Dear Friends, I Forgot You Were Grieving Too

Sometimes our lens that we look out of is so narrow, so confined that we are unable to see everything and everyone outside of it. Grief has certainly narrowed my lens and vision of what I am able to see and not see. Five years out in grief and just in the past year have I started to see just how much grief my friends were/are going through too. I want to say “I’m sorry”: I’m sorry I couldn’t see it, I’m sorry I only had eyes for my own grief, I’m sorry that you were hurting too. Maybe, though, maybe a letter to my friends is what I can do in order for them to see that I can see some of their grief differently.

Dear Friends:

You stood by me, you picked me up out of bed, literally, and cried with me. You drove over an hour to sit on my front porch and hold me like a small child while I cried my eyes out to you and told you I couldn’t do “it”–life without him, and all that entailed. You took me to dinner, checked on me frequently, you showed up to help with house repairs, you text me back when I asked for a simple story of my late husband, just because it made me feel like I was closer to him. You watched my baby, you went to the pumpkin patch with us, cooked us dinner, bought me a bottle of wine. You let me cry and blubber on, and you never said a word, you just cried too.

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Now though, now five years out, my heart breaks a little more because I look back and see how much you were grieving too.  Yet, you held your grief in, so my own grief could soar. I see it now. I see so much of it. And I am equally as thankful as my broken heart.

Those tears that streamed down your face while I talked out how much I missed Joe: I know they weren’t just because I was crying too. You were crying, because you were watching one of your best friends hurting so badly, and there was nothing you could do. I see how much you grieved your friend who used to be happy, upbeat, full of life and laughter. You wanted her back, and you lost a piece of her when her husband died too. I am sorry I didn’t see that.

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Those dinners we met for, as you shared stories of you and Joe in high school and the early days of adulthood, I now know were for you too. I am sorry I couldn’t see how much your heart was broken when your best friend died. I am sorry that I was so consumed in my own grief that I couldn’t see how much of a piece of your heart was missing when your best bud, someone that was in your life far longer than mine, was no longer here for you to come hang out with. I am sorry I never validated that your entire world had changed too.

Friend that came the very next morning to tell me I had to get out of bed, and hold my baby: I am sorry I didn’t see the grief you had sitting on your heart. Those tears weren’t just for me when I begged you to believe me that I couldn’t do this life without him. I know you were grieving for my pain, but also my son’s. I know you were broken that a sweet baby would grow up without his Daddy, that there was nothing you could say or do to fix this. I know your grief was doubled when I couldn’t even talk to get out any words.

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Life-long friends: I am sorry I didn’t see it. I didn’t see how much you truly loved me. We’ve been friends since we were kids, and you came. You came to the funeral, you hugged me tight, but no words could do our life long friendship justice. No words could explain how bad your heart was broken, and how much you not only lost a friend in death, but you just lost a piece of the girl you have been friends with since we were in elementary school playing pick-up basketball on the playground at recess. I see it now: I see how much you love me, how much friendship multiplied by all the years, and the good and the bad of life can only make you love someone more. I see how you lost a friend that I brought into your life, but you lost me too when I wanted to close everyone off and demand that no one could possibly understand.

I am sorry friends. My grief has consumed my vision, my sights to only the pain my heart has experienced. Now, my heart feels more because I know just how deeply we are loved. I know you were grieving too at the loss of your friend, at the grief you couldn’t fix for us, for the part of your life that was lost that October day, five years ago.

What I can say is “Thank You.” Thank you for loving me through the storm. Thank you for loving me even when I was not lovable. Thank you for being a friend that sacrificed their own grief to validate my own. Thank you for having patience, grace, understanding. But most of all, thank you for being our friends. There’s no way I could have made it without each of you.

I genuinely hope you will always keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Kristina

 

Smith is a mom, widow, education administrator, Colon Cancer Advocate, and an Amazon Best-Selling Author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir” You can purchase your copy HERE.

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My Father’s Day Prayer for Our Son, While His Dad is in Heaven

The amount of anger and bitterness I had to fight through after losing my husband is quite embarrassing, really. No matter what anyone attempted to say or offer in their condolences or half-attempt to rationalize why my wonderful husband passed when our son was only fourteen months old, ignited my anger even more. If people offered love and sympathy, I was mad. If others said they are more grateful for their husbands, after watching Joe pass and seeing my struggle, that fueled my anger too. No one could win with me, and I never made it easy for others to be my support.

I was just mad. And you know what? There are still days, four and a half years out, that I have to check myself, reign it in, and stop trying to justify why God chose to take my husband and the best Daddy I have ever seen, from this world. I work in public education, I see the parents who refuse to show up, who never answer phone calls and emails, who’s children are raising themselves. And I try to rationalize why God chose my hands-on, always-at-school-volunteering-for-his-daughter, still-trying-to-share-parenting-responsibilities-with-me-for-our-newborn-while-on-chemotherapy- Dad. And you know what? There is no answer. There is no answer, no why, that is going to make sense, or come close to why Joe was cut short with his daughter and his son on this Earth. And THAT is a hard reality to swallow.

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Joe volunteered once a month as a Watch  Dog, in our local elementary school for his daughter, up until he got sick. It was their very, favorite day of the month.

So, albeit trying to control my anger and bitterness, I remember changing my prayer and talk with God. I stopped asking Him “Why?”; I gave up dwelling on fathers I know who choose not to be apart of their children’s lives, and I asked God something different. I asked him this:

“God, if we can’t have Joe back, if our son does not get to grow up with him, please send good, solid men role models to our son’s life. Allow the people that will be needed to mold our son into the man we prayed he would become, to enter his life path whenever they are supposed to, to teach him the things he will need to be successful in this world.” 

I forgot I asked God this request, for quite some time. Until this Father’s Day has been approaching, the past few weeks. Take note, all holidays kill me; EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. THEM. I’d love to tell you one more than the other, but every single one of them is a tidal wave that drowns me in longing for the life I always dreamed of. Father’s Day approaching, I always try to think of what I am going to do with our son to celebrate the Daddy he loves so much. We never fail to celebrate Daddy on all of his special days. And THAT is when it hit me.

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Celebrating Daddy, by going up in a helicopter ride. Our guy said, “We are really close to Daddy now, hu, mommy?” Flying in the sky is pretty darn close to Heaven after all. 

God did deliver. He has delivered. And He WILL continue to deliver. There are men that have been placed in our son’s life who our son ADORES! Whether it my friend’s husband that takes him to the farm for the day, teaches him how to call cows, and jumps in the lake with their underpants on. It may be one of the great men I work with, that my son stops dead in his tracks, yells his name, and runs into his arms every time he sees him; and then demands to hang out with him, his wife, and daughter, rather than me. It’s the other friend’s husband that takes him under his wing, hikes trails with him and his own son, and loves him among his own kids. Or even the employee at work who takes our son on movie/dinner nights–that gives me a chance to breathe as a momma, but also gives my son a male influence he needs. I can’t tell you how many times God has delivered. The day after Joe passed away, basketball season began. I had a new assistant coach, that I knew nothing about. That man is one of my son’s best friends. He picked him up at those early-morning practices, spoiled him with M&M’s at 7 a.m., and even just recently had our little man stand up with him on his wedding day.

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These two were inseparable. Nope–are inseparable. There is never a day we don’t talk about his Daddy. We are over four and a half years out after colon cancer took Joe from us. And their love and bond are something I have never seen before, in my life.

The list is endless. The prayer has been answered, and I know, it will continue to be. Would I love to have my husband, the father of my son to be here today to celebrate him for Father’s Day, birthdays, well, heck, every day? More than I could ever begin to tell anyone. But if I can’t have that, then Joe’s son has the very next best thing. He has incredible men, who they may not even know, are an answered prayer to a momma who hurts so bad she can’t give her son the one thing he wants the most–his Dad. Our son has strong, male role models in his life that give him love, life lessons, and above all time. And in the end, isn’t that all we want more of? Time? It always is.

Happy Father’s Day to all those men out there giving a little extra of themselves to a little boy who’s Daddy is in Heaven this Father’s Day. This struggling momma isn’t angry, but thankful tonight!

One Proud Momma,

Kristina Smith

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Smith is an Amazon best-selling author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir.” You can purchase your copy HERE.

How I Know My Dying Husband’s Nurses Played Cards

This past week Washington State Senator, Maureen Walsh, proclaimed that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably played cards for a considerable amount of the day, ” (CNN). What she was specifically referring to, is rural hospitals with smaller number of patients/beds to take care of. What she underestimated in her ill-planned statement though is a true caregiver’s perspective.

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True Love

You see, I was seven months pregnant with my first child, when my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. We were blindsided by the diagnosis, let alone the late stage, and even the detrimental words “terminal.” We live very rural, a small lake-town that thrives off of tourism in our service industry businesses. And, I have to tell you, Senator Walsh was right: those chemotherapy infusion nurses, those post-surgery, seventh floor angels, those pain-control, specialty oncology nurses, they did play cards. I watched, observed, cried, thanked, and even begged them to keep playing cards to save my husband. Let me tell you about those cards they played:

When those masked, and scrubbed-in angels pushed my husband out on his hospital bed, down the corridors, and into his new “home” for the next 10 days–they played the card of who they should take care of first–their patient or the patient’s wife. They struggled if they should take care of the man wincing and crying out in pain, or if they should take care of the seven-month swollen expecting momma that was beside herself as she hovered over his body in his bed. They played the cards of wondering what they should convince that desperate wife and expecting mother of first: should she eat and feed that small babe growing inside her, or do we tell her she needs to sleep for the first time since they checked in four days ago?

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Eight Months Pregnant, in for another surgery for an infection that developed.

Those blue-scrubbed Mercy Angels played the cards of wondering if they wrap their arms around that depleted wife when she was on her hands and knees begging God to relieve the pain her husband gasped for help with–or do they hold the small nine-month old chunky baby that was in the hospital floor playing with his toys to give that devoted wife a moment to just be her husband’s best friend and saving grace.

Those chemotherapy and infusion nurses–the real heroes in our story–they juggled the most cards of all. They juggled do we take care of the expecting momma, and later the momma of a five-day old, or do we tend to our patient’s every need. Do we take food, baby toys, or any of their needs to their overnight hospital stay, or do we stay home with our own families that we need to spend time with? They juggled whether they got to cry in front of us, or escape to the backroom to relieve emotions, when the oncologist said there was nothing more we could do. When those champion card players saw that frail, bony husband of mine disoriented, unaware of everything going on around him, and a momma carrying him on one arm, and their sweet year old baby in the other out of the chemo clinic–they played the card of what emotion they got to show that day.

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Our “spot” at our doctor’s appointment every other Thursday. All day infusion, meant juggling lesson plan writing, grading papers, and a sweet baby taking a nap in between me and his Daddy’s chair.

Senator Walsh, you are correct. Our rural, country, small-town nurses do play cards all day–in fact, a considerable amount of the day. Wait–no– all day and all night. They play cards when they go home, when they are supposed to be with their families, when they are supposed to take care of themselves. They are master card players, the real poker faces in this game of healthcare. They play the cards of taking care of patients, taking care of patient’s caregivers, families, dying wishes, egos, dignity, and every single basic need in between. And while they are playing those cards, they are card sharks at playing their own cards of emotions, family, vulnerability, and juggling their personal time that they devote to their patients and their families. They attend funerals, they hold that wife and that brand new baby in their arms while they weep because they are standing at the coffin of a patient they loved.

They are card sharks. Poker faces. True Vegas-style card players. Yes, Senator Walsh, my husband’s country, rural-small town nurses play cards. The very best cards there are to play. And I couldn’t be more thankful.

A Champion for Nurses,

Joe Smith’s Widow

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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.

Coincidences Do Not Exist, Here’s How I Know

I have had a lot of things, actions, “weird stuff” happen since my husband passed away, that I simply cannot give a rational reason or explanation for. All I could tell anyone is that these things happen, and the instant they do, I know it is Joe. I have had friends look at me with “the look” of pity, as if they think I am crazy, and only clinging to believe that it could be Joe, since I miss him so desperately. I have even been told I have a “good imagination.” I used to get upset by such measures, and then I realized most people don’t know. They don’t know the unbearable, immeasurable loss I took, personally and for my son, over four years ago when my husband, and Porter’s Daddy passed away. And since people don’t understand that loss, or that love, I realize they wouldn’t get how many unexplained things happen. I do not believe in coincidences, and the death of my husband has only solidified that. Here’s why: maybe, just maybe, one of these instances could mean a coincidence, but all of them, in combination together, there’s just simply no way. God tells us multiple times He sends us signs, we just have to look for them. And sometimes when I feel like God, and Joe, are furthest away and I can’t feel them, it’s because I am not searching for them.

The first time I knew Joe wasn’t far away, was less than one month after he passed away. Putting laundry away in our bedroom, I heard our sixteen-month-old baby in the living room cackling–you know that baby belly laugh, where you can’t help but laugh too? Knowing no one else was home, I slowly peeked out my bedroom door to see what was so funny. There, I saw that sweet little bald-headed babe watching intently if someone were sitting right in front of him, and he was anticipating what was going to happen next. That look on his face with the smile already there, but waiting for the punch of hilarity, and then the red-faced, belly-laugh ensued. The laugh only stopped long enough for him to pause for the next motion of funniness as he watched whatever it was in front of him, and then the cycle of laughter continued. That moment in time, where what I could see was only a child and no one else, but there was clearly someone there entertaining him….Well, I guess unless you were there to see the pure happiness of that child as he interacted with someone I could not see, was the moment I knew his Dad hadn’t gone far.

Less than two weeks later, sitting in my bedroom closet, that wobbly, big-headed baby looked at me knowing he was going to take his first steps to me. You see at sixteen months we still weren’t walking yet, because he had grown up in hospital floors, being held more times than put down, because of Daddy being sick and always in the hospital or the chemo chair. As I stretched my arms out for him to take two steps to me, he excitedly reached out with a smile, and when he fell into my arms, he immediately without a second of hesitation screamed Daddy, as he looked over my shoulder. Flabbergasted, I pulled him away so I could look at his face, and he was set on the image behind me that I couldn’t see–with known intent of who he really took his first steps for. His Daddy.

As I went to speak to Congress for the first time three years ago, I was sat with a group of states. Missouri advocates sat with South Carolina. Significance? That is the state we were married in. And South Carolina sat right next to me. I knew Joe was there, affirming what I was doing.

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Missouri and South Carolina advocates were pre-planned to sit next to each other.

My first wedding anniversary without him was in June 2015. From October 26, 2014 until June I had searched my house high and low. I knew, I just knew, in my heart that Joe had left me a message, a note, something, somewhere in our house. I emptied drawers, closets, searched his shop, looked everywhere–and I found nothing. I was in desperate need to find something, because Joe and I could never talk about dying. Ever. There were prime times to talk about, times I knew we were both thinking about the conversation about what I should do if he passed, but physically I could not choke the words out. I just needed something. Three days before our first wedding anniversary with him in Heaven, I was looking for a card that a friend sent. In the middle of a stack of baby shower and birthday cards for our son, I found a card with the words, “Love of my Life” scribbled across it. Inside that card, he wrote, “There is nothing more I want then to spend the rest of my life with you and our family. Love Always, XOXO, Joe.” So tell me, how, after intentionally searching our home for months, did I find this three days before our wedding anniversary? More importantly, I have no idea when he would have went to get this card, I was always with him, he could never drive on his own, and yet I still have no idea when he placed that card for me to find.

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To see his handwriting again…to see his last wish written and know that I gave that to him–tears of joy and longing for what was.

Most recently, I turned thirty. A birthday I am thrilled to get to celebrate, and more time with our son and my friends and family. As the day approached though, the thought hit me that my husband would never know me in my thirties. It hit hard too. Approximately two and a half months before my birthday I had submitted a proclamation request to Missouri’s Governor to declare March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Since I had not heard anything, it was vaguely out of my thoughts. But only three days before my birthday, a signed proclamation was in the mail. How did the perfect timing of this happen–a reminder from someone that he wasn’t far as my big birthday approached? I think so.

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Happy 30th to Me!

I’ve written our memoir and have worked over three years on it. At times, feeling as though I may not make this dream a reality, I had a friend step in. As I joined them in their office, and they turned around their computer to say “Happy Birthday” there a revised draft of our story, our struggle, our blessings is a book cover that could only make me scream, laugh, cry, but no words come out. That friend? I only met him through Joe–without Joe, I wouldn’t have the chance to know him. He then volunteers to help get everything set up, going, and ready to make the book live, because he believes in me that much. Why? Coincidence? Coincidence that so many years ago, Joe introduced me to this person, and now they are my champion? Again, I don’t think so.

You see, the list goes on. It goes on and on and on. The cards from friends I haven’t heard from in years, on the days that I can’t hardly get out of bed. The songs that I haven’t heard in forever, and yet they play at the most opportune times. The people–THE PEOPLE that years ago, seemed like they were just an acquaintance, and they are the ones that have completely changed my life in pivotal ways. The “random” chances of “just the right people” hearing my story, that spurs leading me to go speak to Congress, that then “just the other right person” hearing my story, and asking me to model and represent caregivers under the age of 50 in an advocacy colorectal cancer national magazine, that “just the right time” I am led to write a book.

Coincidences don’t exist. They are far more explained when you start connecting all of them and how they play a much bigger picture in your life. Coincidences are really God at work, in His ever-mysterious, never fully-explained or understood way. They are all around us, and I know that God, and Joe, send me these signs to know neither of them are very far away.

Keep going in grief. Find the sings, not the coincidences, and know that God and your loved one are right there with you. It’s so worth it.

XOXO–Kristina

Why I Thanked God for Making Me a Widow

I thanked God for making me a widow, at the mere age of 25.

Wait! What?

Yep. Four years and a month since that fateful day, I can finally say I have given thanks multiple times for this awful club I am apart of. It is hard to say out loud, and even harder to share– because those that haven’t lost their spouse and grieved so deeply, may not understand. I am going to try to help you to “get it” right here:

You see, four years ago I wasn’t even a full month out from losing my husband, before Thanksgiving plans had to be made, and Christmas decorations and gifts needed to be bought. I was in a fog, so deep, I simply said “Yes” to whomever asked us to do something. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just went with what others thought I should be doing. I didn’t sit by myself, and knew I had to give my son holidays to remember.

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Our last photo together, four days before he went to Heaven. Less than a month later, we had to celebrate Thanksgiving and prepare for Christmas.

Holidays after that, I was angry, bitter, spiteful, and even accusatory. No one got “it.” No one understood, no one could possibly understand how bad my heart hurt, or begin to understand how unfair it was that my life got torn away from us. I was mad at those that complained, I was mad at those that shouted their joyful hearts. I was just mad.

This year, though, I have three friends who are new widows. Their husbands are gold on Earth, but, I know, golden beyond belief in Heaven. Their hearts are hurting, and have since they had to say good-bye. But you know what? I got them– not in a way that is going to make their holidays easier, less painful, or magically better. But I get “it.” And all those times you are sitting in a room full of family and friends, who don’t know what to say, who have no idea what to do, sometimes just a text to a person who gets it–makes it bearable.

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Colon Cancer brought this widow and I together. We share nearly identical stories: seven months pregnant with a boy, when our husbands were diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. They both fought 16 months before passing away, when our sons were 14 months old.

 

I didn’t have that other widow when Joe first died. In fact, I didn’t have that other widow, until them. I hate we are in this club together, but I am thankful they don’t have to have any one that gets it either. I wish I didn’t understand, I wish they didn’t understand. Since we do though, I am grateful we have each other to carry the load, encourage each other, and just get through the most unbearable moments together.

I have more than enough to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Colon cancer and it’s savage war may have taken my husband away from me on Earth, but it has given me so much more. It has given me friends that are now family; it has given me opportunities beyond my wildest imagination. It has given me a perspective that only colon cancer and death could give you at the age of 25. It has given me hope, heartache, and love beyond belief.

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What I am most thankful for: A boy that gives me purpose, love, grace, and the reassurance his Dad is with us every single day.

Colon cancer made me better. I love deeper and far more big. My heart hurts for others in their own despair, I cry at a drop of a hat, and my heart could burst for those I love and their accomplishments. I am the biggest cheerleader for those around me. How could I not be thankful for more love in my life?

Today, and every day, I am thankful for colon cancer and being a widow. It made me THANKFUL for even the smallest things in life, and even those things that I thought I didn’t have an ounce of joy for.Colon cancer and being a widow made me better. I am thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving! Keep going in grief–it’s so worth it.

XOXO-Kristina

Grief: It Doesn’t Get Better, It Changes

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

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

The simple answer: “NO!”

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

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

It doesn’t get better, it changes.

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

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My boy. 

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

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

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Vacationing in Grand Cayman, July 2018.

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

Kristina

To the Wife that Just Said Goodbye: Just Hang On

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

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

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

Dear Sweet New Widow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Fight CRC

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

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

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

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

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

Kristina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XOXO,

A  Widow, Without Giving God Permission

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Dear Me on Your First Days as a Widow

Dear Me on Your First Days as a New Widow,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XOXO,

Your Future Self

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Being Content in My Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am content.

See the Beauty in the Ashes,

Kristina