Ten years ago, Elizabeth Long met Michael Dolan at a mutual friend’s Christmas party, and said she thought he was a really nice guy who was easy to talk to. What Long didn’t know at the time, was that Dolan would end up being the love of her life.
“I remember leaving the party and I forgot my purse, so I walked back into the house and he saw me and said, ‘You’re back!’ and his whole face lit up,” Long said. “No one’s face ever lit up like that when they saw me.”
Three years later (seven years ago), Long and Dolan ran into each other again, this time at a fundraiser. Both divorced with kids, they fell in love.
“He walked in, and that was it,” said 38-year-old Long, a North Shore mom of two and ecommerce skin care business owner. “He sat on the couch next to me and admitted that he came there for me.”
I wish I could say that the couple lived happily ever after. I truly wish I could say that, but I can’t. Fifty-seven-year-old Dolan, a man truly devoted to Long, her two little girls, and his teenage son, died in a car accident three months ago.
I sat down with Long to talk about her life with her beloved Dolan, the tragedy, and how she is coping with the devastating loss.
“Our big, beautiful life. That’s how Michael and I referred to our life together,” said Long. “Nothing really mattered. We knew what we had and we were so grateful.”
Describing Dolan’s physical appearance as “gorgeous with pristine, icy blue eyes, in shape and strong,” Long said on the inside, the man she adored had incredible depth, warmth and vulnerability.
“He so tenderly cared for me,” she said. “He was always touching me and hugging me and telling me how much he loved me, and he would write me notes and cards. He wrote me a note on the second anniversary of our first kiss. I mean, who keeps track of your kisses?”
What made their relationship so special? Long said she and Dolan were opposites, who brought out the best in each other.
“I was wild and crazy, and he was the most secure man,” she said. “He knew who he was. He told me one time, ‘You saved my life. You came in and brought all this joy and fun and light and laughter into my life.’ ”
Dolan was also a wonderful father, according to Long. Proud and involved in his son Jack’s life, he also treated her children like they were his own, and showed them what unconditional love looks like.
“Jack was the light of his world, and Michael wanted to be involved in his life every way he could,” Long said. “He had no reservations about expressing love. His text messages to Jack were so cute and endearing.”
Two years ago, on a trip to Turks and Caicos, Dolan proposed, and shortly after, they moved in together.
“Our house was full of light, laughter and fun,” Long said. “I remember one time he said, ‘It feels like when I walk in the door, I’m walking into a vacation.’ ”
The two had a surprise wedding planned for May 11. But on Dec. 8, 2018, a devastating tragedy struck.
Long was in Florida for her sister’s baby shower, and had talked to Dolan earlier in the day, telling him she missed him and loved him. He told her he would talk to her later, but that never happened. He was killed in a car accident coming home from a hunting trip. The family dog, “Dutch” was in the car and also died.
Telling me the story through tears, Long said, “Michael loved me unconditionally, and he slipped through my hands like water.”
“What do you do when the love of your life dies?” I asked Long. “I mean, how do you cope? How do you even begin moving on?”
Long’s answer: love.
“The only thing that’s real is love,” said Long. “Love is everywhere. There are a million acts of love and kindness, and it’s there if you choose to see it. Michael was a teacher of love, and that’s what he did for 7 years and that’s what I will continue to do. We don’t have Michael, but we have people pouring love on us every minute. If we only focus on the body, we miss all the love.”
Long said she copes by beginning every day with a 20-minute meditation, a handwritten gratitude list, and a daily mantra, which she said always includes peaceful productivity. She also says good morning to Dolan and tells him she loves him.
“I feel him. He’s around. Every night I walk up the stairs, and he’s right behind me,” Long said.
Looking up to the sky, Long said through tears, “Michael, I’m going to carry on our big, beautiful life. I’m not going to talk about fear because our love remains. That’s the only thing we get to hold onto. We’re here to walk each other home. Everything else is meaningless.”
Rest in peace, Michael. Like your big, beautiful life, you sound like you were a big, beautiful person.
• Jackie Pilossoph is a freelance columnist for Chicago Tribune Media Group. She is also the creator of her divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph lives in Chicago with her two children.