We Talked About Everything. Except Dying.

My husband and I dated three years before we said, “I do.” He is as opposite from me, as I am from him. He is as quiet, as I am loud and talkative. He is as shy, as I am outgoing. Opposites certainly did attract, when God created this man for me.

me and Joe baby-FAVE

Joe and I have always had an “easy” relationship–easy, as easy gets. We still had things we didn’t agree on, but we rarely ever had an argument. We just talked. About everything. Even weird things, or things that were uncomfortable to talk about, we just did. I never really thought much about that fact–until sometime after he won his battle with cancer, and gained his wings to Heaven. Somewhere after that, it hit me hard, that we never talked about that one topic. The one that is inevitable for everyone to talk about. That thing that will happen to each of us. Death. Dying. Taking our last breath. Expiring. Not being here on Earth. We never spoke a word about it. Ever.

In the midst of the whirlwind that happened in our life: being seven-months pregnant, being diagnosed with Stage III, then Stage IV colon cancer, celebrating our wedding anniversary in the hospital, and then delivering our son into our mess, that topic just never seemed to come up. Or it intentionally was never brought up. We avoided it entirely, even when there was opportune times to talk about it–when the doctor told us our prognosis, when respite care was called, hospice, or even some terrifying moments of the loss of health. Here’s my perspective:

joeandipresurgery

During our first round of chemotherapy with our son at a week old, the doctor told us that any treatment from here on out would only prolong life.  I vividly remember the comment not even phasing me, while I nursed our son sitting on the hospital bed with Joe. It did not phase me at all. Bold face, wide eyed, I looked at him and replied, “Well, I guess you are going to see a miracle.” He sheepishly looked down, and weakly smiled. I wasn’t being naive, but I knew we were going to defy odds. We always won at difficult circumstances, and prevailed to the top.

 

Chemotherapy was hell on Earth. It is Hell on Earth. Anyone going through treatment will, and does, agree without hesitation. The mental warfare it does on those going through it, is a side effect society, and doctors, rarely talk about. This held true for Joe. Tears, emotions, fear, anger, and lots of why’s consumed us both. But never, ever death. Not even when he hadn’t eaten in days, passed out, hit his head and had a seizure in the bathroom floor unresponsive to me. Not even when the chemotherapy stopped working, and we tried multiple different options. Not even when we went for a second opinion, but didn’t get randomized for a clinical trial of chemo. Not even when the doctor told us there was nothing further we could do. Not even when he wasn’t strong enough to pick up our year old son to give him a kiss. Not even when he heard me softly crying on my side of the bed in the middle of the night, and asked if I was still awake. I stifled the tears, choked back the lump in my throat, and pretended I was asleep.

joe-chemo

Not even when he went most of the day without waking up, and rarely eating anything. Never. Ever. We did not talk about him dying. I simply couldn’t. I believed, for a very long time we would get our miracle of healing. I boldly prayed for it. I never had a mindset we would not. God would prevail, He showed up in impossible situations to prove His greatness. He would show up when we least expected it.

The week Joe passed away, he came up behind me, as I was sitting at the island feeding our sweet baby in his dark, mahogany wood high chair we picked out together. He softly picked up my flowing hair over my shoulders, and whipped it back into his frail, bony hands. As he played with it, he calmly said, “I’m going to miss this. So, so much.” He stopped due to the crack in his voice, but lingered running his fingers through my hair, and softly kissed my neck. I knew he wasn’t talking about days off from work together. He wasn’t talking about late morning breakfasts, just the three of us. I knew he was talking about “it,” but we didn’t talk about that. I didn’t, because I didn’t want him to think I had given up on our miracle. He knew. I knew. We just couldn’t.

kissing-him-goodbye

But today. Today–April 21, 2017–five days shy of being two and a half years since I kissed his face for the last time, not talking about “it” has proved harder, than just talking about the inevitable for all of us. I wish I knew what he wanted for my life, our life, now that he is gone. I wish I heard his voice tell me that it was okay to find love again, one day. I wish I heard him tell me how to raise our son into a man. I wish he told me he wasn’t angry that he got cheated at life, at being a dad, at being my husband, at being a son to his parents. I wish he told me not to be angry for him. I wish he just told me something, anything, about dying. Not having instructions after death is so much harder.

Talking about death isn’t the easy answer. It would have been hard, probably the hardest conversation we ever had. Although I “think” I know what he would have told me, I still need to “KNOW.” I wish we would have talked about what Heaven would have been like. I wish I told him to go say, “Hi” to my grandpa. I wish he told me he would watch over us. We didn’t though. We never talked about death.

There are many things that are uncomfortable to talk about. They make you wince, push it off until later, delay it a little longer. Later is always too late though, isn’t it? I’ve had a lot of tough conversations since then. Conversations that are possible situations I hope never happen in this lifetime. But I never want doubt, fear of the unknown from the past to haunt the future of today and tomorrow. Death is going to happen to all of us. We better just prepare and talk about it now.

Struggling with the thoughts of what tomorrow is supposed to look like-

Kristina

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Redefining Widowhood: A Young Widow’s Perspective

As a young girl, mowing yards for elderly widows with her grandpa, I saw what widowhood exemplified by some of the most beautiful souls in the world. They were sweet, worked in their flower beds, baked yummy-treats for me as I finished mowing their yards, and talked for hours with my grandpa and I on their front porch. They were classy, tactful, full of grace and wisdom. They all also had another thing in common: their age. Their age was reflective of the lessons in life they were talking about, the wisdom they had to share, and also reflective of their occupation: retired. They were all at a certain life stage. They had raised their children: watched them go to college, get married, and have families of their own. Although I am certain they were lonely, missed their spouse more than words would ever be able to describe, they were older. Maybe, just maybe, failing health and age was more foreseeable in their future, than that of mine.

Not long after my husband passed away, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire. Not even foreseeing what was about to be asked, I willingly did my duty. I cruised through the usual questions of name, address, phone number, but then the marital question was asked. “Married? Single? Divorced/Widowed?” My heart and hand froze, my throat clenched, and right there in the middle of the doctor’s office, I lost control of the masquerade I had put on since he passed. I was still married. But society’s form I was filling out had me listed with those that were divorced. As if divorce and widowed were the same thing. They were not. They didn’t even come close. And I was not ready to answer that I was “widowed.”

theoneandonly

I was though. I was twenty-five years old, and had a one-year-old baby sitting in my lap. I was a widow. I will forever be a widow, whether I marry again or not, until God calls me home. And yet, I don’t fit the bill of a widow. My age doesn’t qualify me to be in this unwanted club. I am nowhere near retirement. I am too young to receive widow’s benefits from my deceased husband’s Social Security benefits. Yet, I am too young to be identifying with those widows that are retired, are able to meet in life/connection groups mid-day. I do not, necessarily, have a social cohort that I meet entirely with. My friends are all in a similar life stage of adding to their families, buying/building their second homes,  and some, are unfortunately going through loss of divorce.

Widowhood at a young age has proved a very difficult stage of life to navigate, in my late twenties. On the outside, I have been told, my confident presentation comes across as though things are going as planned in life. I have a great career, excelled in furthering my education with a master’s, raising a brilliant and handsome child, and have a beautiful home. At surface level, society says I have it all. But how do you navigate being a widow at such a young age? Who do you identify with? How, exactly, do you wander what life is supposed to look like beyond this point? How do you tell those new acquaintances when you are a widow, not to run away, you just want to connect with someone, anyone?

MASTERS GRAD

Widowhood is not just those that are at a later stage in life, that maybe has casual past times at their leisure. It is not someone at failing health and age. Widowhood is young. Widowhood is juggling a full-time career, raising a child, living through all of grief’s nasty punches, and still trying out to figure out what you want for the rest of your life. Widowhood is still trying to connect with friends, yet feeling the awkward difference of losing a spouse. Widowhood is trying to figure out when it is acceptable to take your wedding band off, when to trade it out with your widow’s ring, and then eventually if you are supposed to stop wearing that, as well. Widowhood is not being able to articulate your wants and desires that conflict with guilt at an every-hour-of-the-day rate. Widowhood is uncertainty, sadness, fear, walking the unknown. Widowhood is still having dreams, hopes, and desires for the future; just a future you don’t know what it looks like, or who it is with.

Widowhood is young. It is old. Widowhood has no boundaries and does not discriminate in age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or life stage. It is hard. Widowhood is just that–living life without the person you committed and planned the rest of your life with.

Just remember: widowhood does not have a number. It may be a twenty-eight-year-old woman, raising her son, uncertain of every move she makes. It may be that woman, hopeful that each choice leads her to a future of promise, hope, and love; all-the-while always carrying the love that was once given to her by a husband taken from this world far too soon.

me happy

Dreams, Hope, and Love,

A 28-Year-Old Widow