Dear Holiday-Grief, You’re Going to Suck

Dear Holiday Grief:

You’ve come again, despite the invitation that was never sent. You have a way of showing up some times far early, but as the years have gone on, you creep in later and later at the last minute. I never appreciate your entrance, but annoyingly, roll my eyes, scoot over, and allow you a seat at my table. You wouldn’t care if I didn’t, you would shove me over and wedge yourself into a spot you didn’t fit anyways, wouldn’t you?

Our first and only Christmas together. December 2013

You know why I don’t like you? You suck me in to the point I have no air in my lungs; you make my legs not want to get out of bed, and you make the simplest tasks the hardest in the whole world. You suck the smile off of my face, and you suck tears out of my eyes that pour down my cheeks, until I have to step into another room to attempt to pull away from your grip.

You are the reason that there is no pure happiness anymore. You linger in the shadows, in the cracks of the family get-togethers and the emptiness of a fully packed house. I see you when we are all laughing, playing games, and being entertained by the little boy who brings me more of you, yet also lightens your grip you have on my heart. I am six years out, and just when I think you and I are done with our obligatory holiday dance, when I feel you distancing yourself from the relationship we have shared all these years, then you pounce out of nowhere, and you insist we sit and get too comfortable again. Year after year, you can’t just go away, can you?

The only memory this little guy has is so many pictures and stories that we share with him.

I really would wish you could pick someone else, but then, I know you already do. You pick so many of us every year, but that is your trick isn’t it? You add to your list of holiday guests, but you never take any off, do you? You are a masterful juggler that visits all over the world, simultaneously, never missing a beat. You wear out your welcome, with me, with everyone, and you can’t just give us a second, can you?

I want to be mad at you; really mad at you. I want to tell you I hate you, and I wish I never knew you. I want to tell you I don’t want you to invite yourself for the holidays this year, or any future year. It isn’t the truth though, is it? You and I both know that although you bring sadness, loneliness, nostalgia, it is only because of love that you have the power to bring the sad things too. In fact, because of you, memory lane is a bit sweeter, more treasured, more loved than if you didn’t accompany it. You bring the happiness, the smile that has tears spill over it, and you always, always bring perspective.

Life is so good today; Our family trip in June 2019 to Hawaii to celebrate the oldest graduating from high school.

Our relationship, holiday-grief, is a complicated one. You suck life away from me, yet somehow you remind me what life is really about. You suck away the really, really annoying, petty, small things, and allow me to focus on the best memories of my life….and the present ones too. I despise you some days, and others I only want to wallow in your company. I’ll never understand how you can taint pure joy with the sharp bitterness of loss, but I’ll also never understand how you can bring the most distant memory to the very surface of my beating heart. Your complexity of bringing the biggest smile to my face, while tears trickle the corners of that smile happen all at once.

I don’t hate you. Our relationship of two-stepping between love and hate is so fine, so blurry I could never see where one side ends or begins. Some days you have no boundaries though, and you are too overbearing for me to handle. I can only hope you suck out the bad, but not the good. But that’s just not how you work, is it?

Holiday-grief, you suck. But I am used to your uninvited-self in my heart. I love the memories, so I guess I’ll let you stay.

Keep going in grief. It’s so worth it. XOXO-Kristina

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.

What if Time Doesn’t Heal?

“Heal.” We say the word as if it is a final destination, as if someone can achieve the finish line when they have accomplished the term. We say it like one day healing is done, and we move forward, forgetting about what was broken.

Let me set this straight: you CAN heal. You can heal a broken bone, a sprained ankle, a cut or abrasion. But there is one thing that never heals, as is in done, completed, back to its original state. You can never fully heal a broken heart.

My experience with pain will always shape who one of the biggest parts of who I am. And I love that.

I have had many people tell me in my almost six year adventure of grief, with great intention, nonetheless, “Time will heal. It will get better.”

And with the most sincere, warm smile I must proudly say, “No, it most certainly does not.”

I remember the first few months after my husband died, I literally could not catch my breath when I thought that my broken heart might feel better, lighter, less painful. Doesn’t it sound crazy? I WANTED it to hurt as bad as it did in those freshest, rawest days of my husband dying. I have attempted to articulate that crazy desire, and the closest I can come to is this: I was petrified that if it hurt less, I would love him less. I was scared to death that if it hurt less, I would lose memories, lose the sound of his voice, lose the way his love felt. If I hurt less, did that take away from what we had and what we still share?

One of our final moments.

The answer is NO. Does it hurt less? Yes, I mean, maybe. You learn to live with the pain. You become a master of reigning in the tears, when to say their name, how to navigate the moments that will make you hurt more, how to make others feel less uncomfortable when you become emotional. The traumatic sharp, stabbing pain in your chest that makes you unable to breathe–those are few and far between this far out. The nights I spend sleepless–they are less. The nights I cannot stop crying, when the sobs attack my breathing, they are less too. But they are still there. Those moments of sadness, pain, fear they still exist. Pain still exists. Healing is not done.

I have reflected on this “time will heal” thing quite some time, most recently when one of my dearest friends text me that her husband was killed in a car accident. I begged God that it wasn’t true. I have attempted to find the words and actions to help, just like others did when Joe passed from my life. And oddly, the comforting words I had to offer, were this: “It doesn’t get better. Time doesn’t heal. Time doesn’t take away the love, the emotion, the devotion and dedication you have to him. Time doesn’t heal.”

I don’t love him less. I love him more. I reflect daily on things I am thankful for, that I never realized I was thankful for when he was here on Earth. Time didn’t make me love him less; it has allowed me to love him more.

Healing is never done for a broken heart. Unless, of course, you are a Christian, and the day we meet God at the Golden Gates in Heaven, and our hearts are healed completely. On Earth? Healing is never done. It is a continual process that we ebb and flow through. Right when I think that I am ‘there’–that place, that I am whole again, life, this world, has a way of bringing me right back to Day 1. I feel that raw, salt-in-the-wound, painful cries my heart screamed out for months. And oddly, I have to tell you: I am so thankful. I am thankful for the pain that you only know from a broken heart. It allows me to be a better human, it allows me to remember where I was and how far I have come. It allows me to remember our pain is not in vain. Time doesn’t heal. Time allows us to know what is truly important in life.

Wherever you are in your healing, keep healing. For some of us, we have to go back and visit those freshest, rawest days of pain. And we still have to get out to find the healing of today. We have to allow others grief to shape our own. We have to use your own experiences to help others through their new journeys of grief. We have to keep healing; not as in complete or finish, just as in continual, ongoing, soul-searching healing. Wherever you are today, just keep healing. And I pray you keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Kristina

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.

Dear Daddy in Heaven, You Wouldn’t Believe Who I Am Now.

Dear Daddy,

Mommy tells me that if I want something, I just need to pray to Jesus, and He will answer my prayers. We say those prayers before every meal, and every night before I go to sleep. And I told mommy the other day that Jesus doesn’t listen to all of my prayers. When she gasped and asked me why not, I reminded her that I pray for you to come home every day, but Jesus just doesn’t listen to that prayer. Ever.

But Daddy, I miss you. I miss you every day. And all of my friends’ dads are on the baseball field, and at our basketball games. There’s daddies at the park, and at the go-cart track and even at Lowe’s buying the gardening stuff, hauling the tools, and building cool things with their kids. They go hunting and fishing, and teach their kids to mow the yard. But now, mommy does that with me. Mommy does all the Daddy things with me, but I wanted you to know what we do so you know that we are doing okay while you are in Heaven.

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Mommy taught me how to mow the yard. She said I am the hardest working kid she knows.

Daddy, I can ride my four-wheeler all by myself. I go really fast, even when mommy tells me not to. I can’t help it. Mommy always laughs and says I like to go fast like Daddy. I never got to see you race your dirt bike, or cool cars, but mommy tells me about you doing that all the time. So I put on your crooked grin that Mommy says she loved the most about you, and I pretend like I am you when I go around the corners, and when I rev up the engine. And then I yell, “Like this mommy? Is this how Daddy did it?” I know that makes mommy really happy.

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I love going fast, Dad! It is so fun.

Those fourteen months you were here with me when I was a baby, I still feel those love strings of my heart connected to you. Mommy doesn’t know the secrets you whispered into my ear about how I am the luckiest boy in the world to have her as a mom. She doesn’t know all the nights you come to me in my dreams and tell me of the sweet things I should do for her to make her feel loved. But I give her hints. Like the other day when we went on a hike out on the mountain, and there was only one purple flower. I saw it, and I knew I was supposed to pick it for her and give it to her. And when I did, I looked at mommy the way she said you always looked at her from across the room. She said when she would look back at you, your smile lit up the room like the luckiest guy in the world. But now, I am the luckiest guy in the world, because she is my mommy.

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Daddy, you wouldn’t believe how I can build just like you. I love to work with mommy around the house and fix things. Most of the time, I give her the ideas that fixes something she cannot figure out. Then I build Lego’s, and mommy says her brain doesn’t work like that. She said only your brain and mine are the ones that can imagine anything, and then build it and make it come true. I always knew I wanted to be just like you. And I am, Daddy.

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Mommy is teaching me how to bow hunt.

Daddy, can you believe how tall I am? Can you believe the freckles across my nose and cheeks? Can you even believe how dark my hair is now, compared to when I was just a baby and you had to go live in Heaven? Mommy says I look just like you. And she says you are the most handsome man in the world. But now Mommy says I am the most handsome man too, because I always remind her of you. And when I look at our pictures together in my room, it makes me happy that I get to see you. I just want to see you “for real,” Daddy. Why won’t you come home?

Mommy says Heaven is wonderful. She says it is perfect up there, and that nobody is sick or hurt–not even Great Grandma Smith. She says you and Great Grandma Smith and  Uncle Gary have parties with Jesus up there. Do you think I could come to those parties too? Mommy says Jesus hears my prayers that I ask Him to bring you home. But Mommy says, Jesus will let all of us come back together in Heaven one day. She says that you are my Guardian Angel, and that Jesus and you watch over me wherever I go. Even when I go to Hawaii. That’s silly Daddy! Do you have super powers or do you spy on me? How can you see me all the way in Hawaii? Do you see me when I fly in the airplane, too? I wish I could see you so I can ask you all these questions.

Mommy says my heart is just like yours. But Mommy says, that you always told her I liked to talk as much as her. I do, Daddy. I have made friends all over the world. Even these older ladies at the airport. They didn’t speak our language. I still showed them all of my drawings though. And the Uber drivers in Hawaii. And all of the people on all of the cruise ships we go on. I made friends with all the people in the Bahamas, Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, South Carolina, Colorado. It is really fun all the people I know. And I especially like to talk to all of my friends at school. I just know how all of them feel, like when they’re happy and even when they’re sad. I told my friend who said his daddy has to go away from a long time, that I know how bad his heart hurts, because my Daddy had to go to Heaven for a long time too.

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I met the nicest ladies at a Florida airport. We couldn’t speak the same language, but I showed them my drawings and they gave me a hug. I liked them a lot.

Daddy, our Molly girl is my best friend. Mommy says that Molly was your girl, but I tell Mommy she’s mine now. Molly loves to go for walks, and go bye-bye in our big truck. Mommy says you spoiled her and gave her human food. Don’t tell Mommy, but I do too. Just like you did, Daddy.

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The Three Amigos. We miss you, Daddy.

Hey Daddy, I am not a little boy anymore. I am a big boy. I am going into first grade. I can read and write and do math. And I am really good at it too. I play basketball, baseball, and football. But I really want to learn how to play an instrument. I want to play the drums or saxophone just like you did. And I even know how to fix cars. Your friend, Jimmy, taught me how when Mommy had a scratch on our truck. Jimmy told me, “You are just like your Daddy, Porter.” And then he gave me a Toyota emblem that I put on my night stand in my room.

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My Daddy’s Friend, Jimmy, taught me how to fix Mommy’s truck. And then he let me go into his shop and look at all of the tools. It was the most awesome day, ever.

Mommy says you would be proud of me, Daddy. But sometimes I ask Mommy if you even remember me.

And then Mommy reminded me of this; she said, “Your Daddy made you. He is a part of you. He is your best friend, and loves you more than even Mommy, because when you go to Heaven, love gets bigger than it does on Earth. Your Daddy knows every detail of you, because Jesus tells him. And your Daddy is around you every day. His friends tell you stories and smile (and cry) because you are just like him–and they see Daddy in you.” I just wanted you to know I love you Daddy, and I miss you so much. I hope you have a Happy Father’s Day in Heaven. I wish you were here so I could give you a cake.

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Bye, Daddy. Give Jesus a hug from me. I love you.

**This blog was written by a six-year-old boy’s mother from a collection of stories, memories, and difficult conversations that have been had from a young boy who lost his father to colorectal cancer when he was just a fourteen month old baby. This unique perspective is to shine light on children in grief, and the secondary-level of grief for the remaining parent**

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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.

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The List I Lost

When my husband first died, I tried to explain why my grief was so hard, so deep. It was all stereotyped statements though, and everyone just nodded their heads like they understood. Yet, I knew there was no way they could. The more I have spoken in the grief community, the more I realize there is one large commonality we share: we all have a list, that we lost. We didn’t just lose our spouse, our parent, our child, our loved on. We lost an entire list that goes with that person. And maybe, just maybe, if you realize just how long that list is, others can understand why grief is so ugly, so nasty, so incredibly difficult to learn how to exist without the list of all that you used to be, and used to have, when one day you wake up and it is all gone.

I may have lost my husband, but this is the list of what I really lost that October night:

I lost my spouse. And the day he became my spouse, and even before that, I envisioned our lives together when we had kids, when our kids were teenagers, when our kids were adults, and  when we became empty-nesters. I lost my future. I lost all of my future plans, vacations, Christmas card ideas. I lost my retirement plans, I lost my entire future, as I/we had envisioned it to be.

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Oh to be this young and full of life again. A hot, summer night at Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO.

I lost my best friend. I lost the person that supported me, even when I was wrong. I lost the person that I vented, purged, unwound to at the end of the day. I lost the sounding board, advice-giver, comforter, biggest cheerleader. I lost the person that had my back, even when he didn’t agree, even when I was wrong, even when I could have been better. I lost all of that. I lost the one person who thought I was the greatest at my worst, yet pushed me to be the best at all times.

I lost ‘him.’ Just him–to encompass everything he was/does would simply be impossible. I lost my mechanic, the one who took care of the maintenance around the house, the idea-giver, dreamer, inventor. I lost the one who spent money faster than we could make it, because there was another grand-idea. I lost his compassionate, tender heart. I lost the giver, the caretaker, the one who filled my gas tank, washed my car, juggled the household chores, the one who cooked dinner. I lost my life partner at every angle. And of those angles, these are the other things I lost:

I lost my identity. I lost being his wife, being a caretaker, a prescription refiller, a doctor appointment scheduler, a recorder of all the medical records.

I lost getting to be someone’s best friend. I lost getting to create surprises, leaving notes at the coffee pot each morning. I lost getting to be the giver of my own love, compassion, and time.

I lost the person who cooked breakfast every Saturday morning.

I lost my morning coffee-maker, who delivered a fresh cup to my bathroom vanity while I got ready, with a kiss on the forehead.

I lost the person who provided for our family. The one who worked hard, to give us everyone we could possibly want or need.

I lost my Friday night date.

I lost my Saturday morning gardener.

I lost my meal-time go to chef. He knew I hated cooking.

I lost the father to my son. I lost getting to watch him be a Daddy to his son.

I lost the innocence of seeing my son know his Daddy. Now, it is only the memories and videos I intentionally share so he knows his Daddy, but not the way I wished for.

I lost getting to watch him walk his daughter down the aisle, and I lost getting to watch him with his own grandchildren.

I lost the person who sits next to me at school events, the first day of Kindergarten, the last day of their senior year.

I lost the other person in the family pictures in Hawaii, in graduation photos.

I lost the person I wanted to share each life milestone with our kids.

I lost a sense of being. I lost the memories I wanted to make. I lost getting to say, “My husband” and the following words being present or future tense.

I lost who I was, when I didn’t know who I was. I knew who I wanted to be, but eventually I had to give that up, too.

I lost knowing that my life had to look different. I lost security, comfort, feeling loved. And I lost being able to give all of those things too.

I lost the adjective “wife.” Instead, society says I am a widow.

I lost the innocence that went with the word wife, instead of widow.

I lost my existence, my day-to-day operations and routines. I lost it all, and I had to learn how to find it all again.

Don’t you see? I lost so much more than just my husband. All of us that have lost someone loses so much more. Next time you see someone who “should” be over according to your standards, or to society’s standards, please give grace. They have lost their entire existence. They are trying to learn to live in another way. They don’t get to move on. They have to learn to live moving forward, but when everything has to be re-learned, surely you can see just how hard it is to lose everything.

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Our family at a Color Run Fundraiser our community put together for us. This was only two weeks before Joe passed away. It would be our last, and my favorite, family photo of the four of us.

This Christmas and holiday season, the greatest gift you can give anyone you love that is grieving is permission. Give them permission to do whatever they need to do. If that means the miss your get together, tell them you love them, and you understand. If they choose to show up, but want to talk about their loved one. Give them permission to do so, by sitting next to them and listening. Talk about their loved one, say their name. Will they cry? Yes. Just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean they don’t get to show emotion. They will either cry with you there to comfort them, or cry by themselves when they go home. Whatever it is they choose–YOU have to give them permission, not guilt.

Remember our list this Christmas isn’t full of things we want, it is things we lost. Be kind. Show love however that is for the ones grieving in your life.

Please keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Holiday Wishes-Kristina

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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.

Dear Friends, I Forgot You Were Grieving Too

Sometimes our lens that we look out of is so narrow, so confined that we are unable to see everything and everyone outside of it. Grief has certainly narrowed my lens and vision of what I am able to see and not see. Five years out in grief and just in the past year have I started to see just how much grief my friends were/are going through too. I want to say “I’m sorry”: I’m sorry I couldn’t see it, I’m sorry I only had eyes for my own grief, I’m sorry that you were hurting too. Maybe, though, maybe a letter to my friends is what I can do in order for them to see that I can see some of their grief differently.

Dear Friends:

You stood by me, you picked me up out of bed, literally, and cried with me. You drove over an hour to sit on my front porch and hold me like a small child while I cried my eyes out to you and told you I couldn’t do “it”–life without him, and all that entailed. You took me to dinner, checked on me frequently, you showed up to help with house repairs, you text me back when I asked for a simple story of my late husband, just because it made me feel like I was closer to him. You watched my baby, you went to the pumpkin patch with us, cooked us dinner, bought me a bottle of wine. You let me cry and blubber on, and you never said a word, you just cried too.

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Now though, now five years out, my heart breaks a little more because I look back and see how much you were grieving too.  Yet, you held your grief in, so my own grief could soar. I see it now. I see so much of it. And I am equally as thankful as my broken heart.

Those tears that streamed down your face while I talked out how much I missed Joe: I know they weren’t just because I was crying too. You were crying, because you were watching one of your best friends hurting so badly, and there was nothing you could do. I see how much you grieved your friend who used to be happy, upbeat, full of life and laughter. You wanted her back, and you lost a piece of her when her husband died too. I am sorry I didn’t see that.

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Those dinners we met for, as you shared stories of you and Joe in high school and the early days of adulthood, I now know were for you too. I am sorry I couldn’t see how much your heart was broken when your best friend died. I am sorry that I was so consumed in my own grief that I couldn’t see how much of a piece of your heart was missing when your best bud, someone that was in your life far longer than mine, was no longer here for you to come hang out with. I am sorry I never validated that your entire world had changed too.

Friend that came the very next morning to tell me I had to get out of bed, and hold my baby: I am sorry I didn’t see the grief you had sitting on your heart. Those tears weren’t just for me when I begged you to believe me that I couldn’t do this life without him. I know you were grieving for my pain, but also my son’s. I know you were broken that a sweet baby would grow up without his Daddy, that there was nothing you could say or do to fix this. I know your grief was doubled when I couldn’t even talk to get out any words.

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Life-long friends: I am sorry I didn’t see it. I didn’t see how much you truly loved me. We’ve been friends since we were kids, and you came. You came to the funeral, you hugged me tight, but no words could do our life long friendship justice. No words could explain how bad your heart was broken, and how much you not only lost a friend in death, but you just lost a piece of the girl you have been friends with since we were in elementary school playing pick-up basketball on the playground at recess. I see it now: I see how much you love me, how much friendship multiplied by all the years, and the good and the bad of life can only make you love someone more. I see how you lost a friend that I brought into your life, but you lost me too when I wanted to close everyone off and demand that no one could possibly understand.

I am sorry friends. My grief has consumed my vision, my sights to only the pain my heart has experienced. Now, my heart feels more because I know just how deeply we are loved. I know you were grieving too at the loss of your friend, at the grief you couldn’t fix for us, for the part of your life that was lost that October day, five years ago.

What I can say is “Thank You.” Thank you for loving me through the storm. Thank you for loving me even when I was not lovable. Thank you for being a friend that sacrificed their own grief to validate my own. Thank you for having patience, grace, understanding. But most of all, thank you for being our friends. There’s no way I could have made it without each of you.

I genuinely hope you will always keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Kristina

 

Smith is a mom, widow, education administrator, Colon Cancer Advocate, and 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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My Son’s Words Destroyed My Soul: “I Don’t Remember Daddy”

Driving in our truck down the familiar route home, the mirror down so we could have our never-ending chats back-and-forth:

“I don’t remember Daddy.”

Heart stopping, panic paralyzing my body, I swerve, so I could catch a glimpse of his face in the mirror, I pull the wheel back over into the correct lane, “What?”

Shakes his head, makes eye contact with me in the mirror.

“What do you mean? Of course you remember Daddy.”

“No I don’t.”

Quick to not put my own beliefs on him, trying to block the tears welling up in my eyes, I throw the mirror up to avoid the eye contact I was originally soliciting, swallow the lump in my throat, and ask again: “What do you mean you don’t remember Daddy, honey? We talk about him all the time.”

“I know, but I don’t remember him. And I ask you all the time when we get to see him again, it’s been a REALLY long time, Mommy.”

In that very moment, sheer panic took over my soul. My mind was racing a million thoughts:

Did we not talk about him enough? Have I not showed him enough home videos? There’s never a day we don’t talk about something Daddy did, his name is spoken every single day. This cannot be real.

I dropped the conversation, because he didn’t push it. But the lingering panic still took over my body.

What did I do wrong? We have talked about him non-stop, every day, for the past four and a half years. I am intentional, I make sure he knows every single memory, no matter how small, about his Dad. Where could I have been better?

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We celebrate Daddy’s birthday every year: This was Spring 2018 when we flew in a helicopter so that we were “closer” to Daddy in Heaven. 

Three days later, this morning at 5:30 a.m. the answer hit me–I didn’t do it wrong. Time did this. He was only fourteen months old when his Daddy passed. Despite there being a connection between the two of them, things that have happened, that I KNOW was Joe coming to see a sweet innocent baby to tell him things, that otherwise he could have never known–time did this, time has taken over. I truly believe babies have an innocence that this world eventually takes from them. They have not been trained to only believe what they can see, I believe they are the closest form to Heaven, as we can get on this Earth. But he is older, and his sweet, little brain is maturing and reason is taking over. And he doesn’t understand how we can’t just call Daddy, or why Daddy can’t come home today, or… ever.

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One of their last pictures together. They always had to be touching, and this picture is the epitome of “Guide me, Daddy.”

He has been alive without his Daddy far longer, than when his Daddy was alive on Earth with him. I know in my heart, he remembers what he remembers because I refuse to let his Daddy’s name be mute. I know that as time does pass, that your brain lets go of memories. I know this, and yet the tears falling down my face for the past three days, seemingly continue to destroy my soul.

I would have given everything in this world to have his Daddy watching him grow into the amazing kid he is today. I would give anything to give him the answer my son wants, that we get to see Daddy today, when he walks through the doors and comes home. But instead, I manage to choke out, “Soon,” even though it won’t be soon enough for him–or me.

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Oh, the day it will be, when we are all together again. 

Does reality of truth hurts? Yeah. It hurts like a level of pain I have never before felt in my life. I, somewhere, deep down, knew this day would come. I knew that maturity of the brain would bring on a whole different level of questions, grief, and understanding. Holy cow, though, I never knew the innocence of those words from that sweet boy, could cut me so deep.

So today, I will ask for an extra sign, or two, from the Heavens, to know I am doing grief right with this boy, and a reminder that my husband is still with us every single moment of every day.

I don’t have the answers–I am just trying to figure this out as we go.

Keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Kristina

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Smith is a mom, widow, education administrator, colon cancer advocate, blogger, and a best-selling author of her book, “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir. You can purchase your copy HERE.

My Father’s Day Prayer for Our Son, While His Dad is in Heaven

The amount of anger and bitterness I had to fight through after losing my husband is quite embarrassing, really. No matter what anyone attempted to say or offer in their condolences or half-attempt to rationalize why my wonderful husband passed when our son was only fourteen months old, ignited my anger even more. If people offered love and sympathy, I was mad. If others said they are more grateful for their husbands, after watching Joe pass and seeing my struggle, that fueled my anger too. No one could win with me, and I never made it easy for others to be my support.

I was just mad. And you know what? There are still days, four and a half years out, that I have to check myself, reign it in, and stop trying to justify why God chose to take my husband and the best Daddy I have ever seen, from this world. I work in public education, I see the parents who refuse to show up, who never answer phone calls and emails, who’s children are raising themselves. And I try to rationalize why God chose my hands-on, always-at-school-volunteering-for-his-daughter, still-trying-to-share-parenting-responsibilities-with-me-for-our-newborn-while-on-chemotherapy- Dad. And you know what? There is no answer. There is no answer, no why, that is going to make sense, or come close to why Joe was cut short with his daughter and his son on this Earth. And THAT is a hard reality to swallow.

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Joe volunteered once a month as a Watch  Dog, in our local elementary school for his daughter, up until he got sick. It was their very, favorite day of the month.

So, albeit trying to control my anger and bitterness, I remember changing my prayer and talk with God. I stopped asking Him “Why?”; I gave up dwelling on fathers I know who choose not to be apart of their children’s lives, and I asked God something different. I asked him this:

“God, if we can’t have Joe back, if our son does not get to grow up with him, please send good, solid men role models to our son’s life. Allow the people that will be needed to mold our son into the man we prayed he would become, to enter his life path whenever they are supposed to, to teach him the things he will need to be successful in this world.” 

I forgot I asked God this request, for quite some time. Until this Father’s Day has been approaching, the past few weeks. Take note, all holidays kill me; EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. THEM. I’d love to tell you one more than the other, but every single one of them is a tidal wave that drowns me in longing for the life I always dreamed of. Father’s Day approaching, I always try to think of what I am going to do with our son to celebrate the Daddy he loves so much. We never fail to celebrate Daddy on all of his special days. And THAT is when it hit me.

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Celebrating Daddy, by going up in a helicopter ride. Our guy said, “We are really close to Daddy now, hu, mommy?” Flying in the sky is pretty darn close to Heaven after all. 

God did deliver. He has delivered. And He WILL continue to deliver. There are men that have been placed in our son’s life who our son ADORES! Whether it my friend’s husband that takes him to the farm for the day, teaches him how to call cows, and jumps in the lake with their underpants on. It may be one of the great men I work with, that my son stops dead in his tracks, yells his name, and runs into his arms every time he sees him; and then demands to hang out with him, his wife, and daughter, rather than me. It’s the other friend’s husband that takes him under his wing, hikes trails with him and his own son, and loves him among his own kids. Or even the employee at work who takes our son on movie/dinner nights–that gives me a chance to breathe as a momma, but also gives my son a male influence he needs. I can’t tell you how many times God has delivered. The day after Joe passed away, basketball season began. I had a new assistant coach, that I knew nothing about. That man is one of my son’s best friends. He picked him up at those early-morning practices, spoiled him with M&M’s at 7 a.m., and even just recently had our little man stand up with him on his wedding day.

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These two were inseparable. Nope–are inseparable. There is never a day we don’t talk about his Daddy. We are over four and a half years out after colon cancer took Joe from us. And their love and bond are something I have never seen before, in my life.

The list is endless. The prayer has been answered, and I know, it will continue to be. Would I love to have my husband, the father of my son to be here today to celebrate him for Father’s Day, birthdays, well, heck, every day? More than I could ever begin to tell anyone. But if I can’t have that, then Joe’s son has the very next best thing. He has incredible men, who they may not even know, are an answered prayer to a momma who hurts so bad she can’t give her son the one thing he wants the most–his Dad. Our son has strong, male role models in his life that give him love, life lessons, and above all time. And in the end, isn’t that all we want more of? Time? It always is.

Happy Father’s Day to all those men out there giving a little extra of themselves to a little boy who’s Daddy is in Heaven this Father’s Day. This struggling momma isn’t angry, but thankful tonight!

One Proud Momma,

Kristina Smith

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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.

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