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

Dear Handsome,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huggies

I love you. Forever and Always,

Your Son’s Mother

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The Unexpected Side Effects of Cancer for the Patient’s Wife and Kids

I thought June 20, 2013 was the worst day of my life after the doctors told me my husband had colon cancer, whilst I held our seven-month pregnant belly to comfort my breaking heart. Just a few months later, I was certain August 14, 2013 took the cake, as they told me the cancer was classified as Stage IV and had already spread to his liver. The doctor said any treatment from here on out would only prolong life–there was no cure. But, October 26, 2014 proved to truly be the most unimaginable, destructive day of my life. My husband, my hero, took his last breath, laying in my arms.

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Joe having chemo, while our son sleeps next to him in a pallet of blankets, in the doctor’s office.

For sixteen months, doctors told me what to expect. They informed me of the side-effects of the multitude of surgeries. They prefaced the chemo–every different regimen, mixture, and hypothetical consequence of it. The skin rash was normal, it meant the chemo was working. The vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite–again, “normal,” since putting poison in your body to save your life, is normal, also. Hair loss, weight loss, just ‘loss’ was expected in the fight against cancer. The pain, they said, was normal for cancer patients, as was the never ending anxiousness, and never fully healed abdominal wound from the total colectomy. The oncologist even explained the severe depression for my mentally-tough husband was normal; after all, his entire life had been turned upside down. His life, our life, had been turned into something we hadn’t planned or imagined. Pain medication, appetite stimulants, anti-depressants, and anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications were prescribed, in hopes they would lull the side-effects.

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Post-Surgery from a total colectomy. 

No one told me the side-effects of cancer on my husband’s wife, or children though. No one talked about the severe depression that sits in when all control is taken away from your spouse, as they watch you suffer. No one told her what to do when her husband’s son asks for his daddy to “come down” and play with him, but tells his mommy that his daddy can’t hear him, all the way up in Heaven. No one tells that widow what to do when the house needs repairs, who to call, or the know-how to do it herself. No one told his best friend if it was okay to still be crawled up into a ball in her closet floor, two-and-a-half years later, silently crying to herself so their son wouldn’t see her again. There was no medical professional to tell his son’s mother if it was okay to be angry at him on the really hard days, after he was gone, because she was here to do life without him. No doctor prescribed medication for all the sleepless nights of insomnia that shook her soul. And no doctor had medicine to fix her broken heart. No doctor could tell her how his children would handle the grief differently, or what book to read to know how to handle each way. The doctors and nurses didn’t tell that widow what to expect on birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. The medical team didn’t preface what normal was after cancer left a family, one less.

The side-effects of cancer are ones I never thought of in the storm we trudged through. I never thought to ask what was normal after the chemotherapy appointments were over, and the surgeries were done. I didn’t want to know, or expect to know, there were so many consequences left over after cancer ravaged his body. That’s cancer’s power though, it takes over so many lives, than just the patients. Doctors could not possibly foresee all of the side-effects.

I’d like to think I’ve experienced every last side-effect of cancer: depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger, uncontrollable sobbing, unexpected lumps to swallow in my throat to avoid the tears again. I’d like to think I knew exactly when it would hit, when grief is slowly creeping up, and when it will just take a bite out of me. I never do though. Side-effects of cancer keep coming. Forever. I can foresee the long-term effects of our son not having his dad teach him to ride his bike, or work on his first truck with him. I know the side-effect of cancer will make itself appear when his girl walks down the aisle. I am certain I will not be able to wash away the tears when our son advances through the stages of life, growing into the man his daddy wanted him to be. I don’t have a crystal ball though. I cannot see when the side-effects will make themselves more evident, and the days they fade a little more distant. Until then, I’m going to keep fighting cancer, and all of its side-effects.

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Fighting with FightCRC in Washington, DC.

Cancer Side-Effects Suck,

Kristina

 

 

We Talked About Everything. Except Dying.

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

me and Joe baby-FAVE

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristina

Redefining Widowhood: A Young Widow’s Perspective

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

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

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

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

MASTERS GRAD

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

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

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

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Dreams, Hope, and Love,

A 28-Year-Old Widow

Finding Purpose Through Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purposeful, Fighting for a Cure, Kristina