Evan Engstrom – 1942-2010

Heaven is richer today for the presence of my former husband and one of my best friends of all time. Evan Emil Engstrom died yesterday after a 26-year battle with cancer. The man was a warrior. 

I first met Evan when we were both struggling to get sober. I knew his sister and she was everything I wanted to be. Shortly thereafter, I met his mom and his kids, and knew this was the family for me. We married, I adopted his two wonderful children, and we set out to have a full life together. Evan was incredibly smart, the master of the one-line zingers, handy and clever, but most of all, he cared. Deeply. About everything, all the time. He wanted to do the right thing in all situations. My honorary Uncle Paul told me to marry “a man I could live up to.” Evan was just such a man, and he provided a moral compass for me from the moment we met, as well as everyone with whom he came into contact.

It wasn’t long after we married that Evan’s dentist found a small lump under his tongue. The surgery to eradicate this squamous cell carcinoma took the floor of his mouth, all the lymph nodes and big muscle on the left side of his neck, and required a skin graft from his thigh. The doctor told me: “The chances of his being here in two years are slim and none.” Well, they didn’t know Evan.

We moved from Maui to Oregon to provide a broader perspective of life for the kids, began to eat organically, raising most of our own food, and for a long time life was good. Eventually, however, we began to see that while we were really good friends, we did not make good mates. We discussed the fact that friendship is eternal while marriages are likely not, and we were in danger of losing our friendship as we toiled to maintain a broken marriage. So we separated, and eventually divorced, still committed to one another, still connected to one another via the heart, forever, in this world and throughout the next.

When I married Al, Evan came to our wedding. His classic comment: “I’ll come to all of your weddings, Liz, if there’s a meal in it for me.” Al had to know that my commitment to Evan was part of my family unit. And when Evan and Sharon discovered each other in a new way, we all became one big happy weird family, impossible to describe, but precious in every way.

Evan’s cancer came back. Again. And again. And yet again. He never gave up the fight against it, not after all the rest of us thought it might be a good idea that he just let go and let God. But he wanted to see his kids grow up. He wanted to see his grandkids grow up. And for the most part, he did. He leaves his two wonderful children, Nicole and Eron, and five grandsons, Luke, age 19, Joey, 17, Edison, 8 and Dean and Davison, both 3.

Evan left us too early. I particularly grieve that he and Sharon had such limited time together to explore their new relationship, to travel the world in happy retirement. But it is what it is, and we are all richer for knowing and loving him for as long as he was on loan to us.

Congratulations on your graduation, Evan. We all look forward to seeing you on the other side.


Filed under Aging, Cancer, Death, Dying, family, Graduation, Marriage, relationships

11 responses to “Evan Engstrom – 1942-2010

  1. Stacy Allen

    Sending you much love and prayers during this time of transition. I have had the privilege of speaking with you personally about your marriage to Evan, and I hold that quite dear. Your words here are a beautiful tribute to both Evan, as a man, and Evan as your once-upon-a-time husband. I know he is heartened by this loving tribute. Beautifully done. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Al, and all of Evan’s large circle.

  2. Hi Liz,

    Stacy said it all graciously. I hope Evan was peaceful in the end, and that you’re peaceful now.

    Love, Lisa

  3. Little Charlie

    Thank you, Liz. Fabulous.

  4. Older Charlie

    Aloha Evan and Mahalo Liz….you are such a wordsmith and capture the love and respect we all feel for this wonderful man. What courage, what wit, what love….he left an honorable legacy. I am proud to have been a small part of his life and therefore you’re too. Tutu and Emil must be thrilled to have him join them.

  5. Jay Newkirk

    I am so sorry to hear this news. I hadn’t seen Evan for many years, but I he stayed in my mind as one of the most unforgettable people I ever knew. He was my best friend in junior high school in Seattle before he moved to Hawaii for high school. We shared many great times and a paper route. We reconnected for a period when we were both at the University of Washington. He was one of smartest people I have known. I knew this even though we spent a lot of time playing pool in the basement of the HUB. (The engineering building was close by.) My deepest condolences to his family and friends. He will truly be missed.
    Jay Newkirk

    • Shelley Nalepa

      Thank you, Jay, for writing “us” about your friendship with Evan – Liz told me about it, on her blog. I’m Evan’s sister, Shelley, and your words were so beautiful for me to read.

  6. Gerry Cochrane

    My husband Douglas and I were blessed to get to work with Evan in our small business. He gifts to us were many. Evan always seemed to keep perspective. When we got lost in the day to day crises of business he would zoom out to the big picture and let us know all was OK. He made us laugh, he was someone I would cry with, he was a brilliant problem solver. He was our friend. We loved him and will miss him. I am so grateful that he is now cancer free. Blessings and peace to you and to his kids and grandkids.

  7. Peggy Merner

    Thank you Liz. It was beautiful and filled in many blanks. We only in the last 15 years reconnected with Evan and that time has been a true gift. I am his step brother, Brett’s, wife.

  8. Gerry Cochrane

    From Douglas Cochrane:
    In 1988, our neighbor was a survivor of throat cancer. One day she told Evan about a cancer support group that she joined when she was first diagnosed. She said that at the first meeting she could tell who would survive and who wouldn’t. She said it was all a matter of attitude. After ten years, she and one other woman were the only survivors.

    From the first time we learned of Evan’s challenges with cancer I was sure that he was a survivor. And he certainly was. Despite repeated surgeries and challenges, he kept on living and enjoying life.

    The only time I ever beat Evan in racquetball was during the first month or two after his second surgery. He was breathing through a hole in his throat. If I could get the rhythm of the game going so I ran him back and forth across the floor, he would eventually run out of air and I’d make the point. This only lasted a few weeks until his stamina returned and my role went back to shagging balls whilst he worked on his technique.

    Evan, you are a great guy and I am proud to have been your friend. See you in the Hereafter or Where Ever!

    Douglas Cochrane

  9. june

    This was a wonderful description of Evan.I will always remember Evan as the fun loving, laughing, and eager photographer-classmate running up and down the field with the Punahou football team at every game snapping photos, and walking into the KaPunahou newspaper room, raving about the fantastic shots he took and laying out the fantastic 8 x 10s on the table-sometimes it was hard to choose which was the best photo-there were so many good shots-I am sorry to hear he spent his life fighting cancer and living with such pain–I remember Evan doing chin ups, strong, tan and healthy, the last time we saw him at graduation. He is locked forever in our memory just as he appeared the last time we saw him–active, excited,eager and engaged with life and his companions around him–
    With deepest condolences –however if there is a way to continue to “cross paths” with his friends in the future, I think Evan will find a way –he was bright, energetic, and could be very determined.

    June Takafuji

  10. moana

    Like June, I remember Evan from Punahou and I second all the things she said about him. He was a very special guy. No matter how many wonderful memories are written about him they will never tell the whole. How can I add anything? Just to say that he was so full of life and energy that he sparkled.
    And I remember Shelly too. May all of you who knew him later and who suffer most from his loss find comfort. Aloha

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