Good memories and a handful of passionate songs are what get Neon Douglass through the tough moments of his life. After losing his husband, Sean Lanoue, to Cancer last year, even the most upbeat songs harbor a grim reminder that Sean isn’t by his side. Throughout our interview, his eyes welled with tears on several occasions. Neon quickly began laughing, remembering something silly Sean would do or say. It’s his coping mechanism in a way.
“Sean wouldn’t want me to be sad. I want to remember Sean saying, “put that thing back in your pants!” he said, laughing. Sean always had a way with his words, no matter the situation. Even in the face of stage-four cancer, he didn’t let his illness prevent him from making someone laugh or smile. He adamantly emphasized living every day like it was his last.
“During the end, we would still travel. He would be in a wheelchair. He’d still come and would do his best to make the trips even though he was feeling horrible,” he said. “Some of the memories are good. Other ones you just sit there and know he’s not going to be around. He’s trying to do his best to make it to the end.”
The inevitable end did come in March 2018. “Sean had sent me to Chicago to DJ our friends, Xavier and Eric’s, wedding. He said go and tell me all about it. Sean then started going downhill. We were trying to get flights back, and I got here about two hours before he passed. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him again. Part of me is mad. Just to have five minutes would’ve been great,” he expressed.
Days later, keeping with his career commitments, Neon and his second partner headed to San Francisco for a DJ gig thousands of miles away from a loss that still was so fresh in both of their hearts. “This was the first one I had to spin after Sean died,” he said. “When you’re used to being with somebody for ten years, and you turn to say, “Sean look at that.” Instantly, you turn, and they’re not there. It’s like a stab in the heart all over again.”
That night in the packed club, everyone witnessed music magic through one single song chosen by Neon for Sean. “A Song by Plum that DJ Grind and Toy Armada remixed called “Beautifully Broken,”” he said. “Even a million scars doesn’t change who you are, you’re beautifully broken which is how I was feeling. You live through Sean’s passing and also a year and a half of his health issues. You’re doing your best to keep a day job, and then you get home and have another eight your job taking care of him.”
The lyrics spoke to the challenges from the past and what was yet to come for Neon and his second partner, Jamie Williams. “We had a partner, a third, who was probably the biggest help. I couldn’t imagine having gone through that without his expertise in the medical field or his emotional support. He loved Sean as much as I did,” he said.
The two were now trying to recover from an emotional roller coaster they endured for more than 12 months. Neon was in a constant struggle to get his life back on track. He knew he needed therapy but didn’t want to go. Eventually, he said it was time. “I was at my lowest. When I dealt with estate things, it brought back all the emotions back that I pushed into a box and didn’t deal with for a long time,” said Neon. “I went to my doctor and got on anti-depressants. The anxiety began setting in. We are all afraid of death. I used to have that fear as a kid. It constantly surfaces when you experience it in real life when you hold their hand and watch them die.”
It’s been nearly a year since Neon said his final goodbyes to Sean, and every month there’s a first without him. “Every first is going to suck. You’re going to miss them and wish they were there. You’re going to cry, you’re not going to know what to do, and you’re going into a dark place,” he said, tearing up. “For Christmas, I was going to stay at my house alone and be with Sean. I told him, I’m going to turn the radio on and just talk. The first song that came on was “Faithfully” by Journey. That was his gift for me.”
Neon says it’ll never get easier. He’s just learning how to manage his loss more healthily through the memories he and others have shared with Sean. “He was an amazing man. I even get stories to this day on the impact he had, some I had no idea,” said Neon.
Those memories fill the home he used to share with Sean; a home that’s slowly changing with time and space. He’s handling the house and changing the curtains. He wants it to be his home, not Sean’s or even theirs together.
“That’s one thing my therapist talked about. You’re not erasing him. You have to become you again. I was disconnected from many aspects of my personality,” he said. “There’s going to be a corner for sean, it’s going to be his little shrine. We’re going to light candles and everything.”
It’s a testament to Sean’s unyielding devotion to the ones he loved, and those who loved him. It’s a constant reminder to Neon just how much of an impact Sean had on so many communities across the country. The journey over the last two years took Neon off his guided path in life but for a reason. Now, with a new understanding of how precious life indeed is, he’s creating his own journey with no regrets.
“Things are changing. Things are improving. I can get through this,” he said.