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.

Chris and I

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.

CC Family Dinner

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

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.

joe-chemo

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.

joehopsital

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.

fighter

Fighting with FightCRC in Washington, DC.

Cancer Side-Effects Suck,

Kristina