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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My Fears for the Boy Who’s Daddy Went to Heaven to Soon

Growing up, I heard the chatter that was redundant fall out of every parent’s mouth:

They grow up too soon.”

“It seems like yesterday they were in diapers.”

“Next thing you know they will be in college.”

Words that all parents share, feelings and sentiments we all bask in and wonder about how time passes so quickly. And we all share in the worries and what-if’s of tomorrow.

 

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I know I am not alone in the second-thoughts, motives, and self-doubts in my parenting. It’s just that the mom-guilt is so heavily burdened by the grief-guilt, some days I feel like I cannot take the pressure. The struggle, the tightness of my heart, trying to control the tears from falling. You see, not only do I fear all the things we share in as we walk our parenting journeys, but I also have other fears. Fears that arise from my son’s daddy being in Heaven far too soon. Fears that I try to quiet, and hush, every single day. But they are real. Grief is real. It never ends. And the more we talk about it, the more we know there are others out there who share in our fears and struggles.

I fear, daily, one day he will forget his Daddy. His memories, the talks we have about him, how he looked, what they said to each other. 

I fear one day our sweet baby will stop talking about his Daddy. Even though that sweet boy has never went a day without talking about his Dad, since the day he was fourteen months old, when daddy joined the angel army with Jesus.

I fear the amount of hours I work will tell our son I didn’t have time for him. Even though, he goes to work with me, coaches on the sidelines with me, I fear he will see a mom that always had to work, and didn’t have time to always get in the floor to play with just him. 

I fear, every hour of every day, I am not providing the male opportunities his Daddy would, if he were here. Even though I spend hours researching, building projects, riding four-wheelers, taking him fishing, explaining how mechanics work–what if it isn’t enough to fill the void of his Daddy being here?

I fear being a mom, I one day won’t have the manly advice to give to him, that only his Dad could. Then what? Do I fail? How do I overcompensate for that? Who do I trust to give up a little piece of my parenting role, to help mold him into a fine young man?

I fear the grief that has overwhelmed my heart since October 26, 2014 will taint our innocent sweet baby. I fear he will resent me for shedding so many tears, and being sad missing his daddy, even in the really good times. 

I fear, every day, that I make wrong decisions, that will affect him a lifetime. The days I’m too tired after work to play, the too-many meals of take-out, and not enough home cooking. I fear I don’t color with him enough, that time is flying by so quickly, I can’t even slow it down. 

I fear he doesn’t have enough male influence, that only men can provide. Will this harm him, create self-doubt, or low self-esteem, as he grows older and needs these influences?

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I tell myself daily it is all ludicrous. I tell myself that all parents share in these unknown fears, that we are all just doing the best we can do. But what if the fears of a little boy who’s daddy went to heaven too soon, become real?

Fear is a gripping chain I try to throw off my back every day. It is a fight. It is a struggle. Fear never really goes away, it controls. And writing about it, allows us to free ourselves, and each other, knowing we are not alone.

I’m doing the best I can do, I really am.

A Sad Momma of a Sweet Boy Who’s Daddy Went to Heaven Too Soon

Why I Didn’t Want to Be Okay in Grief

It’s been two years, eight months, and fourteen days since my husband passed away from this Earth. I get “the look” quite often, when friends and family realize the Earthly time table that he has been gone, and that I am “still” mourning, grieving, and missing him tremendously. The look, but no verbal acknowledgement that, “Really, it’s been almost three years, and you are STILL grieving this hard. Come on, you have to move on.”

I get it: the look. Quite honestly, I have given the look, and thought the same thoughts when others have lost their loved ones, before I lost Joe. The time table on Earth does indeed lull the pain, take the edge of the gripping sharpness that left me gasping for air in those first days. “That” is what others do not get though–I didn’t want it to get easier, I didn’t want the pain to dull, and I certainly did not want others to ever forget the fight, the legacy, the character of my husband, my best friend, but most importantly the father of my son.

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Porter and his Daddy on his First birthday. The boy has expensive taste–shrimp and steak for this boy, he eats good. 

In months that passed after Joe died, friends, colleagues, family would ask how I was doing. Although life appeared to be moving on, as I went back to work, continued working on my Master’s Degree, and continued being a mom to our infant son, the inevitable choking lump would rise to the top of my throat and the tears would burn the brim of my eyes. I attempted to smile, and just nod my head. I wasn’t okay. I appeared to be, because life required me to to continue to be a functioning member of society. I didn’t get to stop working, or stop being a mom that cared for our son. Had I chose the latter, no one in society would have given me the excuse that I was “just grieving.” Everyone would have told me to get a grip, and continue on in life. I still did things with our son, and still lived, making conscious decisions every day to get out of bed, and still have a life full of memories for our son. It wasn’t easy, it still isn’t, but I refuse to allow sorrow to navigate our lives.

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Porter and I LIVING at Porter’s first trip to Busch Stadium, June 2017. 

I guess I was afraid that if things started getting easier, less painful–yet still hurting–I would love him less. I felt like as time passed, others would think I cared less, forgot about our love, journey, and the road that led to where I was. Quite frankly, I didn’t, DON’T want to love him less, or forget about the man he was. I certainly never want to forget what a wonderful dad he was, because there is a little boy that only got to experience fourteen months of him being a dad. He deserves to still know the Daddy he has, the memories, excitement, and character of who his Daddy is. After all children on Earth get to experience that every day, I refuse to allow our son to be devoid of that, on top of not having his Daddy here every day.

I read other’s encounters through blogs, books, testimonies that although time dulled the intense amount of pain, you don’t love them less. You just learn to deal with the pain better; that it is more manageable. They are right, though I didn’t want them to be either. I wanted to stay there–that painful place that allowed me to feel the loss so significantly, because…. well, just because. Time did not allow it though. Time only allowed me to realize I’ll always love him, and that I can still be happy, and continue on in life. Time did not promise me moments that I would still cry, still miss him beyond any words, it just promised me to allow me to breathe during those times it still hurt. And somehow, some way, I think Joe made it known he wouldn’t dare let me camp out and feel sorry for myself, or our son. He made me keep going, evident by the opportunities and people he has set along my path.

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Knowing he knew how much I loved him, is the greatest gift through grief.

It may sound weird to some, but when you are walking the never-ending journey of grief, you get “it.” You get that others do, in fact, talk about your loved one less, you do realize that your life is moving on without them–and that hurts. Others see this as a good thing, that it is healthy. But I didn’t want this life without him. I didn’t want our son’s life without his dad here to raise him. Although I know that Joe would, and does, want me to continue to live life to the very maximum, every moment I think of him. I think of his half-crooked smile he would have as our son tries to power his four-wheeler up our driveway. I think of the quiet giggle he would have as Porter begins dancing to his own beat in the middle of a restaurant, not a care in the world at what other’s might think of him. That lump in my throat continues as I think about the lessons in life he will miss out on teaching our son which tools go with what jobs, knowing that my half-attempt at researching all of these things just are not the same.

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Porter and I, June 2017 at St. Louis Zoo

Those that are grieving: one day it will hurt a little less. I am almost three years out, and it certainly does hurt less than those first months, days, year without him. I don’t love him less. I still think about him every day. And I still talk about him every day. For those that don’t understand, have grace for those that are hurting. We didn’t get a manual on how to navigate the grief that consumes our heart–in the bad, and even in the good. We just miss them, and are doing our best to get through without them.

XOXO, Kristina

Because of the Very Worst, Life Gave Me the Very Best

It’s been some time since I have been able to sit down and write. Writer’s block, lack of enthusiasm, loss of creativity, angry that I am doing life alone, whatever you want to call it; I had no words to pour out onto a page. It frustrates me when I get to this point, because writing is, and has, truly been my greatest way to handle grief. However, dates seem to consume my memory banks, and flood my emotions. June always takes the cake for emotions, as I finish up celebrating Mother’s Day in late May, Father’s Day, the date of my husband’s cancer-versary (date of diagnosis), the thirteen days we initially spent in the hospital, which also overlaps our wedding anniversary.

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I am often frustrated by the lack of understanding from others when I get to this point. I attempt to preface it all–make plans, do fun and exciting things, go on adventures, be extra reflective and grateful for God’s blessings, but then it hits. I am celebrating a wedding anniversary as one, not two. My husband is in heaven, and our life together was cut short. Milestones, anniversaries, birthdays, all of it, cut short to celebrate together.

That’s where reflection comes in, however. A quote, the only words, someone has shared with me in this journey of grief is at the most forefront part of my mind:

“It hurts this bad, because you two loved each other that much.”

Truth. It really does hurt this bad, because we loved each other that much. And you know what? I loved him as much as I did, because of the very worst. I thought I loved my husband with every bit of my heart, that there was not possibly another ounce of love I could give him. And then the doctors told me he had cancer. The doctors then made me share the news with my husband, while I was seven-months pregnant sitting on the corner of that sterile, white hospital bed. God chose me to take care of that man, who battled for sixteen months, in between countless chemotherapy infusions, blood thinner shots in his abdomen, dressing the largest gaping stomach wound I could never imagine, surgeries, pumping medication refills after medication refills into his declining, frail, thin body to keep him comfortable. He chose me to deliver his son into this world, while Joe was sick, knowing we needed hope and strength from something a doctor couldn’t prescribe to make him better.

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I was petrified. I was angry, anxious, full of fear. I begged God sprawled heavily pregnant on public bathroom floors to change our circumstances, to spare his life and take mine. I bartered with the one who calls all the shots telling Him I could endure the pain, but to relieve Joe’s body. I told God what I thought I knew, and promised Him our son and daughter needed their Daddy, more than they needed me. He didn’t need my half-knowings, He told me there was a different plan. I just begged Him to change it.

Sure I loved Joe in the greatest of times–family vacations, road trips, dinner out, working on a never-ending dream house. I loved him when it was fun, and we were daring: hiking trails, caving, wake boarding, being in love without a care in the world, getting married at sunset next to the ocean. Love is easy when things are good. But in the very worst, when cancer came and robbed of us of a lot of joy and happiness, when cancer filled days with pain, sorrow, questions, and doubts–that’s when I really loved him. And you know what? In the absolute very worst, love is even easier. It flooded my soul like nothing has ever flooded my soul in my life. When we faced losing every materialistic thing we owned, when cancer threatened health and life, when health failed and told me our children would grow up without their dad, and leave me as a widow, love was easy, and it was the very best. All of the bad in this world allowed me to see life in a totally different perspective. A perspective I am forever grateful for, and a better person because of. I’m thankful every day for the gifts cancer gave us–they are too abundant to count. Deep, unconditional, love that is indescribable. Restoration in humanity and my faith. Miracles that cannot be explained, at least from the explicit state of mind; just confirmation that God has way more power than even we think we can comprehend. Answered prayers, community, and prevailing love from friends, family, strangers, medical staff, you name it. We got the very best, in the very worst.

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So, as our wedding anniversary approaches, I remember how we celebrate. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary without my husband being able to sit up, use the bathroom on his own, and could barely keep his eyes open after a total colectomy only a few days prior. I sat seven-months pregnant next to his hospital bed, watching his chest rise and fall. It was the greatest celebration of life, knowing I had my husband one more day in this crazy life. We celebrated our second wedding anniversary, on our front porch watching our sweet, chunky, little nine-month-old son playing with his toys and puppy. Joe was too weak, sick and tired to sit up from the chemotherapy, so he laid on the cushions on a porch bench, while I played on the deck, watching our sweet baby and my sweet husband, thankful for all of God’s grace and goodness. Our third? I returned to the beach we got married at, the exact spot, alone. I fell to my knees and cried, asking God why this was the plan. Our fourth–I cried in bed, then remembered Joe brought out the best in me and pushed me to my limits. I went out and para-sailed above the beautiful lake we live on. And our fifth? I will choose to live again, doing something full of crazy adventure and fun. It will push me outside of my comfort zone, raise my heartbeat, and know that the very worst of life, has given me so much good.

Remember the collateral beauty in each moment. They very, very worst has truly brought the very best in life. Even when I hated to admit it, God remains good and prevails His blessings upon us maybe just in ways we didn’t specifically ask for. I am choosing to see all the good, even when my heart hurts on an anniversary of eight years this man has been in my life, five of them being married to him.

XOXO,

Celebrating life–Kristina

Preserving the Innocence of a Child Through Grief

I often catch myself holding my breath and clenching my chest more often when my son’s innocence of his Daddy’s absence comes out. When we hear the motor of an airplane, or see the streak it leaves through a crystal blue sky, you can hear his voice rise when he jumps up and down and screams, “DADDY, DADDY, IT’S MY DADDY.” My throat gets even more restricted when I see him on the playground and his friends chime in with excitement when they think they are seeing our son’s daddy playing captain, while flying high in the sky. The tears fight my will not to fall when we bow our head each day, three times a day, to pray for our food. He doesn’t just thank God for his food, but his daddy too. Each and every time.

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What really gets me though, is when I don’t expect it all. The grief, the painstaking stab in the throat, when he watches other kids at the park  play with their dad’s and asks out loud, looking up to the sky, “Daddy, I keep asking you to come down here, but you won’t listen.” With a sad face, he looks at me, shoulders slumped, and asks me why his Daddy doesn’t come down to play with him. The catch in my throat often delays the response to give to him, although my heart and mind are racing to find the appropriate answer. His innocence and joy are so pure, as are all young ones, and you see, I don’t want to take that away from him.

 

Part of his innocence was taken that day in late October when his Daddy drew his last breath. He was in the arms of one of my best friends, when I let out the blood curdling scream of “NO,” begging God instantly to reverse the decision He just made. Too young at fourteen months old, to have a conversation with explaining what just happened, he only knew the screams his mommy was letting out. That best friend had to comfort him, since my heart was handicapped to do so myself. You see, in that moment, both of his parents were incapable of comforting him. One that had left his Earthly body, and the other who’s body released every bit of stress, grief, tension and was oblivious to anything but the shattered heart attempting to keep beating without her soulmate.  He was not afforded the innocence of having his Daddy here to teach him to ride a bike, play in the floor with cars, or be his daddy’s little buckaroo. He was granted a life with a shadow of sadness always lingering, always absent of one man he would need the rest of his years. He, without choice, had that innocence taken away from him far too young.

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I find myself every day questioning whether or not I am handling grief correctly; not just my personal grief, but leading my son’s grief. I do not know whether I am doing right, wrong, or just okay. I guess only time will tell me the answer to this. What I do know is this–they grow up far too fast. Each day I reel at how fast the past four years has gone–four years since my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer, while we were seven months pregnant. Four years since our son was born into an inopportune situation. Four years since cancer changed our lives forever, and eventually took my husband, and his dad, from us. Four years of learning to lead a life I didn’t choose, or want. Four years. I feel like I still live the heaviness of cancer in our every day lives, although that picture has changed drastically.

Since four years of different forms and stages of grief has come, I have decided this: if seeing or hearing an airplane in the sky, makes my son’s heart jump with joy and excitement because he thinks his Daddy is the one flying that thing, then I am going to let it. If his prayers every meal and every night consist of telling Jesus thank you for his Daddy, then I want to keep those sweet prayers coming. Even if he gets sad, and asks me why his Daddy won’t listen to him and come down here to play with him, then I am going to encourage him to keep having those conversations with his Daddy, since I do not have the answer to give to him. I am even going to let him keep talking to his Daddy’s pictures every time he gets mad at me, and tells him “Daddy, mommy is being mean to me, you come down here and swat her.” Because as frustrated as I can get at that almost four-year-old little boy, my goodness, that makes me laugh every time.

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His innocence will grow into something that will tell him different far too soon. My heart might just break a little sooner than I ever thought possible, when reality hits him hard. I forever want him to have conversations with his Dad, I always did. After all, I choose the world’s best Daddy to be that boy’s Daddy. I love the stories he makes up about his Daddy, and I love the things that his Daddy comes down to tell him, when there is no other way to justify that child knowing details that he, in fact, does.

Innocence in grief has been a blessing. It is a blessing. The reality of this ugly world is not. I beg you to not take the innocence of a child in their grief. It is all they have to get through.

XOXO,

A Little One’s Widowed Mommy

A Letter to My Husband in Heaven on Mother’s Day

Dear Handsome,

I’ve asked myself out loud, and God too, why the pain has to be this bad since you’ve been gone. I really believed others when they said the first year of holidays, milestones, anniversaries, birthdays, and loss would be the hardest. They were wrong though. Most people also added extra side comments, attempting to justify and make sense of the pain. Most times their words hurt more than they eased the pain, though. There was one person though that said something that stuck,  and I believe it to be true to this day.

“It hurts this bad, because he loved you that much.”

Each time I cannot escape the pain, whenever it overpowers me to the point I cannot breathe, I remember this statement. I do, because I know I wouldn’t trade anything for the alternative. I would never trade how much you loved me, just so the pain would be a little less–even two years after you’ve been gone.

Mother’s Day, though, baby, it is the hardest of them all. It is THE holiday that almost tips me into the downward spiral I cannot get out of. It’s the holiday that you created for me. It’s the holiday that we only got one of together, and even that one was incredibly special. It’s a day society celebrates the hardest job on this Earth–being a mom. You’ve given me many things in this lifetime, but being a mom and your wife are the two greatest gifts of all. DaddyandP

Our son is beautiful, he looks just like you. His crystal blue eyes, that squint in the outward corners take my breath away, because it is you looking back at me. He is incredibly talented, smart, and problem solves well beyond his short, little three years of life. His heart is lined with gold, and tender, much like your’s.  He is you, inside and out, in every way possible. He is like other children though: testing his limits, exploring, creating, figuring out. He gets sick, has his bad days, and grieves just as hard as me. He asks for you to come down from Heaven to play, and to come out of your picture that he kisses each time we walk down the stairs. He thanks God for you each time he says his prayers before he eats, and when he lays his head to down to sleep. And all of those reasons and more, reminds me that his innocence does not know yet how hard this mom business really is.

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I sometimes believe Satan when he tells me, parenting would have no hardships if you were here to help me. He often whispers lies that homes that have two parents have no challenges, are not sleep deprived, or sick with worry. I know he is wrong, and I know he lies. Every day though, I still ask God for a little more patience, a little more grace, and a whole lot of guidance to get me through being a mom without you here to help me.

I wouldn’t ask for anything special if you were here. I wouldn’t ask for any gifts, flowers or jewelry to prove how much you appreciate me being your son’s mom. I would just ask for a hug and a kiss, and to sit on the front porch swing appreciating the miracle we created. Since I cannot have that though, maybe you can send me a sign from Heaven to tell me you love me, and appreciate me, even in the really hard days for taking care of your boy. Maybe you can send me a sign through our son that, maybe, just maybe, I am doing something right as his mom, and not failing when I lose my patience more times than not. Would you, please? Because Mother’s Day is truly the hardest holiday without you here to tell me you love me.

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I love you. Forever and Always,

Your Son’s Mother