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.

Pumpkinpatch

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.

meholdingJ

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.

dec-2016-21-1-of-1-copy

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.

IMG_2979

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?

helicopter1

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.

daddy-and-p-hands

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.

joe-kristina-porter-and-lill-1

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

KSmith

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.

Lilly Smithwatchdog

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.

helicopter1

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.

DaddyandP

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

28685701_1826052654361762_5527867990375684559_n(1)

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.

bubby and sis

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.

Lilly Smithwatchdog

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.

Mothersdaycard

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.

IMG_2979

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.

11

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?

joeandipresurgery

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.

joe-chemo

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

28685701_1826052654361762_5527867990375684559_n(1)

 

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.

20170313_084851

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.

Cardfound

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.

GovernorParsonsProcolation

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.

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

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.

helicopter1

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.

weddinganniv

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.

theoneandonly

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.

meholdingJ

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

MenadPChristmas

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.

love-of-my-life

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.

NikkiandI

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.

Pumpkinpatch

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.

meandhubs

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.

DaddyandP

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