Death Changed The Mother I Wanted to Be

Death changed me, for that, there is zero doubt. It’s just that I didn’t expect death to change me in so many intricate and intimate ways, that continues to surprise me as they unfold themselves. Death did this, though, and continues to surface why life is so delicate.

My husband passed away at the age of 37, leaving his fourteen month old son, and his thirteen-year-old daughter here on Earth to do life without him. The details of these kiddos, is that I am step-momma to that red headed little girl, and momma to that sweet little boy that looks just like his Daddy. And each of these roles are so very different, yet share the biggest similarity of all: I love them both with all of my heart. Their age difference, the difference in how I parent both of them, and my expectations for each of them are different. And just like every other mom, I struggle to make sure they both know how much I love them.

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These two cuties–They love each other so much. Their love for each other is the greatest gift I could ever be given.

Also just like every other mom, I had expectations. I knew what kind of mom I wanted to be, what I would look like doing it, and by golly my Pinterest boards proved that I had researched every recipe, craft, bedroom decor for a boy, for a teenage girl, and the trips that we would take along the way. Death changed that. You know why? Because nowhere in my childhood dreams, my adult goals, my planning did I ever put on my planner, “Plan your children’s daddy’s funeral when one is a teenager and one is a baby.” Nope–that event never got put on my planner.

Death has sucked life from me. Death has taken away my Pinterest board presents that I had planned for their Dad. Juggling of high school prom, with they younger one is learning to ride a bike didn’t get to have a divide-and-conquer style. Mother’s Day Breakfast in bed seems weird to teach your child, as I feel a bit self-centered teaching my kid to do that. Days I want to be the exciting mom, full of energy, let’s go to the park because the sun is shining for the first time in a week? It has me laying in bed, because I am completely exhausted. The home-cooked meals I promised I would serve my kids, because their Daddy is the best cook ever–are usually meals out-to-eat because we’re juggling one too many things…again.

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He is the best Daddy. He was ALWAYS volunteering at school, and spending time with his girl. We are truly the lucky ones.

I wanted to be a better mom. I promised that their Dad and I would be the ultimate duo to support and love them. And we are–in a very different way. I am the mom that smiles as bright as possible for prom pictures, field trip pictures, awards banquets because I–no their Dad and I– are so proud of them. This is not before–or after– I run to the restroom to cry my eyes out, because my heart hurts so bad that their Dad isn’t here for those pictures too. I am the mom that refuses to allows them to succeed without saying, “Your Dad and I are so proud of you!” Because we are–both of us, not just me. And as long as I live, even if I cry every happy moment, death has changed the mother I wanted to be. I wanted to be the mom, with their children’s Dad, right next to me in the day-to-day of these parenting days. I wanted the person I loved the most, that made me a mom, to be here with me.

Death changed me as a mother. I love them more–I love them as their mom and step-mom, and as the constant reminder of their Dad who would have wanted nothing more than to be right here with them.

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My First, and Only, Mother’s Day card from my husband. It is my most cherished belonging. To know I gave him his greatest desire for the rest of his days…I have no words.

A Widow’s Mother’s Day Perspective,

Kristina Smith

Smith is an Amazon Best Selling Author of What I Wasn’t Expecting When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir. You can purchase your copy here.

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How I Know My Dying Husband’s Nurses Played Cards

This past week Washington State Senator, Maureen Walsh, proclaimed that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably played cards for a considerable amount of the day, ” (CNN). What she was specifically referring to, is rural hospitals with smaller number of patients/beds to take care of. What she underestimated in her ill-planned statement though is a true caregiver’s perspective.

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True Love

You see, I was seven months pregnant with my first child, when my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. We were blindsided by the diagnosis, let alone the late stage, and even the detrimental words “terminal.” We live very rural, a small lake-town that thrives off of tourism in our service industry businesses. And, I have to tell you, Senator Walsh was right: those chemotherapy infusion nurses, those post-surgery, seventh floor angels, those pain-control, specialty oncology nurses, they did play cards. I watched, observed, cried, thanked, and even begged them to keep playing cards to save my husband. Let me tell you about those cards they played:

When those masked, and scrubbed-in angels pushed my husband out on his hospital bed, down the corridors, and into his new “home” for the next 10 days–they played the card of who they should take care of first–their patient or the patient’s wife. They struggled if they should take care of the man wincing and crying out in pain, or if they should take care of the seven-month swollen expecting momma that was beside herself as she hovered over his body in his bed. They played the cards of wondering what they should convince that desperate wife and expecting mother of first: should she eat and feed that small babe growing inside her, or do we tell her she needs to sleep for the first time since they checked in four days ago?

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Eight Months Pregnant, in for another surgery for an infection that developed.

Those blue-scrubbed Mercy Angels played the cards of wondering if they wrap their arms around that depleted wife when she was on her hands and knees begging God to relieve the pain her husband gasped for help with–or do they hold the small nine-month old chunky baby that was in the hospital floor playing with his toys to give that devoted wife a moment to just be her husband’s best friend and saving grace.

Those chemotherapy and infusion nurses–the real heroes in our story–they juggled the most cards of all. They juggled do we take care of the expecting momma, and later the momma of a five-day old, or do we tend to our patient’s every need. Do we take food, baby toys, or any of their needs to their overnight hospital stay, or do we stay home with our own families that we need to spend time with? They juggled whether they got to cry in front of us, or escape to the backroom to relieve emotions, when the oncologist said there was nothing more we could do. When those champion card players saw that frail, bony husband of mine disoriented, unaware of everything going on around him, and a momma carrying him on one arm, and their sweet year old baby in the other out of the chemo clinic–they played the card of what emotion they got to show that day.

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Our “spot” at our doctor’s appointment every other Thursday. All day infusion, meant juggling lesson plan writing, grading papers, and a sweet baby taking a nap in between me and his Daddy’s chair.

Senator Walsh, you are correct. Our rural, country, small-town nurses do play cards all day–in fact, a considerable amount of the day. Wait–no– all day and all night. They play cards when they go home, when they are supposed to be with their families, when they are supposed to take care of themselves. They are master card players, the real poker faces in this game of healthcare. They play the cards of taking care of patients, taking care of patient’s caregivers, families, dying wishes, egos, dignity, and every single basic need in between. And while they are playing those cards, they are card sharks at playing their own cards of emotions, family, vulnerability, and juggling their personal time that they devote to their patients and their families. They attend funerals, they hold that wife and that brand new baby in their arms while they weep because they are standing at the coffin of a patient they loved.

They are card sharks. Poker faces. True Vegas-style card players. Yes, Senator Walsh, my husband’s country, rural-small town nurses play cards. The very best cards there are to play. And I couldn’t be more thankful.

A Champion for Nurses,

Joe Smith’s Widow

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Kristina Smith is a widow, mother, Special Education Administrator, Colorectal Cancer National Advocate, Blogger and Amazon Best-Selling Author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir”

You can purchase your personal copy of Smith’s memoir here.

Coincidences Do Not Exist, Here’s How I Know

I have had a lot of things, actions, “weird stuff” happen since my husband passed away, that I simply cannot give a rational reason or explanation for. All I could tell anyone is that these things happen, and the instant they do, I know it is Joe. I have had friends look at me with “the look” of pity, as if they think I am crazy, and only clinging to believe that it could be Joe, since I miss him so desperately. I have even been told I have a “good imagination.” I used to get upset by such measures, and then I realized most people don’t know. They don’t know the unbearable, immeasurable loss I took, personally and for my son, over four years ago when my husband, and Porter’s Daddy passed away. And since people don’t understand that loss, or that love, I realize they wouldn’t get how many unexplained things happen. I do not believe in coincidences, and the death of my husband has only solidified that. Here’s why: maybe, just maybe, one of these instances could mean a coincidence, but all of them, in combination together, there’s just simply no way. God tells us multiple times He sends us signs, we just have to look for them. And sometimes when I feel like God, and Joe, are furthest away and I can’t feel them, it’s because I am not searching for them.

The first time I knew Joe wasn’t far away, was less than one month after he passed away. Putting laundry away in our bedroom, I heard our sixteen-month-old baby in the living room cackling–you know that baby belly laugh, where you can’t help but laugh too? Knowing no one else was home, I slowly peeked out my bedroom door to see what was so funny. There, I saw that sweet little bald-headed babe watching intently if someone were sitting right in front of him, and he was anticipating what was going to happen next. That look on his face with the smile already there, but waiting for the punch of hilarity, and then the red-faced, belly-laugh ensued. The laugh only stopped long enough for him to pause for the next motion of funniness as he watched whatever it was in front of him, and then the cycle of laughter continued. That moment in time, where what I could see was only a child and no one else, but there was clearly someone there entertaining him….Well, I guess unless you were there to see the pure happiness of that child as he interacted with someone I could not see, was the moment I knew his Dad hadn’t gone far.

Less than two weeks later, sitting in my bedroom closet, that wobbly, big-headed baby looked at me knowing he was going to take his first steps to me. You see at sixteen months we still weren’t walking yet, because he had grown up in hospital floors, being held more times than put down, because of Daddy being sick and always in the hospital or the chemo chair. As I stretched my arms out for him to take two steps to me, he excitedly reached out with a smile, and when he fell into my arms, he immediately without a second of hesitation screamed Daddy, as he looked over my shoulder. Flabbergasted, I pulled him away so I could look at his face, and he was set on the image behind me that I couldn’t see–with known intent of who he really took his first steps for. His Daddy.

As I went to speak to Congress for the first time three years ago, I was sat with a group of states. Missouri advocates sat with South Carolina. Significance? That is the state we were married in. And South Carolina sat right next to me. I knew Joe was there, affirming what I was doing.

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Missouri and South Carolina advocates were pre-planned to sit next to each other.

My first wedding anniversary without him was in June 2015. From October 26, 2014 until June I had searched my house high and low. I knew, I just knew, in my heart that Joe had left me a message, a note, something, somewhere in our house. I emptied drawers, closets, searched his shop, looked everywhere–and I found nothing. I was in desperate need to find something, because Joe and I could never talk about dying. Ever. There were prime times to talk about, times I knew we were both thinking about the conversation about what I should do if he passed, but physically I could not choke the words out. I just needed something. Three days before our first wedding anniversary with him in Heaven, I was looking for a card that a friend sent. In the middle of a stack of baby shower and birthday cards for our son, I found a card with the words, “Love of my Life” scribbled across it. Inside that card, he wrote, “There is nothing more I want then to spend the rest of my life with you and our family. Love Always, XOXO, Joe.” So tell me, how, after intentionally searching our home for months, did I find this three days before our wedding anniversary? More importantly, I have no idea when he would have went to get this card, I was always with him, he could never drive on his own, and yet I still have no idea when he placed that card for me to find.

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To see his handwriting again…to see his last wish written and know that I gave that to him–tears of joy and longing for what was.

Most recently, I turned thirty. A birthday I am thrilled to get to celebrate, and more time with our son and my friends and family. As the day approached though, the thought hit me that my husband would never know me in my thirties. It hit hard too. Approximately two and a half months before my birthday I had submitted a proclamation request to Missouri’s Governor to declare March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Since I had not heard anything, it was vaguely out of my thoughts. But only three days before my birthday, a signed proclamation was in the mail. How did the perfect timing of this happen–a reminder from someone that he wasn’t far as my big birthday approached? I think so.

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Happy 30th to Me!

I’ve written our memoir and have worked over three years on it. At times, feeling as though I may not make this dream a reality, I had a friend step in. As I joined them in their office, and they turned around their computer to say “Happy Birthday” there a revised draft of our story, our struggle, our blessings is a book cover that could only make me scream, laugh, cry, but no words come out. That friend? I only met him through Joe–without Joe, I wouldn’t have the chance to know him. He then volunteers to help get everything set up, going, and ready to make the book live, because he believes in me that much. Why? Coincidence? Coincidence that so many years ago, Joe introduced me to this person, and now they are my champion? Again, I don’t think so.

You see, the list goes on. It goes on and on and on. The cards from friends I haven’t heard from in years, on the days that I can’t hardly get out of bed. The songs that I haven’t heard in forever, and yet they play at the most opportune times. The people–THE PEOPLE that years ago, seemed like they were just an acquaintance, and they are the ones that have completely changed my life in pivotal ways. The “random” chances of “just the right people” hearing my story, that spurs leading me to go speak to Congress, that then “just the other right person” hearing my story, and asking me to model and represent caregivers under the age of 50 in an advocacy colorectal cancer national magazine, that “just the right time” I am led to write a book.

Coincidences don’t exist. They are far more explained when you start connecting all of them and how they play a much bigger picture in your life. Coincidences are really God at work, in His ever-mysterious, never fully-explained or understood way. They are all around us, and I know that God, and Joe, send me these signs to know neither of them are very far away.

Keep going in grief. Find the sings, not the coincidences, and know that God and your loved one are right there with you. It’s so worth it.

XOXO–Kristina

Excuse Me, I Have a Date with Grief

Grief is tricky, isn’t it? Although the pain is always fresh, there, and something we live with every day, on birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, grief seems to rear it’s ugly head and intensify the loneliness, the pain, the sorrow of missing our loved ones. Although grief is now a part of my every breath of existence, I seem to know that I am going to have a date with grief, dance with him for a few days (sometimes weeks), on these dates:

January 12

April 8

May 18

June 20

June 29

July 4

August 21

October 26

Thanksgiving

Christmas

My birthday, his birthday, our daughter’s birthday, the day he was diagnosed with cancer, our wedding anniversary, our dating anniversary, our son’s birthday, the day he passed, and the holidays: You see, these are the dates I know my trusty companion–grief– is going to come see me. He always lingers his presence right before these dates, and sometimes he stays far longer than he is invited to. Grief and I have come to a new place, though. Even though I know he is coming to see me, we look different and here’s how:

I know I am going to be sad. I know that tears are going to fall, but on his birthday, his boy and I always go to breakfast at Mommy and Daddy’s favorite little diner. After we eat, we surprise whoever our server is and we leave a tip of whatever age Daddy would have been that year. Last year, we got to leave a $41 tip, and a note that went with it–talk about smacking grief right in the face. We did good. And we loved it.

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He was so happy to get to bless someone else, as we quickly left so the server would be surprised. 

When we left there, we celebrated that man I love so much. I took his boy in a helicopter ride so we could “be close to Daddy.” Because sometimes it is the innocence of a child and their ability to feel closer to the Daddy they love and miss, that heals my own heart. I loved this date with grief, we made it better.

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Flying high in the sky, just like Daddy.

That red-headed little girl that is turning 18 this year–we’re going to celebrate big. Though birthday parties aren’t her thing as she is grown into a beautiful young lady, traveling is. And no matter how old his kids get, I love getting to give them the life he would want them to have!

June 20th will forever be etched into my mind. This is the day I had a seven month swollen belly, when the doctor told me Joe had Colon Cancer, and immediate surgery was needed. When this day hits each year, I always look around and realize that I could never believe that cancer diagnosis could give me the life I have today–good and bad. And I thank God for all that was delivered in it. The bad made me better, the good restored my faith in humanity, and allowed me the time I needed with Joe.

My wedding anniversary and dating anniversary may be the most special though. Although unbearable my first few years, I vowed to myself I would always celebrate it–not wallow in my tears in bed all day. Porter and I went back to the beach Joe and I got married on my first anniversary without him; the next year, I went parasailing over Table Rock Lack; the next–I went to dinner at sunset at a beautiful upscale restaurant, and last year I went to see my favorite artists in concert. Grief tangos with me as I celebrate an anniversary alone, but I refuse to allow it to take all the happiness my marriage brought, and continues to bring into my life.

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Tim McGraw and Faith Hill #LiveLikeYouWereDying

Possibly the hardest date I celebrate is August 21–the day we welcomed our boy into this world. Though I watch him in amazement, astonishment, love and pride beyond what my heart can hold, tears flow down my cheeks. His Daddy would be SO proud of him–I know he is. I just want him here to celebrate with us. Instead, we watch the smoke from the candles we blow out go up into Heaven, so “Daddy can see us eating the cake.” Those birthday presents? They are always signed, “Love, Mommy and Daddy.” Because his Daddy is still giving us the life, he would always want us to have. I know because I seem him in everything we do and everything around us.

The final day I got to kiss and hug him goodbye, is my biggest date of the year with grief. Oh, grief shows up big–the tears fall all day, the broken heart lurches into my throat for me to try to swallow over and over again. I cannot help but watch our home videos, because somehow they heal me to see/hear him again, and they hurt me too. Taking a day for myself, away from work, responsibilities and life, has seemed to reset me, get myself into check and help me with clarity. What I would say though–helping others takes the cake. And therefore, holding a fundraiser to raise funds for a scholarship to give to a senior that will graduate after losing a parent, or going under the radar to help a family in need–THAT is the way I “celebrate” grief on the day that reminds me of our final moments.

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Only four days before he passed. One of my very favorite pictures.

Holidays are no different–but here’s what I want you to know. The traditions, the memories, the get-together’s, the celebrations–they just amplify that our loved ones aren’t here. It is not that the pain and loneliness isn’t here during the rest of the year, it just exposes loss and loneliness. I started a new tradition, and my angel tree, and the search for new angel ornaments each year, ensures Joe is still ever-present in this life.

What I want you to know? We all dance with grief–our dates, anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays–they are ever more reminders of what we have lost and what we love. It’s not bad, it’s life. Celebrate with us in whatever crazy way we come up with. Talk to us about them, allow us to remember the ones we love in Heaven, with the ones still here on Earth. Be one of those in celebration–after all, we love you too!

Keep Going in Grief, It’s so Worth It!

XOXO,

Kristina

A Gift to the Grieving this Holiday: Talk About Their Loved One

I remember the shell shock less than two months after my husband passed, and Christmas was here. I don’t even remember what I did for Thanksgiving or why, but I was here, and didn’t know what to do. Invitations came from old friends, and new, at the rate of the ongoing holiday traffic in department stores. I didn’t know what to say yes to, or no, or why I chose something and didn’t choose another. All with good intentions, everyone forgot to ask what I wanted. Now I know, and I know the answer for everyone who has lost someone too:

Talk about our loved ones.

Say their name.

That’s what we want. We need it too.

Although I know the grief was fresh, because the loss was too, no one wanted to say his name. I saw the fear, the unknown, the own hurt in their eyes. The uncertainty when staring at me was that if they said “Joe” I would fall apart more, break into a few more pieces. They were scared I might cry.

They were right. I would. But what they didn’t know, is because I didn’t cry in front of them, I cried alone. I cried because they didn’t say his name. I cried alone in bed every night because the physical loss was so much, but the part that they didn’t say his name, made me feel like I was losing him more. The elephant was in the room. We all knew what I was feeling–what they were feeling. I am going to cry no matter what, just share those memories with me. When his name crosses your mind, because a funny memory just hit, tell me. Laugh about it, stare off into the distance as you reminisce that memory of him. Let a tear fall. You know why? Because it means true love never dies. The love you share with Joe, the memory of Joe, and the only gift that I, we, can give his son– is to talk about his dad.

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You can still talk about the one you love and smile. My heart will always have a hole, a missing part. But I am proud of the life I had, and have to this day., he is present every day in our lives.

 

I was told once that true love never dies. I agree. Love and people only die if you stop talking about them, if you let the memories remain silent, and you don’t say them out loud. People in grieving aren’t going to hurt more if you share a memory out loud, we’re hurting more when you stay silent. We miss them, you do too. We don’t need every moment of conversation to consume our loved one’s names, we just want you to say their name and the memory if it does cross your mind. We want you to embrace the memory that makes you laugh, share it with us so we can survive without them here. Let us share how we keep them alive and present during the holidays. Let me tell you about the Christmas letter I write every Christmas eve and slip into his stocking that then holds the years happenings in a single college-lined piece of paper. Let me tell you about the three matching angel ornaments I found this year. Let his son tell you about the recorded story of the “Night Before Christmas” that his Daddy gets to read to him every year on Christmas eve. Don’t be scared of the moment, know that it hurts because they aren’t here, but it helps because talking about them allows them to be here in the only sense possible.

Looking back and looking forward, I can only tell you one thing: There is no gift I have ever received that I want more, than time. Time with Joe, time as a family, time watching Porter with his Daddy. I never wanted stuff. It all comes and goes, fades in popularity and usage. Love doesn’t. If you are looking for a gift, especially for that one that is hurting this year, go hang out on the couch with them; take them to dinner, share a special past time with them–the bright red bow on top will be when you say their loved one’s name. It will be the very best Christmas present they receive this holiday.

Praying for all those grieving during the holidays–Keep going in grief, it’s so worth it.

XOXO,

A Widow at Christmas

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Christmas pictures with Santa and my boy, Christmas 2018

Why I Thanked God for Making Me a Widow

I thanked God for making me a widow, at the mere age of 25.

Wait! What?

Yep. Four years and a month since that fateful day, I can finally say I have given thanks multiple times for this awful club I am apart of. It is hard to say out loud, and even harder to share– because those that haven’t lost their spouse and grieved so deeply, may not understand. I am going to try to help you to “get it” right here:

You see, four years ago I wasn’t even a full month out from losing my husband, before Thanksgiving plans had to be made, and Christmas decorations and gifts needed to be bought. I was in a fog, so deep, I simply said “Yes” to whomever asked us to do something. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just went with what others thought I should be doing. I didn’t sit by myself, and knew I had to give my son holidays to remember.

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Our last photo together, four days before he went to Heaven. Less than a month later, we had to celebrate Thanksgiving and prepare for Christmas.

Holidays after that, I was angry, bitter, spiteful, and even accusatory. No one got “it.” No one understood, no one could possibly understand how bad my heart hurt, or begin to understand how unfair it was that my life got torn away from us. I was mad at those that complained, I was mad at those that shouted their joyful hearts. I was just mad.

This year, though, I have three friends who are new widows. Their husbands are gold on Earth, but, I know, golden beyond belief in Heaven. Their hearts are hurting, and have since they had to say good-bye. But you know what? I got them– not in a way that is going to make their holidays easier, less painful, or magically better. But I get “it.” And all those times you are sitting in a room full of family and friends, who don’t know what to say, who have no idea what to do, sometimes just a text to a person who gets it–makes it bearable.

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Colon Cancer brought this widow and I together. We share nearly identical stories: seven months pregnant with a boy, when our husbands were diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. They both fought 16 months before passing away, when our sons were 14 months old.

 

I didn’t have that other widow when Joe first died. In fact, I didn’t have that other widow, until them. I hate we are in this club together, but I am thankful they don’t have to have any one that gets it either. I wish I didn’t understand, I wish they didn’t understand. Since we do though, I am grateful we have each other to carry the load, encourage each other, and just get through the most unbearable moments together.

I have more than enough to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Colon cancer and it’s savage war may have taken my husband away from me on Earth, but it has given me so much more. It has given me friends that are now family; it has given me opportunities beyond my wildest imagination. It has given me a perspective that only colon cancer and death could give you at the age of 25. It has given me hope, heartache, and love beyond belief.

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What I am most thankful for: A boy that gives me purpose, love, grace, and the reassurance his Dad is with us every single day.

Colon cancer made me better. I love deeper and far more big. My heart hurts for others in their own despair, I cry at a drop of a hat, and my heart could burst for those I love and their accomplishments. I am the biggest cheerleader for those around me. How could I not be thankful for more love in my life?

Today, and every day, I am thankful for colon cancer and being a widow. It made me THANKFUL for even the smallest things in life, and even those things that I thought I didn’t have an ounce of joy for.Colon cancer and being a widow made me better. I am thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving! Keep going in grief–it’s so worth it.

XOXO-Kristina

Rambling Chaos I Think I Know Almost Four Years Into Grief

He died October 26, 2014. I knew in that very moment, I would never be the same. I was right. Four years out, and I am a hot mess 99% of the time. My heart still aches, it still longs for him, it still remembers everything about him–but all of those things are different than the day he died. They changed, yet they are the same. Here’s what I think I know almost four years since I lost my husband, my best friend:

It’s hard. Dang hard. Widowed parenting. Widowed in your twenties. I never know what next step to take in any part of this life. It’s just hard.

I miss him. I miss us. I miss being a family.

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The night before we got married on the beach in North Myrtle Beach, SC- June 2012.

I’m mad at him. For no reason at all, but I have no one else to be mad at, and so sometimes I cry and scream at him because I have no one else to be angry at. Then I feel guilty. There’s nothing more he’d wish than to be right here living life together.  I know that.

The jackhammer that goes up and down and up and down–it’s a  representation of my waves of grief, up and down and up and down. Some days I know I am going to be okay, others I still do not know if I can get out of bed. I do though.

It’s not fair. None of it. Him suffering, him dying. His son and daughter not having their father here to help them grow up. Me doing this by myself without him. None of it is fair. And there is no answer–at least I still haven’t found it.

His son is starting to lose him again. That babe that was 14-months old lying in my arms at his Daddy’s funeral, he is five now. He is becoming more aware that Daddy isn’t coming back. “Mommy?” he asks, “I keep telling Daddy to come down here, (from Heaven) but he won’t listen to me. I guess he isn’t coming.” It completely rips my heart out.

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Together on Porter’s first birthday, eating shrimp and steak. They were truly the best of friends. I have never seen anything like their bond–even still.

That little boy–he has more grace for me than I ever deserve. I am tired, exhausted and defeated. I want a nap, a break, ten minutes of silence. And he doesn’t give me any of it. When I am frustrated and short-tempered, he still loves me. And I don’t know how I’d get through a day without him.

People stare–still. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do. They think that four years is far too long to still grieve and hurt and cry. They’re probably right. But man, my heart hurts. Doing life alone is no small feat. Even God assures us He created woman for man. Doing life alone is empty. Completely empty and unfulfilling.

Almost four years out, the thought of love again is hopeful and doubtful. I want to love and to be loved, but the cautious side of my broken heart is weary of the strength and confidence and graciousness it would take for someone to step into our circumstances. There’s so much gray, and my black-and-white, well-planned out mind knows only faith can allow a new beginning.

I cry. Still. Grief is a known attendee at every holiday, birthday, anniversary and milestone. But boy those days I don’t plan for, and grief just shows up–it knocks me down, gasping for air to breathe. I hate it. But grief, I have come to love. It is proof I love very deep, and always will. I am grateful for every experience with it.

I am happy. I have more good days, than bad. We are truly living. A little boy who is happy and healthy, smart, and gregarious, outgoing and caring. We’ve had experiences I could only dream of. I cannot believe I am giving him the life I am. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, and bittersweet.

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-12,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Summer 2018. We have a good life.

Things I think I know, four years out–we’re going to make it. We are making it. We have a good life. We smile, we laugh, we LIVE.

But what I also know four years out–I will never stop loving the man I call my husband. I will never stop missing him. I will always want another day, another conversation.

But four years out, there’s a life I am living I could never dream of.

Keep going in grief–it’s so worth it!

Colon Cancer Widow, XOXO,

Kristina Smith

 

Grief: It Doesn’t Get Better, It Changes

The constant slippery slope of grief does indeed evolve over time. Those not directly affected by it, however, may see it as the stand-still traffic jam that no one can get out of. Understandably so, but on the inside of grief, there are huge steps of faith, leaps of actions, and healing going on that no one can see–sometimes not even the person going through it.

I have been asked many times, “Does it get better?”

The simple answer: “NO!”

Grief doesn’t get better. It hurts just as bad, almost four years out, as it did the second after my husband took his last breath in my arms. When I watch our son who has lived longer than the amount of time his dad got to spend with him, it makes my heart desperately ache. When anniversaries, birthdays, career advancements, happy moments happen, I’m reminded instantly I’d rather be doing life with him, over all of these things alone. There are days grief takes me over so heavily, I cannot get out of bed. I cannot stop crying. And for the millionth time, I tell myself I have to LIVE for our son. I have to be the example that life is worth living, and to give back to others.

P turns 5

Porter turning 5, with candy pancakes and whipped cream served in bed.

It doesn’t get better, it changes.

Nothing will make the fact that my husband being gone “better.” There’s nothing better about the fact that a little boy will never have memories of riding his bike with his daddy, fixing up his first vehicle, or there to celebrate his birthdays and sporting events. Nothing. It changes though, because as his solo parent on Earth, I get to feel a love that has got to be deeper than if his Dad was here. I feel it for both of us, I shower it on our son for the both of us, I see and appreciate things about his Dad that only my heart can know, and as a huge smile bursts out on my face, tears fall down my cheeks at the same time. My level of thankfulness is different. My perspective is on the things that really matter. I watch him with a new-found gratitude, and all that pain–well some of it isn’t bitterness, it’s happiness and joy, that God chose me to be the one to give life’s most important lessons to.

me and P boy

My boy. 

There is never an “ah-ha” moment that happened in grief when I knew it was different. There was never a single, conscious decision that I remember having indicating grief had changed. It’s just much like life–it evolves so gradually, that before you know it, it has changed. There are more good days than bad. There is joy again. There are smiles and laughs that you can feel down in your soul again. There is hope that restores your faith, and there is a level of something inside of you that allows you to say “Thank you for choosing me for this journey” rather than “Why me?”

Do I still have bad days? YEP! You can about count on it, when the milestones, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays roll around. Do I still cry? YEP! My heart is as tender as they come, and anything can bring me swooped back to the days of an ailing husband, with a brand new baby, and when fear controlled my life. But of all that colon cancer brought our family, I can assure you that there is far more good than bad. We are lucky to know people I would have never met in this lifetime, we have had experiences and travels that only colon cancer could bring, but most of all we have a perspective of life that shines brighter, allows us to see good in the very, very darkest of days, and a light that shines bright to LIVE life at all times.

Grand Caymans2018

Vacationing in Grand Cayman, July 2018.

I cannot tell you when grief, changing will happen. It will though. It did for me, and I still don’t know exactly how or when. It just did. Allow it to change, allow yourself to evolve. Keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Kristina

To the Wife that Just Said Goodbye: Just Hang On

I write this in the wake of a very dear friend passing, of the same thing my husband passed of: colon cancer. Colon cancer that continues to be on the rise in young adults under the age of 50. The significance of this age, is that it is the recommended screening age for adults to begin getting colonoscopies. But like my husband, my friend Chris was diagnosed far before that age; they both passed far before that age as well.

Chris and I

My Friend Chris and I having Coffee after we spoke to Congress, lobbying for colon cancer screening and research funding. He was at every event teaching me how to advocate. His impact is immeasurable and immense to the CRC Community. 

Though I have great peace in that Chris is no longer in pain, and has ran his sprint in record time down the golden streets, jumping into the arms of Jesus, he leaves behind the love of his life. His wife’s pain will only continue to mount and grow. Grief is nasty. It’s awful, it’s unwavering, it attacks even when you don’t think it will. It comes out of no where. Any and all of you who are fresh in your grief as a widow/er, this is for you. Not from an educationally trained mouth, just one from experience.

Dear Sweet New Widow:

Hold on. Hold on tight. Hold on tight to the memories that will be the only things that fuels you to be able to take the next step. Hold on tight to the scent of his pillow, their laundry that still lies in the hamper, the family pictures that adorn the walls of your home. Hold on tight to those around you. Let them hug you, hug them back. Hold on tight when you don’t know what to say or do. Hold on tight when only tears will fall. Hold on tight to the child you share with the one you love more than life itself. Just hold on.

Those first days and months: they are hard. You aren’t going to sleep, you are going to be up all night, cleaning, organizing, rearranging, overthinking, and crying. You are going to feel crazy without sleep, but when you do go to sleep the nightmares will creep in. You will relive those final moments awake, and asleep–all of the time, even when you don’t want to. Is it normal? Yes and No. No, it’s not normal to have to say goodbye to your husband this young. Yes, it is normal to be experiencing all of these things in the wake of him passing. Is it fair? Nope. Not one minute of any of this is. Not one.

People are going to desperately want to do anything, say anything to ease any amount of pain for you. They mean well. Though, they don’t even know the reality of their words. How could they? They haven’t had to kiss their spouse goodbye. And you would never want them to know the pain that is seeping into every tiny crevice of your soul. Smile and nod. Call another widow/er, tell them, vent to them, cry to them. And just know that they all mean well, all their insignificant words and actions. They just don’t get it. And you wouldn’t want them to.

CC Family Dinner

Chris and his son Christopher with other Colon Club Family at dinner  in Washington, DC. Chris brought his son to teach him the ropes of advocacy in March 2018. 

That son that your husband blessed you with? He’s going to get you through. He’s going to make it better, and he’s going to make it worse, and never even know it. The way he looks at you, the way he grows, changes, his facial expression back at you. They will be his dad. His interests, desires, passions and dreams–they will all be the reminder of your best friend. It will bless your heart a thousand times over; and it will shatter your heart into a million pieces at the same exact moment. Hold him, love him, let him be…him. Without even knowing, he’s going to be the reason you let your heart beat again. He will be the reason you get out of bed, keep going, and choose to live. You know that is what your handsome groom would want, and beg of you. You know he’d kick your butt if you didn’t.

Stop. Look around, read every text, social media post, picture, listen to every story of the one that chose you to be his wife. To realize such a good man had such enormous impact that words cannot describe it, the outpouring of love that cannot be measured, the tears that have been shed across the country: in Congressmen’s office, churches, family homes, tops of mountains, they are all for him. When you sit numb, while everything is in fast forward as you are sitting just trying to keep up, soak it in. Know that out of all those people, he loves no one more than you, and the child you share. Of all the lives he touched, of all the lives that touched him, there was no greater love than the love he had for you and his son. THAT is the greatest honor of anyone’s life: LOVE, the deepest love you could never dream of. And you gave it to each other.

Chris Fight CRC

A Fight CRC GAC member, Colon Club Activities Director and former model, and tireless advocate.

Finally, feel what you feel. Do not let anyone tell you you shouldn’t feel a certain way, or you can’t feel the way you do. We are humans; God designed us all individually for a reason. You are going to be a jigsaw of emotions, up and down, and down and up before you know the direction changed on you. It is okay. Feel your way through pain, through grief, through it all. The only way through grief, is “through it;” not around it, over it, under it. Just go through, and don’t apologize for a second of how you feel, how long it takes, or how crazy it all may seem.

Above all, remember love. I often thought of days, months, milestones ahead. They destroyed me. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t stop crying, I wanted to give up. I often thought that as time passed, I would love him less. I didn’t. I don’t. It will be four years in October since I kissed my husband for the last time, and there is not a second I have ever loved him less. I love him more, if anything. I have never had one day I didn’t talk about him, remember him, or choke back tears because I miss him so much. You won’t either. He is apart of you, you are apart of him. He will send you signs that you cannot deny and know that are him, with no other Earthly explanation.

Hang on sweet wife. He loved you yesterday, he loves you today, he loves you forever. Hang onto love. It will get you through.

One Widow’s Heart to Another with All my Love,

Kristina

Why God Didn’t Ask My Permission to be a Widow

In six days, it will be five years since my life as I had imagined and planned, came to a wrecking stop. You see, it wrecked, flipped, tumbled, and fell out from underneath me, before it stopped. That’s because at seven months pregnant, my husband was diagnosed with Stage III Colon Cancer; only to find out six weeks later, a week before our son was born, that the cancer had already spread to his liver. Nothing went to plan after that. Nothing at all.

joeandipresurgery

8 Months Pregnant, with Joe before his second surgery in less than a month. An infection had to be cleaned out from the original surgery. We never missed a single day together while we were in the hospital. I’m forever grateful for that gift.

I asked God many times in the sixteen month fight my husband and I put up against the Big-C, to spare his life. I told Him he could take me instead, but to give my son his Daddy. I bartered with God, the One who knows all, and told him I would sacrifice the pain Joe screamed out in every day and night. I told him He could have my career, my accolades, all of my titles and accomplishments, if only He would spare my husband and best friend. I did this because I knew more. I knew Joe deserved to be the one on this Earth. He has a heart like none other I have encountered. His quiet demeanor only means more persistence to be the best, and to provide the best. He had far more to teach our son and daughter, than I ever could.

God didn’t listen. He didn’t barter. God didn’t even accept my compromises, promises, or demands.

He also didn’t ask my permission to be a first-time mom, while being a caregiver for my terminally ill husband, and then to become a widow, with a fourteen month old infant nudging me on to live.  I’m so glad he didn’t.

my fave

One of my favorite family photos. It was one of the worst days of my life. It was one of the best days of my life too. I had all I ever wanted in my arms here.

In retrospect, I think God’s requisition might have went something like this, “Kristina, if you will walk this road with your husband, your best friend, your partner, I will reward you with the career you’ve always dreamed of, higher education you never thought possible. I’ll give you opportunities to touch others’ lives with the story I gave you to live. I will ensure your every need is met, desires beyond your greatest imagination to travel, give abundantly to others, and a fulfillment from the loss you will endure. There are so many wonderful things you cannot even imagine, but first, I need you to cut your time short with Joe, watch your son cry and long for his Earthly father, and allow your heart to never be the same from the gaping hole you will always feel when you kiss him good-bye for the first time.”

You know why I’m glad he didn’t ask my permission?

Because I would have said, “NO!” I would have said no a million and five times over, never giving him a chance to give me rebuttal, compromise, or thought for this life He needed me to live. I would have sold my soul away to have my husband lay next to me every night and raise our children together. I told God these things too. I’d trade it all, for Joe to be healed completely and come home to me every night.

joe-kristina-porter-and-lill-1

Our last Family Photo, at a Color Run our community put on for us. Lilly, Joe, Kristina and Porter Smith.

God knew I wouldn’t have budged. He knows you wouldn’t budge either, if He told you ahead of time the difficult road you would need to walk.  He knows we are humans that could never possibly think of everything. He knows that spouse that is praying for their partner to put their family first, didn’t want that road. He knows the parent that weeps beside their dying child’s hospital bed, would give their own life so their child could live. He knows that expecting momma who couldn’t carry a child full-term, would give her soul to see the face of that sweet baby she felt kicking inside. He even knows that Daddy who laid in a hospital bed, begging God to spare his life so he could watch his infant son grow up to ride a bike, teach him how to drive a truck, and see him off to prom– would have chosen those things over God using his story to bring others to have eternal life.

I am human, and for that I am selfish. I would have traded everything I own, everything I have accomplished for my husband to live, for my son to have his father, for our daughter to have her Daddy walk her down the aisle. But since God didn’t ask me for my permission, I will accept the opportunities He places in front of me to share His goodness. He took care of our every need, and still continues to do so. He allows me to give back to others that are living a similar road to our own story, and to bring healing to my heart when I do so. He has saved lives of others, formed words that others could not articulate, and allowed me to share with others the nastiest road of life–grief.

WeHaveCancerFamily

“We Have Cancer” Family–Podcaster, Lee Silverstein and others who have been touched by colon cancer. We have become a family spread out across the United States. I’m thankful for each of these souls.

God doesn’t ask our permission for the difficult roads He places in front of us, because we are humans. We would never pick it, because of the pain and sacrifice we know we would endure. But if, along the way, one other person can be helped, lifted up, healed because you can share life’s hardest moments with them, wouldn’t you say, “Yes.”

JoeSmithAward2018

The winner of the 2018 Joe Smith Illuminating Hope Scholarship, Christa Baughman. She lost her father to cancer before her graduation from high school. Awarding her this brought comfort and healing to us both.

If your difficult path allowed someone to come to know God, wouldn’t you perhaps say, “Yes.”

If you don’t think so, then look back and realize what God has already done. He didn’t ask your permission, but he saw you through it. Allow it to be a blessing to another.

XOXO,

A  Widow, Without Giving God Permission

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-12,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y