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For nine months, it hung in her spare bedroom: the dress she had planned to wear on her wedding day. It was long and white, like a wedding dress should be, and it was overlaid with intricate lace. Delicate chiffon flowers and silver beading accented the straps and cascaded down the front, while the back of the gown ended in a short, stylish train that Jen Berman imagined would trail behind her as she walked toward her fiancé, Doug Furcht. Choosing her dress was the one part of the wedding planning she'd accomplished, and it symbolized the hope she and Doug shared that he'd live to see the day when the two would be married.
Around the time she went for her fitting, in June 2013, Jen was busy preparing her house so that Doug could move in with her. It was going to take some work: In May, Doug had suffered a stroke that doctors believed was triggered by the radiation treatments he underwent for the brain cancer he'd been fighting for years. The stroke had robbed him of the use of his left arm and leg, and though he was working to regain it, he couldn't yet walk without help. The plan was to relocate the master bedroom of her historic 1886 Capitol Hill carriage home from the second floor to the first floor to make it easier for him.
But in July, Doug had a seizure. He'd had them before, but this one was different. This time he didn't wake up. Further testing revealed that the infection that had plagued him since his last surgery was back, and it was spreading to other parts of his body. With few medical remedies left, Jen, along with Doug's family, made the decision to untether him from the machines that were keeping him alive. He passed away two hours later.
Although she knew by that point that Doug's illness was terminal, Jen was devastated. "For months and months, so much of my life had been taking care of him and helping him figure out how to take care of himself and get through this," she says. Without him, "I really didn't know what to do with myself."
Over the next weeks and months, Jen endured the physical pain of losing her soulmate: the nausea, the heartache, the simultaneous exhaustion and sleeplessness. She worked through her overwhelming loneliness — and the guilt she felt whenever she allowed herself to go out with friends and have a good time. She visited a grief counselor and attended a widows' group. But the dress stayed where it was, shrouded in a white garment bag in the spare bedroom, where she'd hung it.
It stayed there as she slowly began to shed her crippling sadness. Or as she puts it, to become unstuck. It stayed there until she was finally ready to let it go.
Jen and Doug met at a dodgeball game at the Denver Athletic Club in the fall of 2008. Jen was a 31-year-old Minnesota native living in Denver who worked as an attorney in the criminal-appeals division of the Colorado Attorney General's Office. Doug, who was raised in Colorado, was a 37-year-old software engineer who worked for a company called NewsGator, which developed communication products for businesses.
Jen had played in a dodgeball league before with friends, but that year she had signed up solo because none of her friends wanted to play another season. Daunted by the prospect of not knowing anyone, she almost talked herself out of going to the first game. But her determination won out, and she showed up knowing just one thing about her team: They were supposed to wear green. When she got to the DAC, she scanned the room for a minute before noticing a guy walk in. He was thin and athletic, with wavy brown hair. He seemed confident, and he was wearing green, too.
"I thought to myself, 'I hope he's on my team,'" Jen says.
Jen and Doug's first official date was a few months later, when they made plans to go Christmas shopping at the Cherry Creek mall. "It was very relaxed, which was nice," Jen says. "We just walked around and made silly comments...[and] hung out in Williams-Sonoma and went to this Indian restaurant that I don't even think is there anymore.... It was a good way to get to know each other."
That date led to others: a stroll through the First Friday Art Walk on Santa Fe Drive; a trip to an Ethiopian restaurant where they ordered way too much food; breakfasts at Perkins and happy hours at Charlie Brown's. Doug was an avid cyclist, and the two started going on long, meandering bike rides through Denver neighborhoods. Oftentimes, they'd stop at a park along the way to sit on the swings. Doug tried to teach Jen to play ultimate frisbee, a sport he'd picked up in college and played competitively afterward. They played tennis, went hiking and did crossword puzzles together.
Doug told her that he'd noticed her that first day at dodgeball, too. Although their team had lost, Jen had been the last player standing. Doug had admired her pluck.