “normal” (whatever that means) as possible for Olivia, but my heart was literally breaking for her. Guilt is definitely a daily battle for me. I manage and push through it though, because this job is such a blessing to me and I know God and you brought all of this together. I absolutely LOVE my job and I don’t want to waste this beautiful time that has been given to me by constantly feeling bad. (I even feel guilty writing that sentence, see? Gah)

I hope you’re proud and honored that we talk about you so often. Did you feel loved when we came to visit your place of rest with our 3 pink balloons? I decked her out in as much pink as I could find since that was your favorite color. Thanks for all those silly pics of you dressings up, Olivia sees them and thinks their hilarious. Pictures are all around the house. Olivia loves looking at them and sometimes even makes up stories about something “you and daddy” did. Even though we never met, I feel like I knew you because of your family and Mel’s blog. I can promise you that not one day goes by when you are not talked about. I have all kinds of pictures and videos from your family that Olivia looks at daily. I love her so much and I promise for as long as I get to spend my days with her, we will always talk about you. The past several months have been a wave of emotions for her. As she gets older I see it becoming more of a struggle for her that you are not here. She hits me with questions that take my breath away especially when she remembers a memory of you that makes her cry because “you are in heaven” now. But, we are thankful for every feather you send from above to let her know she is wrapped in your love. You already know this, but we pray every single day at nap time for you to visit her in her dreams. She has told me a few times that she plays with you. I hope so dearly that you do. I hope she is filled with peace and love when she closes her eyes and you are there playing with her. She loves you so much Ali.

I look forward to many more days of silly dancing with your sweet girl and I hope that your spirit is dancing with us.


Jaclyn Kennedy

3rd Angelversary

Mom wrote a sweet letter to Ali today for her 3rd Angelversary. 3yrs..can’t even wrap my brain around that. Well written, Nonni!


Here we are again revisiting a day that changed all of our lives so drastically. Speaking solely for myself…life will never be the same…tears will always be a part of it now. Yet as I am on the receiving end of so many daily signs that you are next to me, I sometimes have to pause and laugh to tell you that “I get it” and “you can let up a little after 4 times in one day”! You promised if God allowed that you would inundate me with them so I would never be without you. Oh what a blessing and comfort they are but that hole in my heart is never to be healed, Allison. Would I ever dream of questioning the Good Lord???…never. He has His plan. We discussed that many times. We are here to do His work only and to go Home to Him and rejoice. I believe we are on loan to our families on earth. Could I ever believe that someone would want to come back here from Paradise?…never. But it is soooo hard without you. I just miss you soooo much. I sat and watched a courageous 19 year old today help change the world through her gift of sports and bring more people to The Lord. And the tears flowed. She reminded me so much of you, Ali. She also has an elevator waiting for her when she passes soon. Please be there to greet her and ask the Lord to wrap Himself tightly around her family, they have no idea how much harder it will become. I feel so totally blessed here with all our family around me, especially all the grandbabies, but heaven is enviable. Life isn’t easy. The kids keep me hopping and I truly love all the time spent with them. ( You better be there lots when those twin boys arrive tho!!!) While Olivia was with us this weekend I just watched her and saw how much she really is like you. She can’t help me enough and loves doing all the artsy/craftsy stuff too. She’s very sensitive and plays quietly by herself just like you used to and loves reading her books to me and vice-versa. Her dolls are her world too, changing outfits ten times an hour! You would absolutely love being with her, she such a girly-girl. One big difference is that she stands still while I’m doing the creative hairdos…never to move at all when a curling iron is near!!!! If I remember correctly, I wasn’t even allowed to get near you with a brush for one whole year, hence those great photographs that remain!!!! Olivia and Ben have such a great relationship and he has been bitten by your clothes buying bug so she will always be in style. I know you had your hand in his hiring Jaclyn too. What a gem nanny she is and how she loves O. She is doing everything that you talked of doing with Olivia as she grew up. Olivia loves her so much and all of us as well. Your daughter talks of you constantly and we share stories about you every chance we get. A day doesn’t go by that you are not mentioned. I promised you that and I can’t imagine how it could. I have to say tho that I still see her looking like Ben and his family but the words out of her mouth are yours. And the dramatic body and hand motions are definitely you too. Guess we’re going to be sitting as her audience soon watching her plays and dance steps too. She soooo inherited your love of dancing and she already has the moves! Ben started her in ballet classes so recitals are in the near future too. Yes, all of life keeps us busy and I haven’t changed in that department, but you are the missing link in all of our lives. I see something and my mind throws me back to when you did that, or how you did that…from a baby on to motherhood. It’s etched in my head. My memories are so clear that I think that you’re really being gone is impossible. How can it be three years already? When all of us are together we each secretly still wait for you to arrive, allowing us the moments to have a little peace of mind. But then that damn reality hits again. If it’s not me then someone has to bring your name up. We can’t exist without you, Allison. Then the funny stories begin to make us all laugh. I know that’s what you want us to do, laugh not cry. Just keep staying next to all of us and all of the signs help so much. Besides each of the family now, your friends can’t wait to tell us what happened to them. I don’t understand how some people can’t see what is put infront of them. I am so proud of you and God sure blessed me when He allowed me to carry you to birth. I have to keep concentrating on the fact that I will see you again someday because I sure miss seeing that beautiful face of yours daily. I find respite in all of the pictures and videos of you but the most peace is felt knowing that you are with God. No harm, no pain, no sadness and only paradise is yours. Thank you Lord. I love you Ali Burger.

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3rd Annual Rock Pink Par-Tay

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Fernbank park off Rt 50 on the Westside. 12-4pm

Bring a new book or $5 a person.

Join Ali’s family and friends for an afternoon of family fun at the third annual ROCK PINK PAR-TAY and support a great cause. Ali Tracy Nunery’s life was cut short at the age of 31 yrs. in 2011 after a short battle with a rare form of lung cancer. Only married to her husband Ben for 2 1/2 years she also left behind a 1 yr old daughter Olivia. Ali changed the lives of so many people in the Cincinnati area and around the world through her passion for service and library education. In that spirit of service, the Rock Pink 4 Ali Foundation is dedicated to the mission of spreading literacy and education by donating books to schools, libraries and hospitals locally and beyond. Please help us by donating a new book for ages 6-20 yr olds and allow us to pass on the gift of literacy to libraries and children in need and continue Ali’s legacy.
So put on your favorite pink threads and tutus and come out to Fernbank Park on July 19th for a picnic grill out to celebrate the life of Ali Tracy Nunery. We’ll provide the music, the food, and the fun. There will be split the pot, auction items, and much more. Admission is a donated new book or a suggested donation of $5 per person.

See you there!

Love, Ali’s family!

3rd Annual Rock Pink Partay!

Who is ready to PARTAY again?

DadAli Mark your calendars for the next annual ROCK PINK PARTAY! It’s going to be a great time! We are celebrating the day after Ali’s 34th (wow!) bday!

JULY 19, 2014

We had a great time picnicking last year and hope you will come to Fernbank again! And don’t worry, we will all be rockin’ our pink again!

benBahaha. This image was in the beginning of their relationship. I really didn’t know Ben well at all when we took this image at our old loft photobooth. So glad I can finally use it for something other than blackmail. Thanks for the smile Uncle Ben! 😀

Anyone who wants to help or donate items/food/your talents/water balloon throwing skills/breaking down table skills…please email Nonni.

thanks! Love, Melanie.

Saying Goodbye . . . Again.

The last two years have been a rollercoaster of emotions to say the least.  There have been ups and downs to such extremes that it leaves me wondering how I’ve managed to piece together anything that resembles a normal and happy life.  But, hindsight being what it is, I can look back now and recognize the progress I’ve made as a grieving widower and a single father to an amazing little girl.  These past two years have had no shortage of emotional hurdles to overcome, some small and some large, but none as big as saying goodbye to the home that Ali and I built together.  The home we started our married lives together in.  The home we brought Olivia to after she was born.  The home we turned from a shabby little fixer upper into an award winning showcase property (according to the Price Hill Press!).  In many ways it felt like the last vestige of the life that we set out to build together.  It felt as though leaving that house would be the first step in a new life that Olivia and I would build together. . .without Ali.

We said goodbye to Ali two years ago but her presence has remained undeniable in that house.  Every square inch of it was carefully and thoughtfully decorated by her and it was as if she had never left.   I remember, in the days and weeks after she died, it was impossibly difficult to live there day in and day out with constant reminders of the loss we all suffered.  I walked around the house with blinders on just trying to avoid looking at every little item that she left behind.  And slowly those reminders of the pain turned in to little moments of comfort.  I knew she was gone but I could look at her things, all those untouched little artifacts, and know that she was there with me.   I found comfort in bottles of shampoo and drawers full of socks and jewelry still neatly organized.  But always in the back of my mind I knew I would eventually have to say goodbye to the shrine that I was building up in my mind just like I had to say goodbye to her.

Ali and I bought our house on the day before our wedding and we thought that having some of our wedding photos taken in the empty house would be an appropriate and memorable way to commemorate such a big step in our lives (see the original wedding day session here).  As wedding days go, it all happened in a blur, but those images represent some of the happiest moments in my life.  It was the beginning of what we planned on being a long and happy life together.  And so, when it came time to pack up the house and schedule the movers, I struggled with the thought of saying goodbye and walking away without something to commemorate such a big step in mine and Olivia’s life.  Having world-class photographers in the family is a nice perk that I try not to abuse, but I managed to sneak into Melanie and Adam’s busy schedule and we set out to once again do a photo session in that empty house.  Only this time I would have a different partner, although one just as beautiful.   It was fun and strange and sad and comforting and just about every other emotion you can think of.  And, it wasn’t until I drove away that the significance of what we had just done hit me like a ton of bricks.   These would be the last memories in that house.

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Side by sides from the original photo session on our wedding day.nunerys023 nunerys022nunerys014
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I did it for me.  I did it for us.  I did it so I would have something to show for the love and beauty that occupied that house for a short time in our lives.  I wanted to be able to show Olivia the place where her mother and I started our lives together and dreamed of raising children.  I thought it would be much harder to say goodbye in this way, but as I sat in the driveway, ready to drive away for the last time, I realized that it’s just a house.  The memories of Ali don’t live in that house.  They live with us, in our hearts.  We take them with us wherever we go and they will live with us in our new house too.  A house is just a house.  Yes, I will miss it but I still have the memories of Ali and I still have Olivia, the most precious evidence of the love Ali and I shared and still share.  Since Melanie posted the photos on her blog, many people have asked me how I felt while doing that photo session.  What I want them to know is that this isn’t a story about grief and loss and hurt.  Yes, I’ve gone through those emotions and still do but that’s not what I want people to see in these photos.  This is a story about love.  The pain is nothing compared to the love that I feel for Ali and Olivia and that’s the story I want these pictures to tell to Olivia in the years to come and anyone else that sees them.  The pain will subside little by little but the love never will, no matter where we live.   Our lives will continue down a curvy and uncertain path but Olivia and I will be able to look at these photos and know that for a short time there was a place where I was the luckiest man in the world, even if just for a little while.

– Ben

See the full photo session here