Dear Daddy in Heaven, You Wouldn’t Believe Who I Am Now.

Dear Daddy,

Mommy tells me that if I want something, I just need to pray to Jesus, and He will answer my prayers. We say those prayers before every meal, and every night before I go to sleep. And I told mommy the other day that Jesus doesn’t listen to all of my prayers. When she gasped and asked me why not, I reminded her that I pray for you to come home every day, but Jesus just doesn’t listen to that prayer. Ever.

But Daddy, I miss you. I miss you every day. And all of my friends’ dads are on the baseball field, and at our basketball games. There’s daddies at the park, and at the go-cart track and even at Lowe’s buying the gardening stuff, hauling the tools, and building cool things with their kids. They go hunting and fishing, and teach their kids to mow the yard. But now, mommy does that with me. Mommy does all the Daddy things with me, but I wanted you to know what we do so you know that we are doing okay while you are in Heaven.

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Mommy taught me how to mow the yard. She said I am the hardest working kid she knows.

Daddy, I can ride my four-wheeler all by myself. I go really fast, even when mommy tells me not to. I can’t help it. Mommy always laughs and says I like to go fast like Daddy. I never got to see you race your dirt bike, or cool cars, but mommy tells me about you doing that all the time. So I put on your crooked grin that Mommy says she loved the most about you, and I pretend like I am you when I go around the corners, and when I rev up the engine. And then I yell, “Like this mommy? Is this how Daddy did it?” I know that makes mommy really happy.

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I love going fast, Dad! It is so fun.

Those fourteen months you were here with me when I was a baby, I still feel those love strings of my heart connected to you. Mommy doesn’t know the secrets you whispered into my ear about how I am the luckiest boy in the world to have her as a mom. She doesn’t know all the nights you come to me in my dreams and tell me of the sweet things I should do for her to make her feel loved. But I give her hints. Like the other day when we went on a hike out on the mountain, and there was only one purple flower. I saw it, and I knew I was supposed to pick it for her and give it to her. And when I did, I looked at mommy the way she said you always looked at her from across the room. She said when she would look back at you, your smile lit up the room like the luckiest guy in the world. But now, I am the luckiest guy in the world, because she is my mommy.

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Daddy, you wouldn’t believe how I can build just like you. I love to work with mommy around the house and fix things. Most of the time, I give her the ideas that fixes something she cannot figure out. Then I build Lego’s, and mommy says her brain doesn’t work like that. She said only your brain and mine are the ones that can imagine anything, and then build it and make it come true. I always knew I wanted to be just like you. And I am, Daddy.

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Mommy is teaching me how to bow hunt.

Daddy, can you believe how tall I am? Can you believe the freckles across my nose and cheeks? Can you even believe how dark my hair is now, compared to when I was just a baby and you had to go live in Heaven? Mommy says I look just like you. And she says you are the most handsome man in the world. But now Mommy says I am the most handsome man too, because I always remind her of you. And when I look at our pictures together in my room, it makes me happy that I get to see you. I just want to see you “for real,” Daddy. Why won’t you come home?

Mommy says Heaven is wonderful. She says it is perfect up there, and that nobody is sick or hurt–not even Great Grandma Smith. She says you and Great Grandma Smith and  Uncle Gary have parties with Jesus up there. Do you think I could come to those parties too? Mommy says Jesus hears my prayers that I ask Him to bring you home. But Mommy says, Jesus will let all of us come back together in Heaven one day. She says that you are my Guardian Angel, and that Jesus and you watch over me wherever I go. Even when I go to Hawaii. That’s silly Daddy! Do you have super powers or do you spy on me? How can you see me all the way in Hawaii? Do you see me when I fly in the airplane, too? I wish I could see you so I can ask you all these questions.

Mommy says my heart is just like yours. But Mommy says, that you always told her I liked to talk as much as her. I do, Daddy. I have made friends all over the world. Even these older ladies at the airport. They didn’t speak our language. I still showed them all of my drawings though. And the Uber drivers in Hawaii. And all of the people on all of the cruise ships we go on. I made friends with all the people in the Bahamas, Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, South Carolina, Colorado. It is really fun all the people I know. And I especially like to talk to all of my friends at school. I just know how all of them feel, like when they’re happy and even when they’re sad. I told my friend who said his daddy has to go away from a long time, that I know how bad his heart hurts, because my Daddy had to go to Heaven for a long time too.

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I met the nicest ladies at a Florida airport. We couldn’t speak the same language, but I showed them my drawings and they gave me a hug. I liked them a lot.

Daddy, our Molly girl is my best friend. Mommy says that Molly was your girl, but I tell Mommy she’s mine now. Molly loves to go for walks, and go bye-bye in our big truck. Mommy says you spoiled her and gave her human food. Don’t tell Mommy, but I do too. Just like you did, Daddy.

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The Three Amigos. We miss you, Daddy.

Hey Daddy, I am not a little boy anymore. I am a big boy. I am going into first grade. I can read and write and do math. And I am really good at it too. I play basketball, baseball, and football. But I really want to learn how to play an instrument. I want to play the drums or saxophone just like you did. And I even know how to fix cars. Your friend, Jimmy, taught me how when Mommy had a scratch on our truck. Jimmy told me, “You are just like your Daddy, Porter.” And then he gave me a Toyota emblem that I put on my night stand in my room.

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My Daddy’s Friend, Jimmy, taught me how to fix Mommy’s truck. And then he let me go into his shop and look at all of the tools. It was the most awesome day, ever.

Mommy says you would be proud of me, Daddy. But sometimes I ask Mommy if you even remember me.

And then Mommy reminded me of this; she said, “Your Daddy made you. He is a part of you. He is your best friend, and loves you more than even Mommy, because when you go to Heaven, love gets bigger than it does on Earth. Your Daddy knows every detail of you, because Jesus tells him. And your Daddy is around you every day. His friends tell you stories and smile (and cry) because you are just like him–and they see Daddy in you.” I just wanted you to know I love you Daddy, and I miss you so much. I hope you have a Happy Father’s Day in Heaven. I wish you were here so I could give you a cake.

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Bye, Daddy. Give Jesus a hug from me. I love you.

**This blog was written by a six-year-old boy’s mother from a collection of stories, memories, and difficult conversations that have been had from a young boy who lost his father to colorectal cancer when he was just a fourteen month old baby. This unique perspective is to shine light on children in grief, and the secondary-level of grief for the remaining parent**

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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.

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The List I Lost

When my husband first died, I tried to explain why my grief was so hard, so deep. It was all stereotyped statements though, and everyone just nodded their heads like they understood. Yet, I knew there was no way they could. The more I have spoken in the grief community, the more I realize there is one large commonality we share: we all have a list, that we lost. We didn’t just lose our spouse, our parent, our child, our loved on. We lost an entire list that goes with that person. And maybe, just maybe, if you realize just how long that list is, others can understand why grief is so ugly, so nasty, so incredibly difficult to learn how to exist without the list of all that you used to be, and used to have, when one day you wake up and it is all gone.

I may have lost my husband, but this is the list of what I really lost that October night:

I lost my spouse. And the day he became my spouse, and even before that, I envisioned our lives together when we had kids, when our kids were teenagers, when our kids were adults, and  when we became empty-nesters. I lost my future. I lost all of my future plans, vacations, Christmas card ideas. I lost my retirement plans, I lost my entire future, as I/we had envisioned it to be.

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Oh to be this young and full of life again. A hot, summer night at Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO.

I lost my best friend. I lost the person that supported me, even when I was wrong. I lost the person that I vented, purged, unwound to at the end of the day. I lost the sounding board, advice-giver, comforter, biggest cheerleader. I lost the person that had my back, even when he didn’t agree, even when I was wrong, even when I could have been better. I lost all of that. I lost the one person who thought I was the greatest at my worst, yet pushed me to be the best at all times.

I lost ‘him.’ Just him–to encompass everything he was/does would simply be impossible. I lost my mechanic, the one who took care of the maintenance around the house, the idea-giver, dreamer, inventor. I lost the one who spent money faster than we could make it, because there was another grand-idea. I lost his compassionate, tender heart. I lost the giver, the caretaker, the one who filled my gas tank, washed my car, juggled the household chores, the one who cooked dinner. I lost my life partner at every angle. And of those angles, these are the other things I lost:

I lost my identity. I lost being his wife, being a caretaker, a prescription refiller, a doctor appointment scheduler, a recorder of all the medical records.

I lost getting to be someone’s best friend. I lost getting to create surprises, leaving notes at the coffee pot each morning. I lost getting to be the giver of my own love, compassion, and time.

I lost the person who cooked breakfast every Saturday morning.

I lost my morning coffee-maker, who delivered a fresh cup to my bathroom vanity while I got ready, with a kiss on the forehead.

I lost the person who provided for our family. The one who worked hard, to give us everyone we could possibly want or need.

I lost my Friday night date.

I lost my Saturday morning gardener.

I lost my meal-time go to chef. He knew I hated cooking.

I lost the father to my son. I lost getting to watch him be a Daddy to his son.

I lost the innocence of seeing my son know his Daddy. Now, it is only the memories and videos I intentionally share so he knows his Daddy, but not the way I wished for.

I lost getting to watch him walk his daughter down the aisle, and I lost getting to watch him with his own grandchildren.

I lost the person who sits next to me at school events, the first day of Kindergarten, the last day of their senior year.

I lost the other person in the family pictures in Hawaii, in graduation photos.

I lost the person I wanted to share each life milestone with our kids.

I lost a sense of being. I lost the memories I wanted to make. I lost getting to say, “My husband” and the following words being present or future tense.

I lost who I was, when I didn’t know who I was. I knew who I wanted to be, but eventually I had to give that up, too.

I lost knowing that my life had to look different. I lost security, comfort, feeling loved. And I lost being able to give all of those things too.

I lost the adjective “wife.” Instead, society says I am a widow.

I lost the innocence that went with the word wife, instead of widow.

I lost my existence, my day-to-day operations and routines. I lost it all, and I had to learn how to find it all again.

Don’t you see? I lost so much more than just my husband. All of us that have lost someone loses so much more. Next time you see someone who “should” be over according to your standards, or to society’s standards, please give grace. They have lost their entire existence. They are trying to learn to live in another way. They don’t get to move on. They have to learn to live moving forward, but when everything has to be re-learned, surely you can see just how hard it is to lose everything.

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Our family at a Color Run Fundraiser our community put together for us. This was only two weeks before Joe passed away. It would be our last, and my favorite, family photo of the four of us.

This Christmas and holiday season, the greatest gift you can give anyone you love that is grieving is permission. Give them permission to do whatever they need to do. If that means the miss your get together, tell them you love them, and you understand. If they choose to show up, but want to talk about their loved one. Give them permission to do so, by sitting next to them and listening. Talk about their loved one, say their name. Will they cry? Yes. Just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean they don’t get to show emotion. They will either cry with you there to comfort them, or cry by themselves when they go home. Whatever it is they choose–YOU have to give them permission, not guilt.

Remember our list this Christmas isn’t full of things we want, it is things we lost. Be kind. Show love however that is for the ones grieving in your life.

Please keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Holiday Wishes-Kristina

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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.

My Father’s Day Prayer for Our Son, While His Dad is in Heaven

The amount of anger and bitterness I had to fight through after losing my husband is quite embarrassing, really. No matter what anyone attempted to say or offer in their condolences or half-attempt to rationalize why my wonderful husband passed when our son was only fourteen months old, ignited my anger even more. If people offered love and sympathy, I was mad. If others said they are more grateful for their husbands, after watching Joe pass and seeing my struggle, that fueled my anger too. No one could win with me, and I never made it easy for others to be my support.

I was just mad. And you know what? There are still days, four and a half years out, that I have to check myself, reign it in, and stop trying to justify why God chose to take my husband and the best Daddy I have ever seen, from this world. I work in public education, I see the parents who refuse to show up, who never answer phone calls and emails, who’s children are raising themselves. And I try to rationalize why God chose my hands-on, always-at-school-volunteering-for-his-daughter, still-trying-to-share-parenting-responsibilities-with-me-for-our-newborn-while-on-chemotherapy- Dad. And you know what? There is no answer. There is no answer, no why, that is going to make sense, or come close to why Joe was cut short with his daughter and his son on this Earth. And THAT is a hard reality to swallow.

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Joe volunteered once a month as a Watch  Dog, in our local elementary school for his daughter, up until he got sick. It was their very, favorite day of the month.

So, albeit trying to control my anger and bitterness, I remember changing my prayer and talk with God. I stopped asking Him “Why?”; I gave up dwelling on fathers I know who choose not to be apart of their children’s lives, and I asked God something different. I asked him this:

“God, if we can’t have Joe back, if our son does not get to grow up with him, please send good, solid men role models to our son’s life. Allow the people that will be needed to mold our son into the man we prayed he would become, to enter his life path whenever they are supposed to, to teach him the things he will need to be successful in this world.” 

I forgot I asked God this request, for quite some time. Until this Father’s Day has been approaching, the past few weeks. Take note, all holidays kill me; EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. THEM. I’d love to tell you one more than the other, but every single one of them is a tidal wave that drowns me in longing for the life I always dreamed of. Father’s Day approaching, I always try to think of what I am going to do with our son to celebrate the Daddy he loves so much. We never fail to celebrate Daddy on all of his special days. And THAT is when it hit me.

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Celebrating Daddy, by going up in a helicopter ride. Our guy said, “We are really close to Daddy now, hu, mommy?” Flying in the sky is pretty darn close to Heaven after all. 

God did deliver. He has delivered. And He WILL continue to deliver. There are men that have been placed in our son’s life who our son ADORES! Whether it my friend’s husband that takes him to the farm for the day, teaches him how to call cows, and jumps in the lake with their underpants on. It may be one of the great men I work with, that my son stops dead in his tracks, yells his name, and runs into his arms every time he sees him; and then demands to hang out with him, his wife, and daughter, rather than me. It’s the other friend’s husband that takes him under his wing, hikes trails with him and his own son, and loves him among his own kids. Or even the employee at work who takes our son on movie/dinner nights–that gives me a chance to breathe as a momma, but also gives my son a male influence he needs. I can’t tell you how many times God has delivered. The day after Joe passed away, basketball season began. I had a new assistant coach, that I knew nothing about. That man is one of my son’s best friends. He picked him up at those early-morning practices, spoiled him with M&M’s at 7 a.m., and even just recently had our little man stand up with him on his wedding day.

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These two were inseparable. Nope–are inseparable. There is never a day we don’t talk about his Daddy. We are over four and a half years out after colon cancer took Joe from us. And their love and bond are something I have never seen before, in my life.

The list is endless. The prayer has been answered, and I know, it will continue to be. Would I love to have my husband, the father of my son to be here today to celebrate him for Father’s Day, birthdays, well, heck, every day? More than I could ever begin to tell anyone. But if I can’t have that, then Joe’s son has the very next best thing. He has incredible men, who they may not even know, are an answered prayer to a momma who hurts so bad she can’t give her son the one thing he wants the most–his Dad. Our son has strong, male role models in his life that give him love, life lessons, and above all time. And in the end, isn’t that all we want more of? Time? It always is.

Happy Father’s Day to all those men out there giving a little extra of themselves to a little boy who’s Daddy is in Heaven this Father’s Day. This struggling momma isn’t angry, but thankful tonight!

One Proud Momma,

Kristina Smith

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Smith is an Amazon best-selling author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir.” You can purchase your copy HERE.

Death Changed The Mother I Wanted to Be

Death changed me, for that, there is zero doubt. It’s just that I didn’t expect death to change me in so many intricate and intimate ways, that continues to surprise me as they unfold themselves. Death did this, though, and continues to surface why life is so delicate.

My husband passed away at the age of 37, leaving his fourteen month old son, and his thirteen-year-old daughter here on Earth to do life without him. The details of these kiddos, is that I am step-momma to that red headed little girl, and momma to that sweet little boy that looks just like his Daddy. And each of these roles are so very different, yet share the biggest similarity of all: I love them both with all of my heart. Their age difference, the difference in how I parent both of them, and my expectations for each of them are different. And just like every other mom, I struggle to make sure they both know how much I love them.

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These two cuties–They love each other so much. Their love for each other is the greatest gift I could ever be given.

Also just like every other mom, I had expectations. I knew what kind of mom I wanted to be, what I would look like doing it, and by golly my Pinterest boards proved that I had researched every recipe, craft, bedroom decor for a boy, for a teenage girl, and the trips that we would take along the way. Death changed that. You know why? Because nowhere in my childhood dreams, my adult goals, my planning did I ever put on my planner, “Plan your children’s daddy’s funeral when one is a teenager and one is a baby.” Nope–that event never got put on my planner.

Death has sucked life from me. Death has taken away my Pinterest board presents that I had planned for their Dad. Juggling of high school prom, with they younger one is learning to ride a bike didn’t get to have a divide-and-conquer style. Mother’s Day Breakfast in bed seems weird to teach your child, as I feel a bit self-centered teaching my kid to do that. Days I want to be the exciting mom, full of energy, let’s go to the park because the sun is shining for the first time in a week? It has me laying in bed, because I am completely exhausted. The home-cooked meals I promised I would serve my kids, because their Daddy is the best cook ever–are usually meals out-to-eat because we’re juggling one too many things…again.

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He is the best Daddy. He was ALWAYS volunteering at school, and spending time with his girl. We are truly the lucky ones.

I wanted to be a better mom. I promised that their Dad and I would be the ultimate duo to support and love them. And we are–in a very different way. I am the mom that smiles as bright as possible for prom pictures, field trip pictures, awards banquets because I–no their Dad and I– are so proud of them. This is not before–or after– I run to the restroom to cry my eyes out, because my heart hurts so bad that their Dad isn’t here for those pictures too. I am the mom that refuses to allows them to succeed without saying, “Your Dad and I are so proud of you!” Because we are–both of us, not just me. And as long as I live, even if I cry every happy moment, death has changed the mother I wanted to be. I wanted to be the mom, with their children’s Dad, right next to me in the day-to-day of these parenting days. I wanted the person I loved the most, that made me a mom, to be here with me.

Death changed me as a mother. I love them more–I love them as their mom and step-mom, and as the constant reminder of their Dad who would have wanted nothing more than to be right here with them.

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My First, and Only, Mother’s Day card from my husband. It is my most cherished belonging. To know I gave him his greatest desire for the rest of his days…I have no words.

A Widow’s Mother’s Day Perspective,

Kristina Smith

Smith is an Amazon Best Selling Author of What I Wasn’t Expecting When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir. You can purchase your copy here.

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How I Know My Dying Husband’s Nurses Played Cards

This past week Washington State Senator, Maureen Walsh, proclaimed that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably played cards for a considerable amount of the day, ” (CNN). What she was specifically referring to, is rural hospitals with smaller number of patients/beds to take care of. What she underestimated in her ill-planned statement though is a true caregiver’s perspective.

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True Love

You see, I was seven months pregnant with my first child, when my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. We were blindsided by the diagnosis, let alone the late stage, and even the detrimental words “terminal.” We live very rural, a small lake-town that thrives off of tourism in our service industry businesses. And, I have to tell you, Senator Walsh was right: those chemotherapy infusion nurses, those post-surgery, seventh floor angels, those pain-control, specialty oncology nurses, they did play cards. I watched, observed, cried, thanked, and even begged them to keep playing cards to save my husband. Let me tell you about those cards they played:

When those masked, and scrubbed-in angels pushed my husband out on his hospital bed, down the corridors, and into his new “home” for the next 10 days–they played the card of who they should take care of first–their patient or the patient’s wife. They struggled if they should take care of the man wincing and crying out in pain, or if they should take care of the seven-month swollen expecting momma that was beside herself as she hovered over his body in his bed. They played the cards of wondering what they should convince that desperate wife and expecting mother of first: should she eat and feed that small babe growing inside her, or do we tell her she needs to sleep for the first time since they checked in four days ago?

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Eight Months Pregnant, in for another surgery for an infection that developed.

Those blue-scrubbed Mercy Angels played the cards of wondering if they wrap their arms around that depleted wife when she was on her hands and knees begging God to relieve the pain her husband gasped for help with–or do they hold the small nine-month old chunky baby that was in the hospital floor playing with his toys to give that devoted wife a moment to just be her husband’s best friend and saving grace.

Those chemotherapy and infusion nurses–the real heroes in our story–they juggled the most cards of all. They juggled do we take care of the expecting momma, and later the momma of a five-day old, or do we tend to our patient’s every need. Do we take food, baby toys, or any of their needs to their overnight hospital stay, or do we stay home with our own families that we need to spend time with? They juggled whether they got to cry in front of us, or escape to the backroom to relieve emotions, when the oncologist said there was nothing more we could do. When those champion card players saw that frail, bony husband of mine disoriented, unaware of everything going on around him, and a momma carrying him on one arm, and their sweet year old baby in the other out of the chemo clinic–they played the card of what emotion they got to show that day.

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Our “spot” at our doctor’s appointment every other Thursday. All day infusion, meant juggling lesson plan writing, grading papers, and a sweet baby taking a nap in between me and his Daddy’s chair.

Senator Walsh, you are correct. Our rural, country, small-town nurses do play cards all day–in fact, a considerable amount of the day. Wait–no– all day and all night. They play cards when they go home, when they are supposed to be with their families, when they are supposed to take care of themselves. They are master card players, the real poker faces in this game of healthcare. They play the cards of taking care of patients, taking care of patient’s caregivers, families, dying wishes, egos, dignity, and every single basic need in between. And while they are playing those cards, they are card sharks at playing their own cards of emotions, family, vulnerability, and juggling their personal time that they devote to their patients and their families. They attend funerals, they hold that wife and that brand new baby in their arms while they weep because they are standing at the coffin of a patient they loved.

They are card sharks. Poker faces. True Vegas-style card players. Yes, Senator Walsh, my husband’s country, rural-small town nurses play cards. The very best cards there are to play. And I couldn’t be more thankful.

A Champion for Nurses,

Joe Smith’s Widow

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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.

Coincidences Do Not Exist, Here’s How I Know

I have had a lot of things, actions, “weird stuff” happen since my husband passed away, that I simply cannot give a rational reason or explanation for. All I could tell anyone is that these things happen, and the instant they do, I know it is Joe. I have had friends look at me with “the look” of pity, as if they think I am crazy, and only clinging to believe that it could be Joe, since I miss him so desperately. I have even been told I have a “good imagination.” I used to get upset by such measures, and then I realized most people don’t know. They don’t know the unbearable, immeasurable loss I took, personally and for my son, over four years ago when my husband, and Porter’s Daddy passed away. And since people don’t understand that loss, or that love, I realize they wouldn’t get how many unexplained things happen. I do not believe in coincidences, and the death of my husband has only solidified that. Here’s why: maybe, just maybe, one of these instances could mean a coincidence, but all of them, in combination together, there’s just simply no way. God tells us multiple times He sends us signs, we just have to look for them. And sometimes when I feel like God, and Joe, are furthest away and I can’t feel them, it’s because I am not searching for them.

The first time I knew Joe wasn’t far away, was less than one month after he passed away. Putting laundry away in our bedroom, I heard our sixteen-month-old baby in the living room cackling–you know that baby belly laugh, where you can’t help but laugh too? Knowing no one else was home, I slowly peeked out my bedroom door to see what was so funny. There, I saw that sweet little bald-headed babe watching intently if someone were sitting right in front of him, and he was anticipating what was going to happen next. That look on his face with the smile already there, but waiting for the punch of hilarity, and then the red-faced, belly-laugh ensued. The laugh only stopped long enough for him to pause for the next motion of funniness as he watched whatever it was in front of him, and then the cycle of laughter continued. That moment in time, where what I could see was only a child and no one else, but there was clearly someone there entertaining him….Well, I guess unless you were there to see the pure happiness of that child as he interacted with someone I could not see, was the moment I knew his Dad hadn’t gone far.

Less than two weeks later, sitting in my bedroom closet, that wobbly, big-headed baby looked at me knowing he was going to take his first steps to me. You see at sixteen months we still weren’t walking yet, because he had grown up in hospital floors, being held more times than put down, because of Daddy being sick and always in the hospital or the chemo chair. As I stretched my arms out for him to take two steps to me, he excitedly reached out with a smile, and when he fell into my arms, he immediately without a second of hesitation screamed Daddy, as he looked over my shoulder. Flabbergasted, I pulled him away so I could look at his face, and he was set on the image behind me that I couldn’t see–with known intent of who he really took his first steps for. His Daddy.

As I went to speak to Congress for the first time three years ago, I was sat with a group of states. Missouri advocates sat with South Carolina. Significance? That is the state we were married in. And South Carolina sat right next to me. I knew Joe was there, affirming what I was doing.

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Missouri and South Carolina advocates were pre-planned to sit next to each other.

My first wedding anniversary without him was in June 2015. From October 26, 2014 until June I had searched my house high and low. I knew, I just knew, in my heart that Joe had left me a message, a note, something, somewhere in our house. I emptied drawers, closets, searched his shop, looked everywhere–and I found nothing. I was in desperate need to find something, because Joe and I could never talk about dying. Ever. There were prime times to talk about, times I knew we were both thinking about the conversation about what I should do if he passed, but physically I could not choke the words out. I just needed something. Three days before our first wedding anniversary with him in Heaven, I was looking for a card that a friend sent. In the middle of a stack of baby shower and birthday cards for our son, I found a card with the words, “Love of my Life” scribbled across it. Inside that card, he wrote, “There is nothing more I want then to spend the rest of my life with you and our family. Love Always, XOXO, Joe.” So tell me, how, after intentionally searching our home for months, did I find this three days before our wedding anniversary? More importantly, I have no idea when he would have went to get this card, I was always with him, he could never drive on his own, and yet I still have no idea when he placed that card for me to find.

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To see his handwriting again…to see his last wish written and know that I gave that to him–tears of joy and longing for what was.

Most recently, I turned thirty. A birthday I am thrilled to get to celebrate, and more time with our son and my friends and family. As the day approached though, the thought hit me that my husband would never know me in my thirties. It hit hard too. Approximately two and a half months before my birthday I had submitted a proclamation request to Missouri’s Governor to declare March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Since I had not heard anything, it was vaguely out of my thoughts. But only three days before my birthday, a signed proclamation was in the mail. How did the perfect timing of this happen–a reminder from someone that he wasn’t far as my big birthday approached? I think so.

GovernorParsonsProcolation

Happy 30th to Me!

I’ve written our memoir and have worked over three years on it. At times, feeling as though I may not make this dream a reality, I had a friend step in. As I joined them in their office, and they turned around their computer to say “Happy Birthday” there a revised draft of our story, our struggle, our blessings is a book cover that could only make me scream, laugh, cry, but no words come out. That friend? I only met him through Joe–without Joe, I wouldn’t have the chance to know him. He then volunteers to help get everything set up, going, and ready to make the book live, because he believes in me that much. Why? Coincidence? Coincidence that so many years ago, Joe introduced me to this person, and now they are my champion? Again, I don’t think so.

You see, the list goes on. It goes on and on and on. The cards from friends I haven’t heard from in years, on the days that I can’t hardly get out of bed. The songs that I haven’t heard in forever, and yet they play at the most opportune times. The people–THE PEOPLE that years ago, seemed like they were just an acquaintance, and they are the ones that have completely changed my life in pivotal ways. The “random” chances of “just the right people” hearing my story, that spurs leading me to go speak to Congress, that then “just the other right person” hearing my story, and asking me to model and represent caregivers under the age of 50 in an advocacy colorectal cancer national magazine, that “just the right time” I am led to write a book.

Coincidences don’t exist. They are far more explained when you start connecting all of them and how they play a much bigger picture in your life. Coincidences are really God at work, in His ever-mysterious, never fully-explained or understood way. They are all around us, and I know that God, and Joe, send me these signs to know neither of them are very far away.

Keep going in grief. Find the sings, not the coincidences, and know that God and your loved one are right there with you. It’s so worth it.

XOXO–Kristina

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

Rambling Chaos I Think I Know Almost Four Years Into Grief

He died October 26, 2014. I knew in that very moment, I would never be the same. I was right. Four years out, and I am a hot mess 99% of the time. My heart still aches, it still longs for him, it still remembers everything about him–but all of those things are different than the day he died. They changed, yet they are the same. Here’s what I think I know almost four years since I lost my husband, my best friend:

It’s hard. Dang hard. Widowed parenting. Widowed in your twenties. I never know what next step to take in any part of this life. It’s just hard.

I miss him. I miss us. I miss being a family.

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The night before we got married on the beach in North Myrtle Beach, SC- June 2012.

I’m mad at him. For no reason at all, but I have no one else to be mad at, and so sometimes I cry and scream at him because I have no one else to be angry at. Then I feel guilty. There’s nothing more he’d wish than to be right here living life together.  I know that.

The jackhammer that goes up and down and up and down–it’s a  representation of my waves of grief, up and down and up and down. Some days I know I am going to be okay, others I still do not know if I can get out of bed. I do though.

It’s not fair. None of it. Him suffering, him dying. His son and daughter not having their father here to help them grow up. Me doing this by myself without him. None of it is fair. And there is no answer–at least I still haven’t found it.

His son is starting to lose him again. That babe that was 14-months old lying in my arms at his Daddy’s funeral, he is five now. He is becoming more aware that Daddy isn’t coming back. “Mommy?” he asks, “I keep telling Daddy to come down here, (from Heaven) but he won’t listen to me. I guess he isn’t coming.” It completely rips my heart out.

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Together on Porter’s first birthday, eating shrimp and steak. They were truly the best of friends. I have never seen anything like their bond–even still.

That little boy–he has more grace for me than I ever deserve. I am tired, exhausted and defeated. I want a nap, a break, ten minutes of silence. And he doesn’t give me any of it. When I am frustrated and short-tempered, he still loves me. And I don’t know how I’d get through a day without him.

People stare–still. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do. They think that four years is far too long to still grieve and hurt and cry. They’re probably right. But man, my heart hurts. Doing life alone is no small feat. Even God assures us He created woman for man. Doing life alone is empty. Completely empty and unfulfilling.

Almost four years out, the thought of love again is hopeful and doubtful. I want to love and to be loved, but the cautious side of my broken heart is weary of the strength and confidence and graciousness it would take for someone to step into our circumstances. There’s so much gray, and my black-and-white, well-planned out mind knows only faith can allow a new beginning.

I cry. Still. Grief is a known attendee at every holiday, birthday, anniversary and milestone. But boy those days I don’t plan for, and grief just shows up–it knocks me down, gasping for air to breathe. I hate it. But grief, I have come to love. It is proof I love very deep, and always will. I am grateful for every experience with it.

I am happy. I have more good days, than bad. We are truly living. A little boy who is happy and healthy, smart, and gregarious, outgoing and caring. We’ve had experiences I could only dream of. I cannot believe I am giving him the life I am. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, and bittersweet.

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Summer 2018. We have a good life.

Things I think I know, four years out–we’re going to make it. We are making it. We have a good life. We smile, we laugh, we LIVE.

But what I also know four years out–I will never stop loving the man I call my husband. I will never stop missing him. I will always want another day, another conversation.

But four years out, there’s a life I am living I could never dream of.

Keep going in grief–it’s so worth it!

Colon Cancer Widow, XOXO,

Kristina Smith

 

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.

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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.

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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