A Gift to the Grieving this Holiday: Talk About Their Loved One

I remember the shell shock less than two months after my husband passed, and Christmas was here. I don’t even remember what I did for Thanksgiving or why, but I was here, and didn’t know what to do. Invitations came from old friends, and new, at the rate of the ongoing holiday traffic in department stores. I didn’t know what to say yes to, or no, or why I chose something and didn’t choose another. All with good intentions, everyone forgot to ask what I wanted. Now I know, and I know the answer for everyone who has lost someone too:

Talk about our loved ones.

Say their name.

That’s what we want. We need it too.

Although I know the grief was fresh, because the loss was too, no one wanted to say his name. I saw the fear, the unknown, the own hurt in their eyes. The uncertainty when staring at me was that if they said “Joe” I would fall apart more, break into a few more pieces. They were scared I might cry.

They were right. I would. But what they didn’t know, is because I didn’t cry in front of them, I cried alone. I cried because they didn’t say his name. I cried alone in bed every night because the physical loss was so much, but the part that they didn’t say his name, made me feel like I was losing him more. The elephant was in the room. We all knew what I was feeling–what they were feeling. I am going to cry no matter what, just share those memories with me. When his name crosses your mind, because a funny memory just hit, tell me. Laugh about it, stare off into the distance as you reminisce that memory of him. Let a tear fall. You know why? Because it means true love never dies. The love you share with Joe, the memory of Joe, and the only gift that I, we, can give his son– is to talk about his dad.

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You can still talk about the one you love and smile. My heart will always have a hole, a missing part. But I am proud of the life I had, and have to this day., he is present every day in our lives.

 

I was told once that true love never dies. I agree. Love and people only die if you stop talking about them, if you let the memories remain silent, and you don’t say them out loud. People in grieving aren’t going to hurt more if you share a memory out loud, we’re hurting more when you stay silent. We miss them, you do too. We don’t need every moment of conversation to consume our loved one’s names, we just want you to say their name and the memory if it does cross your mind. We want you to embrace the memory that makes you laugh, share it with us so we can survive without them here. Let us share how we keep them alive and present during the holidays. Let me tell you about the Christmas letter I write every Christmas eve and slip into his stocking that then holds the years happenings in a single college-lined piece of paper. Let me tell you about the three matching angel ornaments I found this year. Let his son tell you about the recorded story of the “Night Before Christmas” that his Daddy gets to read to him every year on Christmas eve. Don’t be scared of the moment, know that it hurts because they aren’t here, but it helps because talking about them allows them to be here in the only sense possible.

Looking back and looking forward, I can only tell you one thing: There is no gift I have ever received that I want more, than time. Time with Joe, time as a family, time watching Porter with his Daddy. I never wanted stuff. It all comes and goes, fades in popularity and usage. Love doesn’t. If you are looking for a gift, especially for that one that is hurting this year, go hang out on the couch with them; take them to dinner, share a special past time with them–the bright red bow on top will be when you say their loved one’s name. It will be the very best Christmas present they receive this holiday.

Praying for all those grieving during the holidays–Keep going in grief, it’s so worth it.

XOXO,

A Widow at Christmas

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Christmas pictures with Santa and my boy, Christmas 2018

Rambling Chaos I Think I Know Almost Four Years Into Grief

He died October 26, 2014. I knew in that very moment, I would never be the same. I was right. Four years out, and I am a hot mess 99% of the time. My heart still aches, it still longs for him, it still remembers everything about him–but all of those things are different than the day he died. They changed, yet they are the same. Here’s what I think I know almost four years since I lost my husband, my best friend:

It’s hard. Dang hard. Widowed parenting. Widowed in your twenties. I never know what next step to take in any part of this life. It’s just hard.

I miss him. I miss us. I miss being a family.

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The night before we got married on the beach in North Myrtle Beach, SC- June 2012.

I’m mad at him. For no reason at all, but I have no one else to be mad at, and so sometimes I cry and scream at him because I have no one else to be angry at. Then I feel guilty. There’s nothing more he’d wish than to be right here living life together.  I know that.

The jackhammer that goes up and down and up and down–it’s a  representation of my waves of grief, up and down and up and down. Some days I know I am going to be okay, others I still do not know if I can get out of bed. I do though.

It’s not fair. None of it. Him suffering, him dying. His son and daughter not having their father here to help them grow up. Me doing this by myself without him. None of it is fair. And there is no answer–at least I still haven’t found it.

His son is starting to lose him again. That babe that was 14-months old lying in my arms at his Daddy’s funeral, he is five now. He is becoming more aware that Daddy isn’t coming back. “Mommy?” he asks, “I keep telling Daddy to come down here, (from Heaven) but he won’t listen to me. I guess he isn’t coming.” It completely rips my heart out.

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Together on Porter’s first birthday, eating shrimp and steak. They were truly the best of friends. I have never seen anything like their bond–even still.

That little boy–he has more grace for me than I ever deserve. I am tired, exhausted and defeated. I want a nap, a break, ten minutes of silence. And he doesn’t give me any of it. When I am frustrated and short-tempered, he still loves me. And I don’t know how I’d get through a day without him.

People stare–still. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do. They think that four years is far too long to still grieve and hurt and cry. They’re probably right. But man, my heart hurts. Doing life alone is no small feat. Even God assures us He created woman for man. Doing life alone is empty. Completely empty and unfulfilling.

Almost four years out, the thought of love again is hopeful and doubtful. I want to love and to be loved, but the cautious side of my broken heart is weary of the strength and confidence and graciousness it would take for someone to step into our circumstances. There’s so much gray, and my black-and-white, well-planned out mind knows only faith can allow a new beginning.

I cry. Still. Grief is a known attendee at every holiday, birthday, anniversary and milestone. But boy those days I don’t plan for, and grief just shows up–it knocks me down, gasping for air to breathe. I hate it. But grief, I have come to love. It is proof I love very deep, and always will. I am grateful for every experience with it.

I am happy. I have more good days, than bad. We are truly living. A little boy who is happy and healthy, smart, and gregarious, outgoing and caring. We’ve had experiences I could only dream of. I cannot believe I am giving him the life I am. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, and bittersweet.

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Summer 2018. We have a good life.

Things I think I know, four years out–we’re going to make it. We are making it. We have a good life. We smile, we laugh, we LIVE.

But what I also know four years out–I will never stop loving the man I call my husband. I will never stop missing him. I will always want another day, another conversation.

But four years out, there’s a life I am living I could never dream of.

Keep going in grief–it’s so worth it!

Colon Cancer Widow, XOXO,

Kristina Smith

 

Grief: It Doesn’t Get Better, It Changes

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

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

The simple answer: “NO!”

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

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

It doesn’t get better, it changes.

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

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My boy. 

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

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

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Vacationing in Grand Cayman, July 2018.

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

Kristina

To the Wife that Just Said Goodbye: Just Hang On

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

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

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

Dear Sweet New Widow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Fight CRC

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

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

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

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

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

Kristina

Dear Me on Your First Days as a Widow

Dear Me on Your First Days as a New Widow,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XOXO,

Your Future Self

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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.”

MASTERS GRAD

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!”

bubby and sis

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.

love-of-my-life

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

 

 

 

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?

Huggies

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