Dear Holiday-Grief, You’re Going to Suck

Dear Holiday Grief:

You’ve come again, despite the invitation that was never sent. You have a way of showing up some times far early, but as the years have gone on, you creep in later and later at the last minute. I never appreciate your entrance, but annoyingly, roll my eyes, scoot over, and allow you a seat at my table. You wouldn’t care if I didn’t, you would shove me over and wedge yourself into a spot you didn’t fit anyways, wouldn’t you?

Our first and only Christmas together. December 2013

You know why I don’t like you? You suck me in to the point I have no air in my lungs; you make my legs not want to get out of bed, and you make the simplest tasks the hardest in the whole world. You suck the smile off of my face, and you suck tears out of my eyes that pour down my cheeks, until I have to step into another room to attempt to pull away from your grip.

You are the reason that there is no pure happiness anymore. You linger in the shadows, in the cracks of the family get-togethers and the emptiness of a fully packed house. I see you when we are all laughing, playing games, and being entertained by the little boy who brings me more of you, yet also lightens your grip you have on my heart. I am six years out, and just when I think you and I are done with our obligatory holiday dance, when I feel you distancing yourself from the relationship we have shared all these years, then you pounce out of nowhere, and you insist we sit and get too comfortable again. Year after year, you can’t just go away, can you?

The only memory this little guy has is so many pictures and stories that we share with him.

I really would wish you could pick someone else, but then, I know you already do. You pick so many of us every year, but that is your trick isn’t it? You add to your list of holiday guests, but you never take any off, do you? You are a masterful juggler that visits all over the world, simultaneously, never missing a beat. You wear out your welcome, with me, with everyone, and you can’t just give us a second, can you?

I want to be mad at you; really mad at you. I want to tell you I hate you, and I wish I never knew you. I want to tell you I don’t want you to invite yourself for the holidays this year, or any future year. It isn’t the truth though, is it? You and I both know that although you bring sadness, loneliness, nostalgia, it is only because of love that you have the power to bring the sad things too. In fact, because of you, memory lane is a bit sweeter, more treasured, more loved than if you didn’t accompany it. You bring the happiness, the smile that has tears spill over it, and you always, always bring perspective.

Life is so good today; Our family trip in June 2019 to Hawaii to celebrate the oldest graduating from high school.

Our relationship, holiday-grief, is a complicated one. You suck life away from me, yet somehow you remind me what life is really about. You suck away the really, really annoying, petty, small things, and allow me to focus on the best memories of my life….and the present ones too. I despise you some days, and others I only want to wallow in your company. I’ll never understand how you can taint pure joy with the sharp bitterness of loss, but I’ll also never understand how you can bring the most distant memory to the very surface of my beating heart. Your complexity of bringing the biggest smile to my face, while tears trickle the corners of that smile happen all at once.

I don’t hate you. Our relationship of two-stepping between love and hate is so fine, so blurry I could never see where one side ends or begins. Some days you have no boundaries though, and you are too overbearing for me to handle. I can only hope you suck out the bad, but not the good. But that’s just not how you work, is it?

Holiday-grief, you suck. But I am used to your uninvited-self in my heart. I love the memories, so I guess I’ll let you stay.

Keep going in grief. It’s so worth it. XOXO-Kristina

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.

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.

love-of-my-life

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.

NikkiandI

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.

Pumpkinpatch

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.

joeandipresurgery

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.

joehopsital

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.

joe-chemo

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