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

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

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

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

Dear Handsome,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love you. Forever and Always,

Your Son’s Mother