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

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

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