Grief: It Doesn’t Get Better, It Changes

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

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

The simple answer: “NO!”

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

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

It doesn’t get better, it changes.

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

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My boy. 

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

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

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Vacationing in Grand Cayman, July 2018.

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

Kristina

To the Wife that Just Said Goodbye: Just Hang On

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

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

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

Dear Sweet New Widow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Fight CRC

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

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

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

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

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

Kristina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XOXO,

A  Widow, Without Giving God Permission

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Dear Me on Your First Days as a Widow

Dear Me on Your First Days as a New Widow,

The fear you feel inside of being alone, not knowing how to raise your son without his Dad, the void of the amount of time that is not focused on prescription refills, doctor’s appointments, and watching your husband in pain anymore, will soon ease. The anxiety you have when you think that time will actually heal the pain, but it will also mean you love him less–that anxiety is wrong. You will never love him less. You just love him different; and that different is okay, but I cannot explain it to you. When everyone says you are so strong–they are right. You will not intend for any of this to be a stage to show your strength, but you will. There will be purpose behind your pain, there will be a way to touch others, love others, and to truly empathize for those that are hurting in grief. Take a deep breath, sweet widow, it is all going to work out how it should.

The anxiety you feel when you think of loving him less, you are going to battle this for years. You never do though. Somewhere along the way, you love him differently. It evolves so subtly, you don’t even realize it has changed. Those moments you get so upset and emotional thinking about loving him differently, less in any way compared to the deepest love and sacrifice you’ve ever experienced just days before in his last moments, allow them to. Just know they do not change your love for him. The love is still sweet, unconditional, sacrificial love. Some how, after three and a half years, it is all of those things, and calming. It is so bittersweet you still shed a tear because you miss that, in some ways though, you are used to your new normal.

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Your new normal, is not one that you think you will have. There is never in a million years things you can think of that will happen. Opportunities to speak out about Colon Cancer Advocacy, grief, professional growth, and oh-that sweet boy. He will give you so many opportunities, you cannot even imagine. Your new normal, still consists of him–your husband. After all, your marriage, your friendship, your undeniable love for each other, shapes you into who you are even years later. You will feel him every step you take, every moment you look into your son’s eyes and see his Daddy. The pictures that align the walls and counters in your home are vivid reminders of the love you share. Holding onto all of his stuff though, eventually fades. It is one of the hardest things you will do, emptying closets, drawers, his shop full of tools and hobbies. But that isn’t him anymore, and you will, just like everything, so naturally evolve into letting them go. If you cannot let stuff go, then it is not time. Everyone’s good advice, and “their” timetable–is not your’s. Do not use it to determine what your next step needs to be. Let emotions evolve when you are ready, that is how you know when you are ready.

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Time is tricky. All of those friends and family that keep telling you, “Time will heal,” well they are correct. Time doesn’t heal the whole heart, or all of the pain, nightmares, reliving of those worst moments. Time also does not erase all of the great moments either. Time is just that; there is natural evolution in time, and that is what helps the heart to continue to do the day-to-day’s you need to get done. In the beginning you keep shouting that you do not want time to heal, that to heal, would mean there is less memories and love. You are wrong, though. Time allows you to remember more of the good, than the bad, and with that, you heart has more joy and thankfulness. Time will be your friend, and on days, your enemy. Allow time to be what you need it to be.

Just like evolving in so many ways, strength will build over these days and years. There is no intent here, and you’ll trade strength for your husband to come home. The harsh reality though, builds strength, into an area you could never possibly think to get to. Strength is not measured in tears, middle-of-the-night closet camp outs crying in a curled up ball, nor is it measured by the days you are angry and hateful because everyone else’s lives seem to be “going on” even though your’s is not. Strength is just getting through those days, all of them; trying to ensure your sweet little boy still has memories of his Daddy, even though it kills you to share those memories you miss the most. Strength is cleaning the house, managing a toddler, going to work, juggling it all yourself. That is strength, despite you knowing it, you are evolving to the strongest person you could never have imagined.

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Oh sweet, fresh widow. These days are hard. Do they get easier? Some. Three and a half years out, and you still are going to have days you do not get out of bed, days you are mad at this world and the circumstances that are. Every day you will see your son’s Daddy in his eyes looking back at you, but keep on going. Allowing a good man’s legacy to live through you and your child, has deeper meaning and purpose to life. There are going to be so many good days; and so many bad. Love and something you cannot explain will get you through.

Just remember: “It hurts this bad, because you loved each other that much.” And never, will you have chosen to love less, in order for the pain to be less.

XOXO,

Your Future Self

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Being Content in My Grief

Three years and three months out seems like an eternity since I lost my husband. This eternity is heightened when I think of all of the things I miss: having my soul mate to talk to, vent to, being held and comforted when I have had a hard day; or even the help, mental and physical breaks from being a parent and all the responsibilities this entails.

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When I first lost Joe, I remember thinking, “I will not get through all the stages of grief.” Though, I did, indeed, go through every single one of them, like a jig-saw puzzle that often moved forward, backward, and sideways faster than I could mentally keep up before knowing I had changed directions again. No one, and no literature, told me there would be a stage of contentment; but I am here to tell you, that phase is where I am now.

I struggled to admit this phase of grief, because in a way, I feel guilty stating that I have “accepted” my reality. I don’t know that I have necessarily “accepted” it, but I have indeed become content in it. I do not like it, I am not happy that my reality is what it is, but since my reality of my life is that I am a young widow, that my husband passed away from a grueling and vigilant fight to last as many days as possible on this Earth, and that my son will never get another Earthly day with his Daddy, I am content, to say, “We are living. And we are making the very best of the life we have been given.”

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I can be content because of many factors. First and foremost, my son. He is truly what makes me continue to seek goodness, to be the best in all areas of my life, and to show me pure, genuine joy in life. His smile makes my heart burst, and his pure sense of exploration, inquisitiveness, and constant evolution into his own person drives me to continue to live. Providing him the childhood of a lifetime, is my ultimate desire as his parent. Watching him grow into a young man, is my only wish I could ever seek in life.

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I am content because I did go through all phases of grief. I often look back at private journaling, as well as public blogging I have done, and cringe on both. But I do not regret any of them. Those pieces are only reflective of the stage of grief I was in. Without going through everyone, sometimes multiple times, means I couldn’t be where I am today. I did grief my own way, not the way others suggested, or how those with the greatest of intentions suggested. I knew what I needed, what I felt, and the way I needed to feel. And I felt my feelings through the nasty process. I am stronger because of it.

I am content because although I despise my circumstances of feeling helpless, beyond frightened and scared, angry, robbed of me and my family’s life, and eventually helpless, it has made me into I am today. I am stronger; even though I didn’t want to be. I love harder, and I was already a lover. I feel harder, more, and cry more often; when my heart was already so very tender. I cannot help it. The loss of your spouse’s health, body, mind challenge you and your beliefs in many ways, but it makes you love, like you have never loved before. I would never trade any of that for less love.

I am content, because of my faith. Faith in God, yes, but faith– believing what you cannot see. I never once believed that life or loved ended when someone took their last breath; but that belief, only amplified October 26, 2014. I believe in love more, I believe in signs from those we cannot see, I believe in God, like I have never in my life. I was once asked,

“Do you still believe in God? Even after your husband getting sick and later dying?” My answer, “I have never believed in God more, than my very darkest days.”

You see, that is when He has been the most obvious, the most present. The blessings beyond our sickness, our situation, are so immense, mere words couldn’t convince you of the things He made happen. But He did. And–I continue to be amazed by His goodness.

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I am content, because unfortunately, yet fortunately, there are other widows and other young people fighting cancer in what should be the best days of their lives–raising families, accomplishing goals, pursuing dreams. I hate it for them, I wish beyond any wish, they didn’t have to fight the battle they are armored up against. But because they are, heals me, and allows me to heal others. The fellowship of those that truly understand, you don’t have to tell them, they just get it. It has healed me beyond belief. The opportunities, that by calculation, had already been decided and chosen, yet arose for me in God’s timing, have healed me. Modeling for a national non-for-profit, speaking to Congress, writing our story into a book, seeking out those with similar situations and just “being” there. I am content because of this.

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I am often asked about my next stages of life–dating, finding love again, why I continue to be involved in a world that can be so heavy–and so close to triggering me back into my journey of the heavy stages of grief. I respond with, “I would never wish my life circumstances on anyone, but I would wish my perspective on the world.” There IS joy and beauty and blessings in the very darkest of our days. I am content with just days. More days to give more, be more, and do more good for this world.

I am content.

See the Beauty in the Ashes,

Kristina

When “Thank You” Wasn’t Enough: A Caregiver’s Perspective

Many moments in my husband’s sixteen month battle with colon cancer, I wondered how much more we could take. One more set back, one more battle with flu, dehydration, one more chemo that depleted every ounce of energy or fluid left in his body; one more blow that our blood counts weren’t going down, but in fact, were doing the complete opposite, with a steady climb upward. It broke my heart, I tried to fill the prescriptions faster, have paperwork ready beforehand, and not to mention, the laundry done, floors swept and mopped, dusted shelves, and an infant that barely made a noise, because he was just content at all times. The appointments were made, the lawn was mowed during nap times of both of my boys–my husband and our son– so as not to miss a beat of them needing me while they were awake.

Some days though, I was just depleted. One hundred and fifty percent, spent. Exhausted. And I wanted to give up. I wanted to cry, throw a fit, go for a walk, maybe even get a pedicure, to just relax from the most daunting task of all. Taking care of my sick husband, and our sweet, fresh baby that came in the midst of fighting cancer, took a toll. That wasn’t an option though. It never was, it never is, and it never will be. I often cried on that mower, or in the shower. I often stifled tears, and talked myself down while I was doing laundry, or bringing wood in for the fire place. I even sent mass texts out: begging for prayers of patience, strength, endurance, and understanding.

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Eight months pregnant before our second surgery in July 2013.

And even though my sweet husband said, “Thank you” more times than I could ever remember–for every single thing I did for him, some days, those two words didn’t seem to be enough. You know what was enough, though? The way he looked at me from across the room as I changed another dirty diaper, grabbed another drink out of the fridge for him, and wiped up spit up–that look was enough. The way he smiled, or held me longer in a hug, made me know he was grateful beyond any words he could say. The way he squeezed my hand in the middle of the night, or I quietly heard him whispering a prayer to God, thanking Him for his wife: THAT was enough. His sweet random texts I received in the middle of my teaching days, to say, “I could never tell you thank you for all you do for our family. I promise I will fight to be the husband you deserve.” THAT was enough.

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Post surgery after a total colectomy June 23, 2013.

 

When he got up every single morning, on chemotherapy or not, and cooked me eggs, bacon, and toast, while bringing a cup of hot coffee to my vanity while I got ready for work–THAT was enough. When he woke up in the middle of the night, in between feedings of our son, and needed more pain medication, requiring me to get up one more time; thank you didn’t seem enough. But when I crawled back into bed, and he kissed my forehead and told me he couldn’t make it without me: THAT was enough. When he knew every other week, he walked into a clinic to be hooked up to chemo that would make him sick until the next time he had to walk in, THAT was enough. He never once complained; he never once asked if we could stop trying to fight; THAT was enough. When the pain was unbearable, and his eyes begged me to make it better, while he gasped for more air, and I felt helpless and hopeless, “me” was out the window. He was enough; his fight, strength, determination to be a Dad and Husband the rest of his days, THAT was enough. The hospital camp-outs in the floor, the second-opinions, the unmatched days and nights that we got to be a family at home in the floor, and avoid the rat race of life: THAT was enough.

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Joe at our chemotherapy appointment, while our two-month old son naps on a pallet next to him.

There are many titles I have had the honor of holding. Other than Joe’s wife and mother to his son, caregiver is my favorite. It was, and is, the most difficult phase of life I have been through. It is also the most honorable and beautiful thing I have ever been through. There is no way I could have allowed someone else to do what he needed those sixteen months. I only wanted him to know that every single act I did for him, whether it was keeping track of when and what to administer of his medication, or carry him to our bed because he didn’t have the strength to stand up, or to feed him like a small child when he was too weak to pick up a spoon or wipe his mouth; yeah, every bit of that, was my way of saying “Thank you” for every day he fought for us to remain a family.

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True Love.

When thank you doesn’t seem enough in battles of your hardest days, what else do you see that is enough? Maybe even the look from across the room is all you need, to realize that “Thank You” isn’t enough; they don’t, and could never, have the words to say just how grateful they are for all you do for them.

It’s been three years without him; he still sends me signs every single day of how grateful he is for me. What he may never know, though, is just how grateful I am for him and all he gave me and made me.

XOXO,

A Thankful Caregiver

When Cards Stop Coming, Being a Family of One Less Does Not

When my husband passed away just over three years ago, the inopportune timing of right before the holidays about took me under. To say I dreaded the holidays, would be a major understatement. The panic, fear and stress of how and what I was supposed to do, to get through them was beyond me. Fate took over, as it typically does, and invitations rolled in for my son and I to join friends, their families, and even strangers to join them for holiday festivities. The sympathy cards were so abundant, they were countless, that lasted well beyond the holiday season. The rawness that my husband, my life partner, and our children’s daddy wouldn’t be here was fresh. Sympathy abounded each person’s tone, intent, and well wishes to get us through that first holiday season.

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Four days before Joe passed; less than a month before Thanksgiving.

That next holiday season though, one year later–we didn’t get those invites, and the shock and numbness of just losing him had dulled–just a bit. Since the rawness wasn’t as fresh in everyone else’s mind, I realized it would be left to me, to lessen the blow of the holiday season; but how? It truly felt like the first holiday season, trying to figure out what I  was supposed to do–everyone took care of the last one, when I was only walking through the motions.

Three years out, I know what to do. Joe’s family is our home base, and we schedule, just like everyone else, where to be, when to be there, and who we will spend our holidays with. But you know what has not changed? What hasn’t changed, is that Joe isn’t here. He is not here to hang the Christmas lights outside, while I decorate inside. He is not here to wrap the Christmas presents, because I absolutely hate that one job of the holiday season. He is not here to pluck his stocking off the mantle, but it is still hanging there, embroidered with “Daddy” waiting for his large, calloused hands to grab it. He’s not here. Period. But his love is, and his memories are, and so is the longing of missing him–from me, his children, his parents, and his friends and family.

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Christmas 2016; two years out.

Talk about them. Any grief article, blog, book, or conversation I have–we want that. Talk about them. We may cry; we miss them. But it hurts us worse when you don’t. We still send his childhood friends Christmas cards, we want one from them too. We want to see you thriving, living, loving. Still invite our family over for get-together’s. Yes, we are one less, physically; but he is still with us, he makes us the family we are, and were. Still celebrate in love.

We are just a family of one less- we are reminded of that every day. It still hurts, it is still raw that we do holidays, and every day, without him. The amount of time since he was last here, will never change that. We just want Thanksgiving memories and traditions that still talk about the gratefulness of all Joe was, and is, to everyone he touched, to be brought up. We will still continue our Christmas traditions of our angel tree since Daddy passed, presents under the tree from Daddy under the tree , and writing our Christmas letter to Daddy each Christmas Eve to put in his stocking. That’s how it hurts less; we still acknowledge him every day, in everything we do. We hope you will too.

 

Holiday Blessings,

A Momma in a Family of One Less

What I’d Say to You Today if There Was One More …

Letters and conversations to my husband that passed away three years ago tomorrow, are not new things. In fact, they are probably the two things that have kept me as sane as I am today. Feeling like I am telling him things, filling him in on the chaos of life, and asking for advice, signs or direction into a next step of life proves helpful to my heart and clarify of mind. The odd thing to others is, I do hear him. I hear him in the way the wind blows at the exact right moment, in the exact right direction, in the exact right path.  I can hear his catch phrases of, “It’s just time and money,” when I become overwhelmed with one more project that needs to be done at the house. I constantly see those crystal blue eyes shining, with his thin lips pursed together, as he tries to shyly discrete how much his heart his shining for me, after each success or milestone that is accomplished. I can feel his pride beaming in a room, in which I have tackled one more thing. But truly, if we had one more hike, full of just he-and-I conversation, down a sunny and breezy Arkansas trail, I think it might go something like this:

“Did you see just how big he is getting? How could he look more like you? I mean seriously, that big head, and THOSE eyes. Babe, how he can he look more like you each and every day? He acts just like you, too. He is so tender hearted and so sweet natured. I marvel at how much he knows about you, through you, and that I know you too have a bond so deep–I cannot even see it”

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Those blue eyes.

“Are you disappointed? You know, when I get upset, and lose my patience; when I don’t have another ounce to give, and I get another night of take-out? Do you get mad when I get mad at God for Him taking you too soon? I try not to get mad, but I do every day, because I still miss you so much.”

“Can you believe we got to go to Congress and share our story? And how about that modeling gig? You think everyone now will know I really am the luckiest girl in the world–because you picked me to be your wife?”

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Standing on the Capital’s Steps, March 2017

 

“How did you know? You know, that day that out-of-no-where you told me I would write a book one day, while I was nursing our infant son, and you were lying in bed sick from the chemo? How did you even know that? I did it. Just to heal, I put the words down on paper, and it reminded me all over again, that God gave me the greatest honor of my life to be your wife to take care of you.”

“These last three years, I needed you. I knew you said you wouldn’t miss a day, but I really needed us. Fighting this world head-on together,  to cry with you, to be held, loved. I could feel you on those days and nights, though. How did you do that?”

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A sad Porter, wanting his Daddy.

“What’s it like up there? What all do you really see? Is it really so pure like God tells us and promises us? There really is no hate, pain, fear, regrets, remorse, or tears? I try to imagine, I just simply cannot.”

“Do you know me today? You know, three years out. I feel like it has been forever since I have kissed you, hugged you, talked to you. I’ve changed, I’m better and I’m worse. I fight the demons of losing you and the guilt, grief, depression, sadness that goes with it every day. But me–you always said you were proud of me, are you still? I’ve tried every way I possibly know to carry your name on; selfishly –for me, because it helps me when I talk about you more. And for our son and daughter, because I want them to always remember the best daddy in the world. I want them to know that even with all the bad, the world doesn’t owe them a thing, we still owe the world all the greatness we have to give.”

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Keeping my promise to him-Graduating with Masters in Education Administration, May 2015

“How do I know? How do I know when all the next steps are right, are perfect timing,or imperfect. How do I know what you would say and want–remember we never talked about that, because we couldn’t. It hurt too bad, and it still does. I just wish I knew for certain, and heard you tell me what your wishes were, when you were not here to tell me anymore.”

“She’s beautiful–your girl. She’s truly breathtaking. She looks just like you–still. I know your heart would shine for her, just as it always has. I dream of you walking her down the aisle one day; kissing her good-bye for prom this spring. And I die all over inside, when I know that is not the reality.”

“How does he know? How does he know things that there is no way I told him? That I know, in some way, you two can communicate with each other, and do, so that he still knows all of your favorite things, how to do certain things, that there is no Earthly explanation for? Is that you carrying out the last begging request I made, to always send a sign, through him, when I needed to know you were close? It marvels me Joe, you really always have been beyond extraordinary–but this tops the cake!”

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Joe’s Babies.

“I’m sorry; for all of it. For crying too many tears, for our son seeing each one fall, for crawling into a ball in the middle of our bed and not being a functioning member of society too many days. I’m sorry I still question God’s timing and plan in all of this. I’m sorry that too many days the grief consumes me, and I can’t make it go away. Thank you for loving me this much, that it would hurt this bad, though.”

At the end of this conversation, I would realize he didn’t say anything, and I said it all. Because he would be content listening as I rambled from one thing to the next, never taking a breath to wait for the next answer. And that look–the one that confirmed everything I knew he felt about me, would be shining in my direction, beaming with pride. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know he would say,

“You’re doing it all perfect. You are the greatest mother I could have ever chosen for our son. You are perfect–at everything you do, how many times do I have to tell you that? Always and forever, baby, I love you, forever and always.”

With an extra long tight squeeze and a kiss on my forehead, his words never had to be spoken, it was the feeling he gave me that confirmed everything would turn out just fine.

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Our last photograph together. Unconditional Love.

I sure do need that tonight, and for the last three long years that I haven’t had a hug or a kiss from him since. What I would give.

Three years–far too long to live without your soulmate, your best friend, your husband, the father of your son. Far too long for your son to live without their daddy to hold their hand, and teach them new things. It is just far too long.

XOXO, An Aching Widow’s Heart

 

 

 

My Secrets of Grief I Didn’t Tell Anyone

Grief is the nastiest thing I have experienced in my life. I have had heartache, in so many different forms from a high school break up to the loss of my best friend and grandpa. I struggled growing up, wanting the acceptance of my dad, and even experienced the heartache of betrayal, as so many of us have. Grief though? Grief takes the cake–the combination of losing my best friend, my husband, the father of my son, the memories and chances I didn’t get to watch him with our son, and the lost years I envisioned as I gave him my vows.

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My sweet grandpa and I, five months before he passed. He really was my best friend.

Grief is tricky though–the smile on my face, the joy that I experience, the amazing blessings and opportunities that God continues to shower down on me, almost mask the side-effects of grief to those on the outside. The outside, is never the true model of the inside and what my heart constantly battles on a daily basis. In all honesty, we live in a society that doesn’t discuss grief, we hide it, and we do not talk about it. The reality is though, we all live in grief: in some form or fashion, and the more we talk about it, the less we allow grief to isolate us.

These are my secrets of grief; some I am not proud of, but all of them helped me get where I am today, almost three years after I kissed my husband good-bye. Grief secrets shared:

  • When you tell me that I am strong, I cringe inside, unworthy of the compliment you just gave. I keep it a secret how many times I crawl into a ball in our bedroom closet floor to cry my eyes out in the middle of the night. Yes, even still, almost three years later. I hate doing life without him, and I hate even more not seeing him with our son as he continues to grow.
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Porter and his Daddy on his 1st Birthday-August 21, 2014.

  • I don’t sleep–yes, even still. Most nights my mind is racing so fast, I can’t stay focused on one thing long enough to finish the task. I know he isn’t here, but I want to prove I can do it all and continue to make him proud. Besides, the nightmares that ravage my soul in the middle of the night, are not worth me taking a chance of experiencing one more night.
  • Those nightmares? They are all the same–someone is always trying to take something of Joe’s. And in those terrors, I beg them to not take another piece of him away from me. I cling to the pictures, the home videos, the “stuff” that reminds me of him. After all, that is all I have of him left, and I don’t want any of it to leave.
  • As much as I sometimes want someone to go do things with,  I am not ready to date, enter a relationship, or give my heart away. I’m still IN LOVE with my husband, and I cannot give that up. My grief belongs to me–no one else, I can’t give you an explanation why,  a timeline of when this might change; I just hurt, miss being his wife, and just miss him.
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Young and Full of Innocence–the early days, One of my favorite pictures at Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO.

  • Many days I do feel like I fail him as the mother of his son. All too often, we are eating a quick-made meal, but more times than not, we are eating out. Our lives stay busy, I don’t play in the floor enough, we aren’t even home enough to do that. I know I am doing the best I can, but the constant self-doubt and guilt eat me alive most days. I may not show it, but I beg God every day to forgive me for losing my patience, being too tired to read bedtime stories, or wanting to give up. “Mom-guilt-grief” is my biggest demon I battle every second of every day. Hopefully, God gives Porter all the right ways to shine, and I don’t screw up too badly.
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His happiness, innocence, blue eyes, smile, and tender heart are his Dad’s. I blessed every day of the constant reminder of his Daddy.

  • Grief drives me to work. When I feel like I have no control over anything going on in my life (every day), I work. I work on my writing, I work at work, I bring work home, I take on one more thing that requires me to throw myself into it, 100%. I get my self-worth from working, and often when I work more, it’s because I am hurting more.
  • I am happy for you–all of you: my friends, from childhood friends to all of my new friends I have acquired through the colon cancer world. When I see your family photos, your family vacations, new additions the family, building your lives to be better, my heart is about to explode watching you shine, watching you be good moms and dads, reaching your potential and dreams. Deep down though, it hurts, it stings. That is the life stage I should be in, too. Christmas card photos, that has four of us, not two of us. Family vacations with Daddy carrying the kids on their shoulders, that should be Joe and Porter. Those date nights? I’d give anything for one more. My joy for you is abundant, countless; it’s just that, I wish I had that too, today.
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Christmas 2016

Grief is a mental battle war zone every day. I wonder what the future holds, what it doesn’t, what my next step is, and is it right or wrong? Will my next choice help Porter, or hinder him? Am I screwing him up along the way? I pray to God every day the answer is no. I wonder if I could have done something more, anything to help find an answer and Joe would still be here with us….I know the answer to this though: NO. I know this, I did everything possible to save him. I will continue to fight for a cure.

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On the steps of the Nation’s Capital–Washington, D.C. March 2016

I hope that as I share my secrets in grief, we all will. There is someone we can connect with, who is walking a similar road, who can understand our grief. Grief journeys will never be exactly the same, but that is no reason to keep it a secret.

xoxo-A Grieving Mom and Wife

Why I’ll Never Move On in Grief

As the three year anniversary approaches of losing my husband to Colon Cancer, I get asked frequently, “When are you going to move on?” It is a gentle question, often presented simultaneously with hesitation and lack of eye contact, in fear of how I might react. A fair question, nonetheless. Humans were not created to do life alone, we naturally seek companionship, crave the feeling of being loved and cared for. And three years, well, that is a lifetime when days seem to trudge by, and are unfulfilling without someone to do life with you.

I never really know how to answer the question though; other than, “Never.” Yeah, I am never, ever going to “move on.” I can’t. This is my life, it is a story that will forever linger until the day I pass from this Earth. It is a story I keep alive for a child who has, and will, grow up without his dad here to guide him and share memories with. I won’t stop talking about Joe, because when I do–that is when he really dies. To hear his name, blesses my heart and fills it with so much joy, it is indescribable. To honor his life, his memory, his heart, is yet another way to give back to this world that needs more good. I keep Joe alive because I don’t want another young widow in this world; I don’t want any other child to go through their life wondering what their Dad is like, or cry themselves to sleep because they miss him so much. I want a cure to Colon Cancer, and mostly, I pray to God that it happens before the possibility of our son begins to have symptoms of Lynch Syndrome, the hereditary form of colon cancer.

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I often tell people, if you didn’t know our story, and spoke to our son, you would never know his Daddy has been gone three years. We talk about him daily, random conversation, of “Oh, that’s what my Daddy does/eats/likes.” He is proud of his Daddy, and knows him better than science should ever begin to explain a toddler’s memory. I am darn proud of that, and blessed because of it.

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The double-edged sword though, is it does hurt like hell. I am sure most friends ask me the question of moving on, because they do still see me cry, grieve, and miss him.  They are concerned that because I talk about him so much, it allows the wound to still be so fresh. They are correct–it does. The alternative though? The alternative is a child that forgets about his Dad, and never talks about him. The alternative is a child that doesn’t know unconditional love, beyond the Earth, but eternally. The alternative is me not talking about Heaven, salvation, grace, and forgiveness in the purest sense. And it is a silencer in a world that needs a cure for colon cancer. And when I think about what hurts worse, talking or not talking about him, never “moving on” past our pain-filled story, I realize I can live with the deep cut to my soul and keep talking about a little boy’s Daddy, rather than to forget.

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Moving on never really happens for any of us, anyways. We wish we could, but everything that happens in our life molds us, forms us, allows us to carry on from lessons learned. The love, and the ruthless pain from losing my best friend and husband, will carry with me until the day we get to meet each other again. I may take different steps, I may take a chance at falling in love again, I may live a life full of happiness with a sweet blue-eyed boy who is the exact epitome of his Dad, but I will never move on. Unconditional eternal love ensures that it is stronger than anything else in this world. I am just blessed enough to have it.

XOXO, A Sweet Boy’s Momma

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