My Son’s Words Destroyed My Soul: “I Don’t Remember Daddy”

Driving in our truck down the familiar route home, the mirror down so we could have our never-ending chats back-and-forth:

“I don’t remember Daddy.”

Heart stopping, panic paralyzing my body, I swerve, so I could catch a glimpse of his face in the mirror, I pull the wheel back over into the correct lane, “What?”

Shakes his head, makes eye contact with me in the mirror.

“What do you mean? Of course you remember Daddy.”

“No I don’t.”

Quick to not put my own beliefs on him, trying to block the tears welling up in my eyes, I throw the mirror up to avoid the eye contact I was originally soliciting, swallow the lump in my throat, and ask again: “What do you mean you don’t remember Daddy, honey? We talk about him all the time.”

“I know, but I don’t remember him. And I ask you all the time when we get to see him again, it’s been a REALLY long time, Mommy.”

In that very moment, sheer panic took over my soul. My mind was racing a million thoughts:

Did we not talk about him enough? Have I not showed him enough home videos? There’s never a day we don’t talk about something Daddy did, his name is spoken every single day. This cannot be real.

I dropped the conversation, because he didn’t push it. But the lingering panic still took over my body.

What did I do wrong? We have talked about him non-stop, every day, for the past four and a half years. I am intentional, I make sure he knows every single memory, no matter how small, about his Dad. Where could I have been better?

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We celebrate Daddy’s birthday every year: This was Spring 2018 when we flew in a helicopter so that we were “closer” to Daddy in Heaven. 

Three days later, this morning at 5:30 a.m. the answer hit me–I didn’t do it wrong. Time did this. He was only fourteen months old when his Daddy passed. Despite there being a connection between the two of them, things that have happened, that I KNOW was Joe coming to see a sweet innocent baby to tell him things, that otherwise he could have never known–time did this, time has taken over. I truly believe babies have an innocence that this world eventually takes from them. They have not been trained to only believe what they can see, I believe they are the closest form to Heaven, as we can get on this Earth. But he is older, and his sweet, little brain is maturing and reason is taking over. And he doesn’t understand how we can’t just call Daddy, or why Daddy can’t come home today, or… ever.

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One of their last pictures together. They always had to be touching, and this picture is the epitome of “Guide me, Daddy.”

He has been alive without his Daddy far longer, than when his Daddy was alive on Earth with him. I know in my heart, he remembers what he remembers because I refuse to let his Daddy’s name be mute. I know that as time does pass, that your brain lets go of memories. I know this, and yet the tears falling down my face for the past three days, seemingly continue to destroy my soul.

I would have given everything in this world to have his Daddy watching him grow into the amazing kid he is today. I would give anything to give him the answer my son wants, that we get to see Daddy today, when he walks through the doors and comes home. But instead, I manage to choke out, “Soon,” even though it won’t be soon enough for him–or me.

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Oh, the day it will be, when we are all together again. 

Does reality of truth hurts? Yeah. It hurts like a level of pain I have never before felt in my life. I, somewhere, deep down, knew this day would come. I knew that maturity of the brain would bring on a whole different level of questions, grief, and understanding. Holy cow, though, I never knew the innocence of those words from that sweet boy, could cut me so deep.

So today, I will ask for an extra sign, or two, from the Heavens, to know I am doing grief right with this boy, and a reminder that my husband is still with us every single moment of every day.

I don’t have the answers–I am just trying to figure this out as we go.

Keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Kristina

KSmith

Smith is a mom, widow, education administrator, colon cancer advocate, blogger, and a best-selling author of her book, “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir. You can purchase your copy HERE.

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Excuse Me, I Have a Date with Grief

Grief is tricky, isn’t it? Although the pain is always fresh, there, and something we live with every day, on birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, grief seems to rear it’s ugly head and intensify the loneliness, the pain, the sorrow of missing our loved ones. Although grief is now a part of my every breath of existence, I seem to know that I am going to have a date with grief, dance with him for a few days (sometimes weeks), on these dates:

January 12

April 8

May 18

June 20

June 29

July 4

August 21

October 26

Thanksgiving

Christmas

My birthday, his birthday, our daughter’s birthday, the day he was diagnosed with cancer, our wedding anniversary, our dating anniversary, our son’s birthday, the day he passed, and the holidays: You see, these are the dates I know my trusty companion–grief– is going to come see me. He always lingers his presence right before these dates, and sometimes he stays far longer than he is invited to. Grief and I have come to a new place, though. Even though I know he is coming to see me, we look different and here’s how:

I know I am going to be sad. I know that tears are going to fall, but on his birthday, his boy and I always go to breakfast at Mommy and Daddy’s favorite little diner. After we eat, we surprise whoever our server is and we leave a tip of whatever age Daddy would have been that year. Last year, we got to leave a $41 tip, and a note that went with it–talk about smacking grief right in the face. We did good. And we loved it.

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He was so happy to get to bless someone else, as we quickly left so the server would be surprised. 

When we left there, we celebrated that man I love so much. I took his boy in a helicopter ride so we could “be close to Daddy.” Because sometimes it is the innocence of a child and their ability to feel closer to the Daddy they love and miss, that heals my own heart. I loved this date with grief, we made it better.

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Flying high in the sky, just like Daddy.

That red-headed little girl that is turning 18 this year–we’re going to celebrate big. Though birthday parties aren’t her thing as she is grown into a beautiful young lady, traveling is. And no matter how old his kids get, I love getting to give them the life he would want them to have!

June 20th will forever be etched into my mind. This is the day I had a seven month swollen belly, when the doctor told me Joe had Colon Cancer, and immediate surgery was needed. When this day hits each year, I always look around and realize that I could never believe that cancer diagnosis could give me the life I have today–good and bad. And I thank God for all that was delivered in it. The bad made me better, the good restored my faith in humanity, and allowed me the time I needed with Joe.

My wedding anniversary and dating anniversary may be the most special though. Although unbearable my first few years, I vowed to myself I would always celebrate it–not wallow in my tears in bed all day. Porter and I went back to the beach Joe and I got married on my first anniversary without him; the next year, I went parasailing over Table Rock Lack; the next–I went to dinner at sunset at a beautiful upscale restaurant, and last year I went to see my favorite artists in concert. Grief tangos with me as I celebrate an anniversary alone, but I refuse to allow it to take all the happiness my marriage brought, and continues to bring into my life.

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Tim McGraw and Faith Hill #LiveLikeYouWereDying

Possibly the hardest date I celebrate is August 21–the day we welcomed our boy into this world. Though I watch him in amazement, astonishment, love and pride beyond what my heart can hold, tears flow down my cheeks. His Daddy would be SO proud of him–I know he is. I just want him here to celebrate with us. Instead, we watch the smoke from the candles we blow out go up into Heaven, so “Daddy can see us eating the cake.” Those birthday presents? They are always signed, “Love, Mommy and Daddy.” Because his Daddy is still giving us the life, he would always want us to have. I know because I seem him in everything we do and everything around us.

The final day I got to kiss and hug him goodbye, is my biggest date of the year with grief. Oh, grief shows up big–the tears fall all day, the broken heart lurches into my throat for me to try to swallow over and over again. I cannot help but watch our home videos, because somehow they heal me to see/hear him again, and they hurt me too. Taking a day for myself, away from work, responsibilities and life, has seemed to reset me, get myself into check and help me with clarity. What I would say though–helping others takes the cake. And therefore, holding a fundraiser to raise funds for a scholarship to give to a senior that will graduate after losing a parent, or going under the radar to help a family in need–THAT is the way I “celebrate” grief on the day that reminds me of our final moments.

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Only four days before he passed. One of my very favorite pictures.

Holidays are no different–but here’s what I want you to know. The traditions, the memories, the get-together’s, the celebrations–they just amplify that our loved ones aren’t here. It is not that the pain and loneliness isn’t here during the rest of the year, it just exposes loss and loneliness. I started a new tradition, and my angel tree, and the search for new angel ornaments each year, ensures Joe is still ever-present in this life.

What I want you to know? We all dance with grief–our dates, anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays–they are ever more reminders of what we have lost and what we love. It’s not bad, it’s life. Celebrate with us in whatever crazy way we come up with. Talk to us about them, allow us to remember the ones we love in Heaven, with the ones still here on Earth. Be one of those in celebration–after all, we love you too!

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

Dear Me on Your First Days as a Widow

Dear Me on Your First Days as a New Widow,

The fear you feel inside of being alone, not knowing how to raise your son without his Dad, the void of the amount of time that is not focused on prescription refills, doctor’s appointments, and watching your husband in pain anymore, will soon ease. The anxiety you have when you think that time will actually heal the pain, but it will also mean you love him less–that anxiety is wrong. You will never love him less. You just love him different; and that different is okay, but I cannot explain it to you. When everyone says you are so strong–they are right. You will not intend for any of this to be a stage to show your strength, but you will. There will be purpose behind your pain, there will be a way to touch others, love others, and to truly empathize for those that are hurting in grief. Take a deep breath, sweet widow, it is all going to work out how it should.

The anxiety you feel when you think of loving him less, you are going to battle this for years. You never do though. Somewhere along the way, you love him differently. It evolves so subtly, you don’t even realize it has changed. Those moments you get so upset and emotional thinking about loving him differently, less in any way compared to the deepest love and sacrifice you’ve ever experienced just days before in his last moments, allow them to. Just know they do not change your love for him. The love is still sweet, unconditional, sacrificial love. Some how, after three and a half years, it is all of those things, and calming. It is so bittersweet you still shed a tear because you miss that, in some ways though, you are used to your new normal.

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Your new normal, is not one that you think you will have. There is never in a million years things you can think of that will happen. Opportunities to speak out about Colon Cancer Advocacy, grief, professional growth, and oh-that sweet boy. He will give you so many opportunities, you cannot even imagine. Your new normal, still consists of him–your husband. After all, your marriage, your friendship, your undeniable love for each other, shapes you into who you are even years later. You will feel him every step you take, every moment you look into your son’s eyes and see his Daddy. The pictures that align the walls and counters in your home are vivid reminders of the love you share. Holding onto all of his stuff though, eventually fades. It is one of the hardest things you will do, emptying closets, drawers, his shop full of tools and hobbies. But that isn’t him anymore, and you will, just like everything, so naturally evolve into letting them go. If you cannot let stuff go, then it is not time. Everyone’s good advice, and “their” timetable–is not your’s. Do not use it to determine what your next step needs to be. Let emotions evolve when you are ready, that is how you know when you are ready.

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Time is tricky. All of those friends and family that keep telling you, “Time will heal,” well they are correct. Time doesn’t heal the whole heart, or all of the pain, nightmares, reliving of those worst moments. Time also does not erase all of the great moments either. Time is just that; there is natural evolution in time, and that is what helps the heart to continue to do the day-to-day’s you need to get done. In the beginning you keep shouting that you do not want time to heal, that to heal, would mean there is less memories and love. You are wrong, though. Time allows you to remember more of the good, than the bad, and with that, you heart has more joy and thankfulness. Time will be your friend, and on days, your enemy. Allow time to be what you need it to be.

Just like evolving in so many ways, strength will build over these days and years. There is no intent here, and you’ll trade strength for your husband to come home. The harsh reality though, builds strength, into an area you could never possibly think to get to. Strength is not measured in tears, middle-of-the-night closet camp outs crying in a curled up ball, nor is it measured by the days you are angry and hateful because everyone else’s lives seem to be “going on” even though your’s is not. Strength is just getting through those days, all of them; trying to ensure your sweet little boy still has memories of his Daddy, even though it kills you to share those memories you miss the most. Strength is cleaning the house, managing a toddler, going to work, juggling it all yourself. That is strength, despite you knowing it, you are evolving to the strongest person you could never have imagined.

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Oh sweet, fresh widow. These days are hard. Do they get easier? Some. Three and a half years out, and you still are going to have days you do not get out of bed, days you are mad at this world and the circumstances that are. Every day you will see your son’s Daddy in his eyes looking back at you, but keep on going. Allowing a good man’s legacy to live through you and your child, has deeper meaning and purpose to life. There are going to be so many good days; and so many bad. Love and something you cannot explain will get you through.

Just remember: “It hurts this bad, because you loved each other that much.” And never, will you have chosen to love less, in order for the pain to be less.

XOXO,

Your Future Self

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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

My Secrets of Grief I Didn’t Tell Anyone

Grief is the nastiest thing I have experienced in my life. I have had heartache, in so many different forms from a high school break up to the loss of my best friend and grandpa. I struggled growing up, wanting the acceptance of my dad, and even experienced the heartache of betrayal, as so many of us have. Grief though? Grief takes the cake–the combination of losing my best friend, my husband, the father of my son, the memories and chances I didn’t get to watch him with our son, and the lost years I envisioned as I gave him my vows.

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My sweet grandpa and I, five months before he passed. He really was my best friend.

Grief is tricky though–the smile on my face, the joy that I experience, the amazing blessings and opportunities that God continues to shower down on me, almost mask the side-effects of grief to those on the outside. The outside, is never the true model of the inside and what my heart constantly battles on a daily basis. In all honesty, we live in a society that doesn’t discuss grief, we hide it, and we do not talk about it. The reality is though, we all live in grief: in some form or fashion, and the more we talk about it, the less we allow grief to isolate us.

These are my secrets of grief; some I am not proud of, but all of them helped me get where I am today, almost three years after I kissed my husband good-bye. Grief secrets shared:

  • When you tell me that I am strong, I cringe inside, unworthy of the compliment you just gave. I keep it a secret how many times I crawl into a ball in our bedroom closet floor to cry my eyes out in the middle of the night. Yes, even still, almost three years later. I hate doing life without him, and I hate even more not seeing him with our son as he continues to grow.
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Porter and his Daddy on his 1st Birthday-August 21, 2014.

  • I don’t sleep–yes, even still. Most nights my mind is racing so fast, I can’t stay focused on one thing long enough to finish the task. I know he isn’t here, but I want to prove I can do it all and continue to make him proud. Besides, the nightmares that ravage my soul in the middle of the night, are not worth me taking a chance of experiencing one more night.
  • Those nightmares? They are all the same–someone is always trying to take something of Joe’s. And in those terrors, I beg them to not take another piece of him away from me. I cling to the pictures, the home videos, the “stuff” that reminds me of him. After all, that is all I have of him left, and I don’t want any of it to leave.
  • As much as I sometimes want someone to go do things with,  I am not ready to date, enter a relationship, or give my heart away. I’m still IN LOVE with my husband, and I cannot give that up. My grief belongs to me–no one else, I can’t give you an explanation why,  a timeline of when this might change; I just hurt, miss being his wife, and just miss him.
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Young and Full of Innocence–the early days, One of my favorite pictures at Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO.

  • Many days I do feel like I fail him as the mother of his son. All too often, we are eating a quick-made meal, but more times than not, we are eating out. Our lives stay busy, I don’t play in the floor enough, we aren’t even home enough to do that. I know I am doing the best I can, but the constant self-doubt and guilt eat me alive most days. I may not show it, but I beg God every day to forgive me for losing my patience, being too tired to read bedtime stories, or wanting to give up. “Mom-guilt-grief” is my biggest demon I battle every second of every day. Hopefully, God gives Porter all the right ways to shine, and I don’t screw up too badly.
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His happiness, innocence, blue eyes, smile, and tender heart are his Dad’s. I blessed every day of the constant reminder of his Daddy.

  • Grief drives me to work. When I feel like I have no control over anything going on in my life (every day), I work. I work on my writing, I work at work, I bring work home, I take on one more thing that requires me to throw myself into it, 100%. I get my self-worth from working, and often when I work more, it’s because I am hurting more.
  • I am happy for you–all of you: my friends, from childhood friends to all of my new friends I have acquired through the colon cancer world. When I see your family photos, your family vacations, new additions the family, building your lives to be better, my heart is about to explode watching you shine, watching you be good moms and dads, reaching your potential and dreams. Deep down though, it hurts, it stings. That is the life stage I should be in, too. Christmas card photos, that has four of us, not two of us. Family vacations with Daddy carrying the kids on their shoulders, that should be Joe and Porter. Those date nights? I’d give anything for one more. My joy for you is abundant, countless; it’s just that, I wish I had that too, today.
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Christmas 2016

Grief is a mental battle war zone every day. I wonder what the future holds, what it doesn’t, what my next step is, and is it right or wrong? Will my next choice help Porter, or hinder him? Am I screwing him up along the way? I pray to God every day the answer is no. I wonder if I could have done something more, anything to help find an answer and Joe would still be here with us….I know the answer to this though: NO. I know this, I did everything possible to save him. I will continue to fight for a cure.

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On the steps of the Nation’s Capital–Washington, D.C. March 2016

I hope that as I share my secrets in grief, we all will. There is someone we can connect with, who is walking a similar road, who can understand our grief. Grief journeys will never be exactly the same, but that is no reason to keep it a secret.

xoxo-A Grieving Mom and Wife

A Letter to My Coach-Dad

Dear My “Coach-Dad,”

This letter has been a long-time coming. Words that have needed to be said, just hard to get them down because there are so many. These words are so many, because they are not just from me; you see, they are from players, teammates, whole teams that you have coached for the past twenty-six years now. We all feel the same. I’m just the one trying to put them into a letter to you.

Many of us had both parents growing up, but so many of us didn’t, either. I am part of the latter group, and am thankful every day for it. I am certain if I did have both parents growing up, you wouldn’t mean quite what you do to me, today. I am certain I would have taken for granted the stern talking-to’s, the sincere advice given, hard-discipline, and your approval would not have meant so much to me. They all did. Every ounce of wisdom, discipline, teachings, and approval meant the world to me. They still do, all these years later.

Years ago, I thought the hard-work on the court meant all the extra grueling hours I put in during the summer, before and and after practices, and even the after-hours of studying hard off the court, to prevail for college. I didn’t know, it laid the foundation for me and all the extra hours I would accumulate to be a good parent: doing laundry in the middle of the night, staying up sick with a baby, or even the sleepless nights of worrying about my child. I honestly didn’t know what exhaustion was, until after my jersey was hung up, and the basketball shoes were retired. You knew this, though. You knew I would always have more to give, somewhere, down deep, there was always more to give in order to make those around me better.

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The perseverance you taught me, as you pushed me through extra work-outs, “just one more” sprint, an extra set of one hundred free-throws, and coming back after a less-than-great performance, was really just preparing me for my future, wasn’t it? You knew I would need perseverance when life threw it’s biggest foul on me when my husband got sick with cancer, as we were two months away from expecting our first-born son. You knew I wasn’t going to get a time-out with line-drills lined up, 5-4-3-2-1 mountains I’d have to climb down, and then back up again when the chemo stopped working, when the baby was teething, and when the hospital stays became our second home. You knew the pressure would be at it’s highest, I’d be exhausted just like at the end of the game with 2.2 seconds left, and I was toeing up to the free-throw line with the game on my shoulders, didn’t you? You knew life wasn’t going to be fair, and the mental toughness to push through would be the only way through, though. You most certainly knew quitting wasn’t an option, not thirteen years ago, and not now. You knew all these things in advance, and you just applied our lessons on the hardwood.

The dedication you taught me to have to you, my teammates, our fans when I was tired and didn’t think I had any more to give as the game was on the line, in the final seconds; well, now I knew you knew more. You knew I would need to be dedicated to kids, colleagues, parents, and athletes that would need more from me as a coach and a teacher. You knew I had to be even more dedicated when my family still needed even more of me than what I had already given, after a long day. You knew I would have to dig deep, and find even more fight to finish strong. You knew staying dedicated to those that needed me, would be a character lesson that would define me as a person, didn’t you?

Your expectation that I always be more than I ever thought I could be, the way you believed in me, and pushed me to be greater, was something I thought only you could see. Most days, I thought you were trying to convince yourself that I had “it” in me to overcome life’s obstacles, and to keep going on to find success, post basketball. What I didn’t know, though, was you saw it, and now I believe it. You saw a lot of things, I didn’t see. I am sure you still do.

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I never thought that consoling hug after a tough loss that ended our season could be more comforting.  I also thought that season-ending, post-game talk was quite possibly the hardest speech you ever had to give to me, our team. That day, that day after my husband passed away, and you drove to my house and held me like a baby on my front porch, that was the hardest talk we ever had to have. When I thought I wanted to give up on the game, because of being in a funk, much like the day I didn’t think I could go on to raise my son without my husband here to help me, well you reminded me that your athletes don’t quit. You wouldn’t let me. When I didn’t think I had another sprint to give to you, another workout to push through, any more strength to get through life after my biggest blow so many years later, you reminded me your athletes were strong. We never quit. We always persevered. We only got back up, laced up our shoes tighter, and practiced harder.

Thank you for being my dad, you didn’t have to choose to be. I know you were my coach, but somewhere, you became all of our dad’s too. A bonus dad, a coach-dad. Your athletes spent more waking hours with you, as you monitored us in the hallways, as we perfected our skills, got more shots in, and became “one,” than we did with our own blood-families. You led our pack, just like a dad leads his family. You taught us hard lessons, that you knew we would need in life, so many years later. You showed us tough love, and disciplined us. You gave us wisdom, guidance, and love. You gave us a coach-dad by leading us with your own actions and words spoken on-and-off the court.

All these years later, though, I realized you taught us life. You are pretty darn good with the x’s and o’s, with game strategy and changing from a man-to-man to a diamond-and-one, evident by the records, winning seasons, and amazing athletes you’ve developed along the way. However, what I never knew was it was all a disguise. You taught us life. You gave us every skill we would need to be successful, to keep pushing through, to persevere at life’s blows, and to never quit.

Thanks for being our coach-dad. I could have never made it through life without the lessons you taught us on the court.

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One of Your Many Basketball Daughters,

“Bunch”

No Words. Sometimes There Are Simply No Words.

A journey through grief is never easy. In fact, I have found all too many moments in the past two and a half years, since my beating heart was ripped out of my chest when my husband took his last breath. There are so many in fact, that mere words on a computer screen will never come close to be able to explain it all. The pain, the anguish, the misery, the loneliness, and the guilt that overtake my heart some days are indescribable. There are no words that will come close to tell you how many of these miserable moments I have, and there are certainly no words to help you understand how mixed each of the moments can be. Conflicted emotions of happiness and sadness, in guilt and pride, and most certainly the times of uncertainty constantly permeate my being.

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Unfortunately, society tells us there is something to say, or do, in moments that do not constitute words of comfort. I know these moments are lined with well-intentions of friends, family, medical staff, and others who watch you go through times of turmoil. It is human nature to want to comfort others in times of despair, and attempt to do (or say) something that will make it better. I have also come to learn this: times I needed something the most, even relief from the pain, I knew there was no one, or nothing that could help me through grief. No one. Nothing. And, like a backhanded compliment, comments laced with good intentions, fell on ears and a broken heart that got insulted and angry instead.

These are a few of the comments, I have learned never to say to someone, even in their deepest pain. I have learned instead to say nothing at all.

  1. “Everything happens for a reason.”
  2. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
  3. “God needed Joe more than he was needed on Earth.”

Every single one of these comments made me infuriating mad. More so, as time continued to tick away and people repeated them more frequently. I have come to the conclusion people say these things, because they have heard them passed down. They repeat them without actually stopping to think of the merit behind them. Ultimately, in my own experience, there was no merit behind any of them. There was no reason for my husband to suffer so much, no reason that he didn’t get to raise his babies, or no reason that God needed Joe more than we did here on Earth. Instead, I looked for truth in my beliefs, and what the Bible actually said.

Just as in bad, there is good. There are so many moments that I literally feel my heart might burst. Watching our son play basketball on his pee-wee team in one moment, our daughter shining on the volleyball court, or the two of these precious babies together covering each other in laughter. These moments: there are no words that would come close to the joy and happiness they bring me. There are no sentences or fragments I can type to convince anyone else how happy my heart is in these moments. There are no words. Just pure joy radiating in the silence.

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You see, words are my comfort. I enjoy writing, I love to talk with others, and I most definitely like to comfort others in their sorrow. Already being on the other side of feeling the need to comfort others in grief, I remind myself constantly there are no words. The act of just being there, in physical presence is enough. Listen to others as they pour out their heartache and sorrow. Wipe their tears away from their tear-stained cheeks. Embrace their hug with sincerity and love and comfort. Cheer, smile, and laugh when they are celebrating the great times in their life. Share life with each other.

Your actions speak so much louder. There are no words. Sometimes there simply are no words.

All My Love in Silence, Kristina

The Greatest Gift Through Grief: Talking About the One We Love

I never thought I would be able to come to the point that I thought there was a gift in grief. After all, grief is nasty, ugly, unplanned, untimed, and unwavering. Grief belongs to the only person that possesses it. There is certainly no “normal” in grief. Even those stages of grief people talk about–not true, not always, not ever.

Grief is a journey though. It lulls some days, and other days it swallows you whole to the point you cannot breathe, think, or even exist. Those days, those days are days I am certain I cannot go on. Even after two-plus years of losing my husband, I have those days more often than I do not. I could never foresee how awful grief could be, the guilt that accompanies it as it’s finest guest, and the loneliness that tries to steal the spotlight of the show. It is my grief, my journey, and society, statistics, and research simply cannot tell me how to walk through it.

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Yesterday, I experienced a gift of  grief though. Yesterday, March 3, 2017 was National Wear Blue Day for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Day. A day that we can nationally make a statement to get screened, listen to our bodies–no matter what age– and know our family’s medical history to prevent one of the most deadly cancers out there: colorectal cancer. As I declared and solicited my family and friends to wear blue in honor of my best friend and husband, and to bring awareness to this disease, social media proved one of it’s positive impacts in our world today. My social media was blown up from all of those that care enough about me, our babies, and Joe that they wore blue to bring awareness to colorectal cancer and the lives it has impacted. Friends and family gave us shout-outs to tell us they REMEMBER! They smiled, they sent undeserving compliments to me, and TALKED about Joe.

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The latter, talking about Joe, is exactly what I’ve wanted for the past two years and four months since my husband passed away. They talked about his wit, his smile, his courageousness, what a fighter he was until the end. They talked about what an amazing daddy he was to his babies. Friends and family poured in that he would be proud of me, as his wife.

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That’s all I’ve wanted. That’s all any of us want, when we lose someone we love. To talk about the one we love; to allow them to continue to live, their spirit, their story, their love and compassion to continue to seep through to everyone they impact. Just talk–tell me stories, tell his children what a great person he was, tell us what a crazy, fearless dare-devil he has always been, tell us about that “one time” when you guys were testing faith and chance. Just tell us.

Will I cry? Probably. But please, don’t let that scare you off. It’s just that I miss him so much, and wish he could be sitting next to me and the kids to hear these stories. I want to see him laugh, and add in his version of things. I want him to shake you off, and tell you to stop before you get to the really good part of the story. Don’t be mistaken–those tears are not all sad. They are happy, because you are fulfilling my wish of talking about him. You are making my dreams come true that he never dies. You’re filling my life’s mission that his kids and I get to know him better than we already did. You are allowing me to experience a piece of my husband that time did not allow me to have.

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Any grieving person or blog I have encountered since I lost Joe, has all shared one common request: to talk about them. Yesterday, March 3, 2017, gave me the greatest gift of grief since Joe passed. You talked about Joe. All of you. So many of you, that I had over FIVE HUNDRED  interactions, of posts, pictures, texts, calls, and emails that honored Joe and his fight in colorectal cancer. You reminded me that I WON! You reminded me that I was the lucky one–God and Joe chose me to be Joe’s wife. You reminded me that through all the nastiestness of grief, that the two greatest men in my life chose me to be their warrior, to share their love and their story with this world.

Thank you for talking about him! Thank you for keeping him alive. Thank you for giving that invaluable gift to Joe’s parents, his children: Lilly and Porter, and myself, as well as the rest of his friends and family. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. May his light shine bright, and God’s love shine even brighter through our story and all of those we reach! May the power of blue save many other’s lives–just like the blue of his eyes saved mine by the love he showed me!

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Joe’s Champion and Warrior, His wife, Kristina