We Talked About Everything. Except Dying.

My husband and I dated three years before we said, “I do.” He is as opposite from me, as I am from him. He is as quiet, as I am loud and talkative. He is as shy, as I am outgoing. Opposites certainly did attract, when God created this man for me.

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Joe and I have always had an “easy” relationship–easy, as easy gets. We still had things we didn’t agree on, but we rarely ever had an argument. We just talked. About everything. Even weird things, or things that were uncomfortable to talk about, we just did. I never really thought much about that fact–until sometime after he won his battle with cancer, and gained his wings to Heaven. Somewhere after that, it hit me hard, that we never talked about that one topic. The one that is inevitable for everyone to talk about. That thing that will happen to each of us. Death. Dying. Taking our last breath. Expiring. Not being here on Earth. We never spoke a word about it. Ever.

In the midst of the whirlwind that happened in our life: being seven-months pregnant, being diagnosed with Stage III, then Stage IV colon cancer, celebrating our wedding anniversary in the hospital, and then delivering our son into our mess, that topic just never seemed to come up. Or it intentionally was never brought up. We avoided it entirely, even when there was opportune times to talk about it–when the doctor told us our prognosis, when respite care was called, hospice, or even some terrifying moments of the loss of health. Here’s my perspective:

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During our first round of chemotherapy with our son at a week old, the doctor told us that any treatment from here on out would only prolong life.  I vividly remember the comment not even phasing me, while I nursed our son sitting on the hospital bed with Joe. It did not phase me at all. Bold face, wide eyed, I looked at him and replied, “Well, I guess you are going to see a miracle.” He sheepishly looked down, and weakly smiled. I wasn’t being naive, but I knew we were going to defy odds. We always won at difficult circumstances, and prevailed to the top.

 

Chemotherapy was hell on Earth. It is Hell on Earth. Anyone going through treatment will, and does, agree without hesitation. The mental warfare it does on those going through it, is a side effect society, and doctors, rarely talk about. This held true for Joe. Tears, emotions, fear, anger, and lots of why’s consumed us both. But never, ever death. Not even when he hadn’t eaten in days, passed out, hit his head and had a seizure in the bathroom floor unresponsive to me. Not even when the chemotherapy stopped working, and we tried multiple different options. Not even when we went for a second opinion, but didn’t get randomized for a clinical trial of chemo. Not even when the doctor told us there was nothing further we could do. Not even when he wasn’t strong enough to pick up our year old son to give him a kiss. Not even when he heard me softly crying on my side of the bed in the middle of the night, and asked if I was still awake. I stifled the tears, choked back the lump in my throat, and pretended I was asleep.

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Not even when he went most of the day without waking up, and rarely eating anything. Never. Ever. We did not talk about him dying. I simply couldn’t. I believed, for a very long time we would get our miracle of healing. I boldly prayed for it. I never had a mindset we would not. God would prevail, He showed up in impossible situations to prove His greatness. He would show up when we least expected it.

The week Joe passed away, he came up behind me, as I was sitting at the island feeding our sweet baby in his dark, mahogany-wood high chair we picked out together. He softly picked up my flowing hair over my shoulders, and whipped it back into his frail, bony hands. As he played with it, he calmly said, “I’m going to miss this. So, so much.” He stopped due to the crack in his voice, but lingered running his fingers through my hair, and softly leaned in and kissed my neck. I knew he wasn’t talking about days off from work together. He wasn’t talking about late morning breakfasts, just the three of us. I knew he was talking about “it,” but we didn’t talk about that. I didn’t, because I didn’t want him to think I had given up on our miracle. He knew. I knew. We just couldn’t.

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But today. Today–April 21, 2017–five days shy of being two and a half years since I kissed his face for the last time, not talking about “it” has proved harder, than just talking about the inevitable for all of us. I wish I knew what he wanted for my life, our life, now that he is gone. I wish I heard his voice tell me that it was okay to find love again. I wish I heard him tell me how to raise our son into a man. I wish he told me he wasn’t angry that he got cheated at life, at being a dad, at being my husband, at being a son to his parents. I wish he told me not to be angry for him. I wish he just told me something, anything, about dying. Not having instructions after death is so much harder.

Talking about death isn’t the easy answer. It would have been hard, probably the hardest conversation we ever had. Although I “think” I know what he would have told me, I still need to “KNOW.” I wish we would have talked about what Heaven would have been like. I wish I told him to go say, “Hi” to my grandpa. I wish he told me he would watch over us. We didn’t though. We never talked about death.

There are many things that are uncomfortable to talk about. They make us wince, push it off until later, delay it a little longer. Later is always too late though, isn’t it? I’ve had a lot of tough conversations since then. Conversations that are possible situations I hope never happen in this lifetime. But I never want doubt, fear of the unknown from the past to haunt the future of today and tomorrow. Death is going to happen to all of us. We better just prepare and talk about it now.

Struggling with the thoughts of what tomorrow is supposed to look like-

Kristina

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

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

Redefining Widowhood: A Young Widow’s Perspective

As a young girl, mowing yards for elderly widows with her grandpa, I saw what widowhood exemplified by some of the most beautiful souls in the world. They were sweet, worked in their flower beds, baked yummy-treats for me as I finished mowing their yards, and talked for hours with my grandpa and I on their front porch. They were classy, tactful, full of grace and wisdom. They all also had another thing in common: their age. Their age was reflective of the lessons in life they were talking about, the wisdom they had to share, and also reflective of their occupation: retired. They were all at a certain life stage. They had raised their children: watched them go to college, get married, and have families of their own. Although I am certain they were lonely, missed their spouse more than words would ever be able to describe, they were older. Maybe, just maybe, failing health and age was more foreseeable in their future, than that of mine.

Not long after my husband passed away, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire. Not even foreseeing what was about to be asked, I willingly did my duty. I cruised through the usual questions of name, address, phone number, but then the marital question was asked. “Married? Single? Divorced/Widowed?” My heart and hand froze, my throat clenched, and right there in the middle of the doctor’s office, I lost control of the masquerade I had put on since he passed. I was still married. But society’s form I was filling out had me listed with those that were divorced. As if divorce and widowed were the same thing. They were not. They didn’t even come close. And I was not ready to answer that I was “widowed.”

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I was though. I was twenty-five years old, and had a one-year-old baby sitting in my lap. I was a widow. I will forever be a widow, whether I marry again or not, until God calls me home. And yet, I don’t fit the bill of a widow. My age doesn’t qualify me to be in this unwanted club. I am nowhere near retirement. I am too young to receive widow’s benefits from my deceased husband’s Social Security benefits. Yet, I am too young to be identifying with those widows that are retired, are able to meet in life/connection groups mid-day. I do not, necessarily, have a social cohort that I meet entirely with. My friends are all in a similar life stage of adding to their families, buying/building their second homes,  and some, are unfortunately going through loss of divorce.

Widowhood at a young age has proved a very difficult stage of life to navigate, in my late twenties. On the outside, I have been told, my confident presentation comes across as though things are going as planned in life. I have a great career, excelled in furthering my education with a master’s, raising a brilliant and handsome child, and have a beautiful home. At surface level, society says I have it all. But how do you navigate being a widow at such a young age? Who do you identify with? How, exactly, do you wander what life is supposed to look like beyond this point? How do you tell those new acquaintances when you are a widow, not to run away, you just want to connect with someone, anyone?

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Widowhood is not just those that are at a later stage in life, that maybe has casual past times at their leisure. It is not someone at failing health and age. Widowhood is young. Widowhood is juggling a full-time career, raising a child, living through all of grief’s nasty punches, and still trying out to figure out what you want for the rest of your life. Widowhood is still trying to connect with friends, yet feeling the awkward difference of losing a spouse. Widowhood is trying to figure out when it is acceptable to take your wedding band off, when to trade it out with your widow’s ring, and then eventually if you are supposed to stop wearing that, as well. Widowhood is not being able to articulate your wants and desires that conflict with guilt at an every-hour-of-the-day rate. Widowhood is uncertainty, sadness, fear, walking the unknown. Widowhood is still having dreams, hopes, and desires for the future; just a future you don’t know what it looks like, or who it is with.

Widowhood is young. It is old. Widowhood has no boundaries and does not discriminate in age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or life stage. It is hard. Widowhood is just that–living life without the person you committed and planned the rest of your life with.

Just remember: widowhood does not have a number. It may be a twenty-eight-year-old woman, raising her son, uncertain of every move she makes. It may be that woman, hopeful that each choice leads her to a future of promise, hope, and love; all-the-while always carrying the love that was once given to her by a husband taken from this world far too soon.

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Dreams, Hope, and Love,

A 28-Year-Old Widow

A Letter to My Coach-Dad

Dear My “Coach-Dad,”

This letter has been a long-time coming. Words that have needed to be said, just hard to get them down because there are so many. These words are so many, because they are not just from me; you see, they are from players, teammates, whole teams that you have coached for the past twenty-six years now. We all feel the same. I’m just the one trying to put them into a letter to you.

Many of us had both parents growing up, but so many of us didn’t, either. I am part of the latter group, and am thankful every day for it. I am certain if I did have both parents growing up, you wouldn’t mean quite what you do to me, today. I am certain I would have taken for granted the stern talking-to’s, the sincere advice given, hard-discipline, and your approval would not have meant so much to me. They all did. Every ounce of wisdom, discipline, teachings, and approval meant the world to me. They still do, all these years later.

Years ago, I thought the hard-work on the court meant all the extra grueling hours I put in during the summer, before and and after practices, and even the after-hours of studying hard off the court, to prevail for college. I didn’t know, it laid the foundation for me and all the extra hours I would accumulate to be a good parent: doing laundry in the middle of the night, staying up sick with a baby, or even the sleepless nights of worrying about my child. I honestly didn’t know what exhaustion was, until after my jersey was hung up, and the basketball shoes were retired. You knew this, though. You knew I would always have more to give, somewhere, down deep, there was always more to give in order to make those around me better.

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The perseverance you taught me, as you pushed me through extra work-outs, “just one more” sprint, an extra set of one hundred free-throws, and coming back after a less-than-great performance, was really just preparing me for my future, wasn’t it? You knew I would need perseverance when life threw it’s biggest foul on me when my husband got sick with cancer, as we were two months away from expecting our first-born son. You knew I wasn’t going to get a time-out with line-drills lined up, 5-4-3-2-1 mountains I’d have to climb down, and then back up again when the chemo stopped working, when the baby was teething, and when the hospital stays became our second home. You knew the pressure would be at it’s highest, I’d be exhausted just like at the end of the game with 2.2 seconds left, and I was toeing up to the free-throw line with the game on my shoulders, didn’t you? You knew life wasn’t going to be fair, and the mental toughness to push through would be the only way through, though. You most certainly knew quitting wasn’t an option, not thirteen years ago, and not now. You knew all these things in advance, and you just applied our lessons on the hardwood.

The dedication you taught me to have to you, my teammates, our fans when I was tired and didn’t think I had any more to give as the game was on the line, in the final seconds; well, now I knew you knew more. You knew I would need to be dedicated to kids, colleagues, parents, and athletes that would need more from me as a coach and a teacher. You knew I had to be even more dedicated when my family still needed even more of me than what I had already given, after a long day. You knew I would have to dig deep, and find even more fight to finish strong. You knew staying dedicated to those that needed me, would be a character lesson that would define me as a person, didn’t you?

Your expectation that I always be more than I ever thought I could be, the way you believed in me, and pushed me to be greater, was something I thought only you could see. Most days, I thought you were trying to convince yourself that I had “it” in me to overcome life’s obstacles, and to keep going on to find success, post basketball. What I didn’t know, though, was you saw it, and now I believe it. You saw a lot of things, I didn’t see. I am sure you still do.

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I never thought that consoling hug after a tough loss that ended our season could be more comforting.  I also thought that season-ending, post-game talk was quite possibly the hardest speech you ever had to give to me, our team. That day, that day after my husband passed away, and you drove to my house and held me like a baby on my front porch, that was the hardest talk we ever had to have. When I thought I wanted to give up on the game, because of being in a funk, much like the day I didn’t think I could go on to raise my son without my husband here to help me, well you reminded me that your athletes don’t quit. You wouldn’t let me. When I didn’t think I had another sprint to give to you, another workout to push through, any more strength to get through life after my biggest blow so many years later, you reminded me your athletes were strong. We never quit. We always persevered. We only got back up, laced up our shoes tighter, and practiced harder.

Thank you for being my dad, you didn’t have to choose to be. I know you were my coach, but somewhere, you became all of our dad’s too. A bonus dad, a coach-dad. Your athletes spent more waking hours with you, as you monitored us in the hallways, as we perfected our skills, got more shots in, and became “one,” than we did with our own blood-families. You led our pack, just like a dad leads his family. You taught us hard lessons, that you knew we would need in life, so many years later. You showed us tough love, and disciplined us. You gave us wisdom, guidance, and love. You gave us a coach-dad by leading us with your own actions and words spoken on-and-off the court.

All these years later, though, I realized you taught us life. You are pretty darn good with the x’s and o’s, with game strategy and changing from a man-to-man to a diamond-and-one, evident by the records, winning seasons, and amazing athletes you’ve developed along the way. However, what I never knew was it was all a disguise. You taught us life. You gave us every skill we would need to be successful, to keep pushing through, to persevere at life’s blows, and to never quit.

Thanks for being our coach-dad. I could have never made it through life without the lessons you taught us on the court.

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One of Your Many Basketball Daughters,

“Bunch”

No Words. Sometimes There Are Simply No Words.

A journey through grief is never easy. In fact, I have found all too many moments in the past two and a half years, since my beating heart was ripped out of my chest when my husband took his last breath. There are so many in fact, that mere words on a computer screen will never come close to be able to explain it all. The pain, the anguish, the misery, the loneliness, and the guilt that overtake my heart some days are indescribable. There are no words that will come close to tell you how many of these miserable moments I have, and there are certainly no words to help you understand how mixed each of the moments can be. Conflicted emotions of happiness and sadness, in guilt and pride, and most certainly the times of uncertainty constantly permeate my being.

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Unfortunately, society tells us there is something to say, or do, in moments that do not constitute words of comfort. I know these moments are lined with well-intentions of friends, family, medical staff, and others who watch you go through times of turmoil. It is human nature to want to comfort others in times of despair, and attempt to do (or say) something that will make it better. I have also come to learn this: times I needed something the most, even relief from the pain, I knew there was no one, or nothing that could help me through grief. No one. Nothing. And, like a backhanded compliment, comments laced with good intentions, fell on ears and a broken heart that got insulted and angry instead.

These are a few of the comments, I have learned never to say to someone, even in their deepest pain. I have learned instead to say nothing at all.

  1. “Everything happens for a reason.”
  2. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
  3. “God needed Joe more than he was needed on Earth.”

Every single one of these comments made me infuriating mad. More so, as time continued to tick away and people repeated them more frequently. I have come to the conclusion people say these things, because they have heard them passed down. They repeat them without actually stopping to think of the merit behind them. Ultimately, in my own experience, there was no merit behind any of them. There was no reason for my husband to suffer so much, no reason that he didn’t get to raise his babies, or no reason that God needed Joe more than we did here on Earth. Instead, I looked for truth in my beliefs, and what the Bible actually said.

Just as in bad, there is good. There are so many moments that I literally feel my heart might burst. Watching our son play basketball on his pee-wee team in one moment, our daughter shining on the volleyball court, or the two of these precious babies together covering each other in laughter. These moments: there are no words that would come close to the joy and happiness they bring me. There are no sentences or fragments I can type to convince anyone else how happy my heart is in these moments. There are no words. Just pure joy radiating in the silence.

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You see, words are my comfort. I enjoy writing, I love to talk with others, and I most definitely like to comfort others in their sorrow. Already being on the other side of feeling the need to comfort others in grief, I remind myself constantly there are no words. The act of just being there, in physical presence is enough. Listen to others as they pour out their heartache and sorrow. Wipe their tears away from their tear-stained cheeks. Embrace their hug with sincerity and love and comfort. Cheer, smile, and laugh when they are celebrating the great times in their life. Share life with each other.

Your actions speak so much louder. There are no words. Sometimes there simply are no words.

All My Love in Silence, Kristina

Finding Purpose Through Grief

I’m not one hundred percent sure when it happened. The moment that I realized I needed purpose through the grief. The moment that I knew I needed something more, bigger than me, in order to help ease the never-ending, gripping pain of grief. It happened, though. Possibly in the fate of things, when something bigger in-and-of-itself, brought purpose to me.  And when that moment happened, it changed me. It changed my journey through the darkest time of my life.

We’ve all agreed that grief is ruthless. It clenches, drowns, and completely encompasses every thought, muscle and action of our bodies. It is never ending, it creeps up at the most unexpected times, and it truly has no concern for the moments you may be in. It’s nasty, ugly, and it only belongs to its beholder. There is no guidebook, there is no medicine to alleviate every one of its side effects. It simply just exists, and trudging through the trenches, is the only way through it.

I despise many of my moments of grief. I loathe the feelings of loneliness, the countless nights of not sleeping, and the too-many moments of my young son watching me weeping in the floor, as I beg God to reverse His decision of taking my husband away from this Earth. I’m not proud of the many moments I escaped away from those wanting to comfort me, or the many instances I lashed out in anger, because no one else could possibly understand my pain, my anguish, my guilt that never seemed to end.

I’m also grateful for the journey. It has taken many times of telling our story, lots of prayers and scripture, and countless talks with God among friends to be able to say, “I am grateful for this journey.” I am grateful for the cancer brought into my life, right at the very moment it came. I am grateful for the hardships of being a new mommy and caregiver to my husband with Stage IV Colon Cancer. I am grateful for the humble experiences of relying on others to help us through financial difficulties and medical bills. I am grateful for every single moment of it all. And yet, it feels so strange to say that, “Yes, I am grateful for these things.”

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I’m grateful because it changed me. Every ounce and breath of my soul–cancer and grief has changed. Some for the better, some not as much.  However, as I stand here today, stronger, more passionate, more caring, more empowered, more empathetic towards others, I have found a purpose through grief. No, I do not wish I was in this club. No, I do not wish I was robbed of a lifetime of memories with my husband and our children. No, I do not wish I was a widow at the age of 25 and beyond. My purpose is for those that are hurting, those that are fighting, those that need a friend, someone who just gets “it,” someone that just needs to hear all of God’s promises.

I never dreamed God would give me this life–the bad, but especially the good. He did though. I am grateful for every moment of the good and the bad–without one, I cannot appreciate the other. The people I have met, the friendships I have made, the family I have accumulated through this journey, is unmatched–and you see, it isn’t over yet. The lessons I still have yet to learn, the people I still have not had the pleasure of meeting, the love and compassion I have yet to share with others.

It’s not easy–the road of grief we travel. It has no manual, it has no “normal.” The moment you can see you are a part of something bigger, something more, is a turning point in the journey though. That moment may be small, it may be a big “ah-ha” moment, but keep trucking through those trenches until you get there. I promise, it is so worth it. Mine happened almost four years after Joe was diagnosed with cancer, and nearly two and a half years after he passed away. Being apart of the Fight CRC organization that fights for a cure, early detection and prevention of colon cancer has brought countless blessings and purpose to my life. I never knew I needed this community of advocates that just “get it,” but I did. And somehow, I feel like others there needed me.

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I don’t know what your moment of purpose will look like. Quite possibly, it will look entirely different than mine. It’s out there though. In it’s very own time, in it’s very own being, it will present itself if you look for it. Today, will you look around and see if there might just possibly be a purpose in your grief? No matter how small you think it might be, no matter how many lessons you might have learned, can you see God at work in your journey through grief?

Purposeful, Fighting for a Cure, Kristina

The Greatest Gift Through Grief: Talking About the One We Love

I never thought I would be able to come to the point that I thought there was a gift in grief. After all, grief is nasty, ugly, unplanned, untimed, and unwavering. Grief belongs to the only person that possesses it. There is certainly no “normal” in grief. Even those stages of grief people talk about–not true, not always, not ever.

Grief is a journey though. It lulls some days, and other days it swallows you whole to the point you cannot breathe, think, or even exist. Those days, those days are days I am certain I cannot go on. Even after two-plus years of losing my husband, I have those days more often than I do not. I could never foresee how awful grief could be, the guilt that accompanies it as it’s finest guest, and the loneliness that tries to steal the spotlight of the show. It is my grief, my journey, and society, statistics, and research simply cannot tell me how to walk through it.

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Yesterday, I experienced a gift of  grief though. Yesterday, March 3, 2017 was National Wear Blue Day for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Day. A day that we can nationally make a statement to get screened, listen to our bodies–no matter what age– and know our family’s medical history to prevent one of the most deadly cancers out there: colorectal cancer. As I declared and solicited my family and friends to wear blue in honor of my best friend and husband, and to bring awareness to this disease, social media proved one of it’s positive impacts in our world today. My social media was blown up from all of those that care enough about me, our babies, and Joe that they wore blue to bring awareness to colorectal cancer and the lives it has impacted. Friends and family gave us shout-outs to tell us they REMEMBER! They smiled, they sent undeserving compliments to me, and TALKED about Joe.

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The latter, talking about Joe, is exactly what I’ve wanted for the past two years and four months since my husband passed away. They talked about his wit, his smile, his courageousness, what a fighter he was until the end. They talked about what an amazing daddy he was to his babies. Friends and family poured in that he would be proud of me, as his wife.

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That’s all I’ve wanted. That’s all any of us want, when we lose someone we love. To talk about the one we love; to allow them to continue to live, their spirit, their story, their love and compassion to continue to seep through to everyone they impact. Just talk–tell me stories, tell his children what a great person he was, tell us what a crazy, fearless dare-devil he has always been, tell us about that “one time” when you guys were testing faith and chance. Just tell us.

Will I cry? Probably. But please, don’t let that scare you off. It’s just that I miss him so much, and wish he could be sitting next to me and the kids to hear these stories. I want to see him laugh, and add in his version of things. I want him to shake you off, and tell you to stop before you get to the really good part of the story. Don’t be mistaken–those tears are not all sad. They are happy, because you are fulfilling my wish of talking about him. You are making my dreams come true that he never dies. You’re filling my life’s mission that his kids and I get to know him better than we already did. You are allowing me to experience a piece of my husband that time did not allow me to have.

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Any grieving person or blog I have encountered since I lost Joe, has all shared one common request: to talk about them. Yesterday, March 3, 2017, gave me the greatest gift of grief since Joe passed. You talked about Joe. All of you. So many of you, that I had over FIVE HUNDRED  interactions, of posts, pictures, texts, calls, and emails that honored Joe and his fight in colorectal cancer. You reminded me that I WON! You reminded me that I was the lucky one–God and Joe chose me to be Joe’s wife. You reminded me that through all the nastiestness of grief, that the two greatest men in my life chose me to be their warrior, to share their love and their story with this world.

Thank you for talking about him! Thank you for keeping him alive. Thank you for giving that invaluable gift to Joe’s parents, his children: Lilly and Porter, and myself, as well as the rest of his friends and family. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. May his light shine bright, and God’s love shine even brighter through our story and all of those we reach! May the power of blue save many other’s lives–just like the blue of his eyes saved mine by the love he showed me!

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Joe’s Champion and Warrior, His wife, Kristina

The Day I Knew God was For Real

I remember the day that I accepted God into my heart. I was a young nine-year-old girl, on a hot July evening at Vacation Bible School at Seymour First Baptist Church. I remember the feeling, I certainly remember the Lord speaking to me, and the Holy Spirit filling me.

I was recently challenged by one of my high school students, who chose an interesting, and very deep topic to research: “Why do people believe what they believe? Why don’t people keep an open mind, and only believe what they were raised to believe?”

His premise was quite simple: people believe what they believe because of the social norms they have been raised in, which of course, are affected by our geographical location, our generational views we’ve been brought up in, and the way society and media influence our thoughts. But “why” do we believe, what we believe?

I really pondered his question, and even pondered my own faith and Christianity. How do I know, despite the way I have been raised, especially in the Midwest Bible Belt where there are more churches in my tiny farm town than there are families to serve it, that God is really, real?

The question came zooming back to me-with a flood of memories that only proved, “How could I not believe He is real?” Despite being saved so many years ago, I remember the date I really KNEW God was for real–June 22, 2013.

The day my husband was diagnosed with Colon Cancer when we were seven months pregnant. joehopsital

I am certain I could never forget that day. It was the worst day of my life. It was the worst timing of my life. God certainly could not understand what He was doing. There’s no way He could have a plan for this–this circumstance, our family, my husband, me.

He did. He does. And I only know a fraction of the reasons of His Greater Plan.

My type-A personality couldn’t fix this. Not Stage IV Colon Cancer. “I” couldn’t make this better, “I” couldn’t make income appear that we didn’t have. “I” couldn’t pay all of the medical bills that would soon roll in. I couldn’t take away Joe’s pain. “I” couldn’t perform this surgery he needed-and the many more he would need. “I” couldn’t do this by myself. “I” needed something more, someone more. “I” needed a lot of things that were more. And there was only one person who could make that happen.

There is no way to know the many blessings that came out of Joe and I’s story. I am certain until I walk through the gates of Heaven, I never will. I read recently in my Bible–that this is the way He wants it. It is not intended that we know all the reasons why. It just isn’t. How else do you not believe in God when you are handicapped to handle anything in your life–and yet it all prevails in perfection? How do you have over a year without income, and over a million dollars in medical bills–and they are all taken care of in some facet? How do you welcome a child–His child–that He trusted you with to raise, into this world with no complications, with your husband by your side? How do you look at a neworn child and not believe there HAS to be something greater in this world to create something so perfect? How do complete strangers see you carrying your nine-month-old son across a parking lot in one arm, and your dying husband in the other arm, and he comes to tell you how much God loves you? How do your greatest fears that you won’t be home if your husband needs you, are eased because He makes sure you are there every second your husband needs you the most? How does starting a new job in the mess of all of this, prove that God’s greatest warriors are the ones that surround you every single day? How are God’s other Army members your chemotherapy nurses and doctors, that just so happen to be the one’s that come to Branson every Thursday to serve your best friend?

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How does your other fears that your husband will not be there for all of the firsts–subside when the greatest birthday party is celebrated for your infant son, and your husband is beaming the whole entire time next to you? How does God allow someone to also experience cancer, also see the same Doctor, and observe you and your family for over a year before they send an anonymous gift telling you that YOUR family is a testament of God’s love and faith for us? How do new friends through the journey become the closest in your life?

How does a surgeon that needed his own testament of faith, deliver that when He became the one our family prayed for in a big way, as he continued to use his skills and hands for God in saving my husband for the next sixteen months? How did “I” get chosen to bring a much bigger message out of God’s story for us–in many different facets: teaching, coaching, widows, children that have lost one of their parents in their childhood, advocating for Fight CRC, and those affected by colon cancer everywhere?

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How?

Coincidence? I have never believed in that word. I guess if there were one or two coincidences I could believe it. But all of these, and even more? Not possible. There are way too many things intertwined that have happened that I certainly know God is for real. There are still people who tell me they followed our story, that we affected them in some way. And it’s been over two years since Joe has been gone.

The answer is simple: the day there was no way I could attempt to keep doing life by myself, and control circumstances that truly I never did, was the day I knew God was for real. I knew this–but I experienced it on a much bigger scale. The days my life were shattered into a million pieces: the day Joe was diagnosed, the day I was told there were no more options, the days Joe’s pain was so bad he would scream and beg to God for relief, the day he took his last breath in my arms, the day I realized he wasn’t coming back: those days are the days I knew God was for real.

He’s had mercy. He’s had grace. He’s had patience, love and understanding. I don’t deserve it. I have questioned Him, cursed Him, bargained life with Him. And He still loves me, and I can FEEL it!

Many people, including my past self before Joe’s sickness, believe God is for those people that everything goes “right” for. I’m here to tell you: when everything has gone wrong, was when I felt God the most. I’ve said a million times, “I wish there was any other way to bring me closer to God than what we’ve been through. But in my heart, I know there was nothing else that could.”

I hope however it happens you remember the day God was for real to you!

God’s Blessings-Kristina, Joe’s Wife

The Life Club I Didn’t Choose To Be A Member of: Widowhood

My early twenty’s seemed to prove a perfect blue-print already laid out for me and my life: wife, step-mom, mom, and teacher. I had married the love of my life, found someone better than I even imagined I deserved to spend the rest of my life with, and vowed that life with him. In fact, it was the vows of “In sickness and in health, until death do us part,” that I remember the most vividly. The memory of mouthing those words as I looked into my husband’s eyes, was the moment I could see him, and me, as an old couple sitting on our front porch swing, enjoying the lake view and sunset in front of us. I could see us, enjoying being “us.”

What I didn’t see was the sickness in less than a year ravage my groom’s body. I didn’t see him screaming out in pain, begging me with his eyes to fix the pain, and the cancer. I most certainly did not see myself seven-months pregnant begging doctors in multiple hospitals to cure his cancer and to promise me my husband would be there to watch our children grow-up through their childhood. I never imagined a possibility of living in hospital floors for weeks-on-end, entertaining an infant while soothing my best friend in a hospital bed. But, most possibly, the worst nightmare I never thought possible was nursing our son at his Daddy’s funeral, with our daughter curled up next to me, sobbing as we prepared to say goodbye to the man that created our family. And the nightmare of the future without him as my husband and best friend, and his children’s Dad has never been so real, as it has been the past two years without him.me-and-my-baby

My future and widowhood was never even in my most distant recollection of a possibility. Moreover, separately they were two complete different realities. Widowhood was elderly women who sat on their front porch, and their grown children came to check on them. My future life was happy, full of life and hopes and dreams to accomplish. They were family vacations at the beach, birthday parties with the kids’ friends swarming our house, they were spontaneous weekend road trips, and family pictures. And yet, I still am not quite sure how these two different worlds collided so quickly. Most shocking, is that these two different worlds look nothing like I envisioned, all wrapped together.

I still have yet to figure out what my life is supposed to look like in my future. I once knew, but that was changed entirely when Joe joined the good Army above. At twenty-eight years old, I often wonder if being a widow is what is left for my life. I wonder if Joe’s love will carry me through, until he meets me at the gates with the King who gave us both eternal life. I wonder what my life will be like when Porter evolves into a great young man, like his Dad and leaves our home to pursue his own dreams. I wonder what I am supposed to do to attempt to map out my future from this point on.

Although the given advice from many is that Joe would still want me to live and love, there is no one more certain of that, than myself. It’s deeper than that though; to retrain your brain, your longings, wantings, desires, dreams. To have to start over and envision a different life–but one that, really, you don’t desire at all. The life you desired is over, and you have to come to accept that.

I didn’t choose widowhood. It chose me. It is a club that I never wanted, or dreamt, I would be apart  of. I wish I could check my membership card from the moment it took my breath away on October 26, 2014. I cannot, however. Until then, I do know that widowhood looks like how I make it–not anyone else. The same is true for each and every one of us widows living without our spouse. We literally do take a moment at a time, walking through a haze of grief, unsure if our next step is right or wrong. We just do it. I am no expert on grief, or widowhood, but walking this road for the past two years has proven tougher than ever imaginable. Reaching out, loving each other, and connecting with others who do not want to be in this club, proves to be the only true understanding in this world.

To you other members in this club: I am sorry you belong to this club too. Don’t let your membership define your future. I am attempting to do the same. kissing-him-goodbye